Only one team gets to rejoice when the final horn sounds on the season.
The Anchorage Wolverines, the most improbable of contenders, were not that club.
A journey in which this first-year expansion team marched to the final game in the North American Hockey League featured everything save the hoisting of hardware.
That triumphant honor went to the deserving New Jersey Titans, who beat the Wolverines 3-0 in the winner-take-all Robertson Cup Final in Blaine, Minn., on Tuesday night.
Midway through the game before a crowd of 2,067 at Fogerty Ice Arena-South, the Wolverines remained in position to fulfill the dream of becoming the first NAHL franchise in 36 years to seize the Cup in its inaugural season.
That promising scenario absorbed a huge hit in a span of 2 minutes, 40 seconds, when the game went from scoreless to 2-0 Titans.
First, Brendan Dumas took advantage of Anchorage’s blown defensive coverage. He was left alone below the right circle and cranked a shot past Raythan Robbins, the goaltender who buoyed his boys throughout the postseason. Then, Nick Ring showed the power of patience. The Titans forward cut diagonally from left to right across the slot until Robbins committed, then put flicked home a shot from just above the goal line for a 2-0 lead that stood through intermission.
The Wolverines were unable to crack Colgate-bound Titans goalie Andrew Takacs on the game’s lone power play five-plus minutes into the third period. New Jersey’s Anthony Calafiore, who liked Ring furnished one goal and one assist, all but tied a bow on things for the Titans midway through the third period.
Even so, the Wolverines engineered a remarkable season to ascend to the league’s elite just 14 months after the franchise was unveiled. Director of Hockey Operations Keith Morris, the former Seawolf, and coach Mike Aikens and staff assembled a club that finished third in the Midwest Division at 33-19-8 and roared through the postseason (8-2). The Wolverines delivered a three-game road sweep on the Springfield (Ill.) Jr. Blues in the first round, then took out the Minnesota Wilderness in four games in the second round.
In the best-of-3 semifinals in Blaine, Robbins backstopped a sweep of the St. Cloud (Minn.) Norsemen.
Meanwhile, the Titans, who won the East Division (41-16-3), three times staved off playoff elimination. That Houdini routine included back-to-back, semifinal overtime victories against the New Mexico Ice Wolves.
But after two rounds of best-of-5 series and the best-of-3 semis, the championship featured a no-mulligans format – one game.
Takacs stopped 31 shots to stifle the Wolverines, who entered the evening leading the postseason in scoring with 3.44 goals per game.
Robbins, the hometown masked man, proved Anchorage’s first star throughout the playoffs. He finished with savage numbers: 8-2, a 1.89 goals-against average, .948 save percentage.
So, while the Wolverines didn’t get their dream ending, a neophyte franchise nonetheless found its footing in a hockey heartbeat.
The Wolverines didn’t so much put in a foundation as nearly construct the whole damn house.