Coming into the season, the Long Island Fireants had one thing in mind: Win a Playoff Series. Yet to win a playoff game, LIFA met that goal early April by beating the Empire State Legends in 2 games in the division playoffs, punching its ticket to Las Vegas for the Tier II minor conference and national championship. “We knew early on that we had something special”, LIFA rookie Matt Metz said after the game. “It now became a reality!”
Heading to Las Vegas, team owner George Ugalde had the tough task of planning lodging and flights for everyone. He was dealt a few bad cards right away. Forward Matt Metz had a once in a lifetime opportunity to guest star as a drowning sick whale on the Nickelodeon series Paw Patrol. “I love this team, but getting saved by those pups might be the highlight of my life!” Metz said. He retracted this statement as the team started winning games. Goaltender Mitch West had a ravioli convention that featured living for 3 days in a life-size ravioli. “Luckily, I had service in my ravioli to watch my boys!” West said. Finally, defenseman Nick DiMassi got on the wrong flight and ended up in Mexico, where he remains today.
Ugalde was successful in getting the remaining players. The team started Friday morning, 8am playing game 1 against host team Las Vegas Aces in a round robin 3-game set against the entire field of teams to determine seeding for Saturday’s best-of-three playoff semi final series. The host team clearly had legs over the Ants, as they out-skated a slow and plane-drained LIFA team, winning game one of the weekend 2-1. Forward Frank Etrasco provided the only spark for the Ants, scoring the lone goal. “I went on a cross country tour across Arizona, meditated in the desert in a van with my girl, sang with Coyotes and dreamed of this moment”, Etrasco said. “The moment was blurred with the 8 scoops of C-4 energy powder.”
The Ants would find their hockey legs for game 2 against the Marina Mantas. Down 1-0, John Ninivaggi started the Fireants scoring about 4 minutes in the game, scoring his first of the finals. “I had the puck on my stick, and thought what would Jon Mosenson do?” Ninivaggi said. “The second I thought of Mosenson, I scored, but turned into a complete lunatic, barking like a dog at the 12 year old scorekeeper.” Mosenson had no comment on the freak incident. The Fireants would follow Nini’s lead, not in the barking nature, rather scoring the final 7 goals of the game, 4 coming from forward Drew Alaggio. “I had 3 hot dogs before the game, boy was I a hot dog” Alaggio said in the post game interview. The reporter tried giving Drew a mustard packet, but he insisted he was a ketchup kind of guy. “Jon Mosenson likes mustard, Nini likes mustard, I hate mustard”, Alaggio made clear. With strong goaltending by Joe Simon, the Fireants won game 2 8-1.
Game 3 against division rival Philadelphia Liberty would be for first place. The Liberty was sitting at 2-0, so a win in regulation would guarantee the Fireants the #1 seed heading into Saturday’s semi-finals. What do the Ants do? LIFA rookie Nick Vitale opened up the scoring 5 minutes into the game. The game would go back and forth, with Ninvaggi scoring his second of the weekend. Down 3-2 with three minutes left, Alaggio would score his 5th of the weekend to tie the game up, sending the game into overtime. Going into overtime guaranteed the Liberty the #1 seed, and guaranteed the Fireants playing in the 2-3 matchup. The Ants would win the shootout with a great goal from entertainer Nick Stassi, and fantastic goaltending by Dan Duminico. The Fireants would play the Marina Mantas.
The Mantas would prove to be no match for the Fireants. The Ants would win game 1 6-1, featuring a pair of goals each from Cory Triola and Nick Vitale, and goals from Stassi and Alaggio. Defenseman Game 2 would start out fantastic, with a 4-0 lead, with goals from Ninivaggi, Stassi, Alaggio and Chris Bracken. But the Fireants kept them in the game, getting 2 double minor penalties, with other minor penalties, with two 5-3 situations. Another strong performance by Duminico would seal the deal for the Ants, winning game 2 4-2, punching their ticket to the finals against the division foe Liberty. “We knew it was coming down to this all year” Ugalde said of the matchup. “We lowered our scoop intake to 2 scoops max, decreased our F-Bombs to a maximum of one per sentence, which ended up calming the mood on the bench and setting our players at ease”, Bracken said of the win.
Game 1 of the AIHL Tier II finals did not go the way the Fireants wanted. The Liberty would go on to win 7-2 in a lethargic game 1, despite starting the game with a 1-0 lead with a power play goal from Vitale. “The effort was just not there this morning”, Triola said. Triola had to leave the game in the first period after burning a hole in his girdle with severely acidic diarrhea. “I had a monster drink before the game and it roared.” Much like Friday’s games, the Fireants would start game 2 on fire, scoring the first 3 goals of the game, 2 of them by the red hot Drew Alaggio. The Fireants would let the lead slip, but eventually winning 3-2. What would happen with Game 3? The two teams battled all year, it was only fitting that they not only met in the finals, but had the series go to three games. Unfortunately, the Fireants run to a championship would end here, as they lost game 3 6-2, with the Liberty winning the championship.
Congrats to the Liberty on winning the national championship, and congrats to the Long Island Fireants for a fantastic season, and representing the Hartford Fireants and the East Coast in the Tier II National Finals. “We are ready for next year” Ugalde said with a smile, albeit a very tired smile. “I am proud of all of our guys and thank all of our fans who supported us this weekend.” “I am getting a Fireants tatoo” Joseph Simon said. “I am getting a Mosenson tattoo” Nini said.
On behalf of the Fireants, thank you all for a great season, and stay tuned for tryouts for next season!