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Sydney Sirens are AWIHL champions at last

Sydney Sirens beat out the Brisbane Goannas in the shootout to claim their first AWIHL Championship after an undefeated season

Mark Bradford

As the clock ticked down and the buzzer sounded, the Sydney Sirens and the Brisbane Goannas were still tied at three goals apiece at the end of regulation in the AWIHL championship game.

It wasn’t the game Sydney had imagined with the Goannas. Rosanna Routledge scored early in the first to put the Sirens behind by one, something that Sydney (who made it through the regular season undefeated) had only experienced three times this year.

This was it. This was the demon that Sydney had fought so hard to overcome after making to the grand final five times previously, including last year's epic 6-7 shootout loss to four-time champions Melbourne Ice. This year seemed destined to be their year- all they had to do was play the hockey they had played in the previous 13 games this season.

But then the Goannas struck again that period, with Routledge potting another to secure the biggest lead anyone had held over the dominant Sydney side this season. While the Sirens struggled to regain composure, the break they needed finally came with Erin Beaver putting the Sirens on the board with a bullet from the point with a minute left, sending the Goannas into the first intermission with a one-goal lead over the regular season champions.

Ellie-Marie Watts / Grassroots Sport

Brisbane managed to regain their two-goal lead midway through the second with a goal from Anna Santilli. The game grew increasingly more physical, with both teams exchanging penalties as the Sirens fought to close the gap. Shortly after the Brisbane goal Sydney was dealt a massive blow when veteran forward Sharna Godfrey was forced to leave the game due to a shoulder injury. The period closed out with no change in score, the Sirens chasing a two-goal lead heading into the final period of regulation and down one of their core players.

The third period bought another level of intensity as both teams seemed to realize that this was it. For Brisbane there seemed to be a sense that the team that had never even had a shot at the Joan McKowen Trophy was suddenly within reaching distance. For Sydney, this was the year that they seemed unwilling to let it slip through their fingers, a sense of calmness almost palpable as they took the bench. This was the team that had gone 13 games undefeated in regulation. This was the team that had fallen one game short in five previous Finals appearance.

Ellie-Marie Watts / Grassroots Sport

The first goal came not even five minutes in, with Sydney's Sharnita Crompton putting the game within one. Over the next 10 minutes both teams would exchange chances but with both goalkeepers holding down the fort, it seemed impossible to get anything past them. Suddenly Crompton scored again, the crowd rising to their feet in celebration.

With the game tied for the first time since the opening minutes, the sound of “Go-Sirens-Go!” filled the arena. But still the clock ticked down, the buzzer sounded and despite the previous hour of hockey, the slate was wiped clean for both teams. Overtime.

In the AWIHL, the overtime period is ten minutes long. If the score remained the same after that, both teams would go to a shootout.

As 3-on-3 overtime started, the tension was palpable in the air as the teams went end to end, exchanging scoring chances over the course of the ten minutes. With both sides taking penalties, there were power play opportunities at both ends as well as break-out chances. However, everything was shut down by superb goaltending on both ends as the shot count for Sydney and Brisbane was brought to 61 and 48 respectively.

As the buzzer blew the Sirens found themselves in a familiar position: Having already fought back to tie the game, they were now going to the shootout to decide the championship, the same place they lost it just a year prior.

Erin Beaver, who scored the first goal for the Sirens, started the shootout for Sydney, slipping the puck past Ashleigh Brown. She would end up being the only scorer in the 3 round shootout with both goaltenders standing tall. As the sound of the puck hitting Sera Dogramaci’s pad echoed around the rink and the crowd erupting into applause the bench seemed frozen, if only for a second, so many years of coming second leaving them in shock for only a moment before the bench rushed to the ice, gloves and sticks thrown to the wayside as they raced to celebrate with their goalie.

Its a win that has been a long time coming for some of the players, with a small selection of the Sirens players being among the first ever to reach 100 AWIHL games during the season. The players gathered to the side of the ice, tear stained and grinning as the the opening notes of Mariah Carey's ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’ started playing through the speakers, a song which once started as a locker room gag before developing into the rallying cry of a team that finally, after the perfect season, ended it in the perfect way. On home ice.

Victorious at last.

Mark Bradford