The UC Irvine roller hockey team became a favorite at the 2008 NCRHA National Championships as it won over the crowd and gained respect from the other teams. Going into the five-day tournament in Colorado Springs, the Anteaters faced a lot of doubt from the rest of the country for being a West Coast team and coming to the national championship with only a six-man-squad. The rest of the country would soon realize that UCI is not a team to underestimate.
They coasted through the round robin games going 3-0, and headed into the sweet 16 with a little momentum and a lot to prove. The team’s short bench quickly became the talk of the tournament and an easy target for skepticism. Many of the parents and tournament officials were impressed with the skill level the Anteaters had, but claimed that once they faced teams in the later rounds, that skill level would be overpowered.
In the sweet 16, they faced Stony Brook University from New York, and neither team had any idea what they were in for. It was clear that the Stony Brook Sea Wolves wanted to get on the board early, and tried to tire the Anteaters out. They scored two goals in the first 53 seconds of the game, sending a very intimidating message to the Anteaters. However, the guys kept it close through the first period going into the locker room behind 4-2. During the second period, the ‘Eaters felt the effects of having a short bench going behind 8-3 at one point.
“Two years ago we had been eliminated in this round and it felt like it was happening all over again. But we never gave up,” said the captain and third-year player Jeff Pollock.
Going into the third period against Stony Brook, the Anteaters were down 8-4, never having been in this position before. Their heart and determination would be tested like never before. The team pulled within a goal of its opponents as the Sea Wolves turned complacent and started racking on the penalties. The Anteaters were down 8-7 with 1:04 to go in the game and pulled their goalie Kevin Leonard, putting all of their skaters on the rink at the same time, giving them a one-man advantage.
As the clock started to get into its last minute, the ‘Eaters put heavy pressure on the Sea Wolves, hitting the post a number of times and nearly tying the game in the last minute. But, with 20.1 seconds to go and their championship run on the line, Mike Tasch put in the game-tying goal and sent it to overtime. The crowd was heavily on Irvine’s side, and the team fed off of its enthusiasm.
It was obvious this game was Irvine’s to win and Stony Brook’s to lose. Irvine was skating harder and faster than before, and with the win in sight, nothing would stop this amazing five-goal run.
It was obvious the team was looking for Charlie Middleton to end the game with a sudden-death goal. He is the team’s MVP, and scored six of their eight goals that day.
With 9:26 left in overtime, Middleton created space and gave the puck to Irvine’s wily vet, Fabian Mueller who fired it on goal, but hit post. Alex Frecker was there to put the rebound in and send the team to the elite eight.
The game was deemed, “The Miracle on Plastic.” After the game, Nabeel Gerges of Revision Wheels said, “That might have been the greatest comeback in the history of NCRHA. It was unreal