For three years, Oregon watched as bitter rivals Washington won the I-5 Cup year after year — but not this time. Alex Sulitzer’s overtime goal gave the Ducks their first series win against Washington since 2008 and returned the I-5 Cup trophy to Eugene.
“This is kind of a storybook ending to the I-5 Cup,” said senior defenseman Matt Hanlon. “This is what we had hoped for, a raucous crowd, our team was buzzing the whole game and we won in overtime and stormed the ice. Pretty much everything you could have hoped for.”
Oregon won the season series 3-1 with a pair of home wins after the teams split the first two games in Washington. But entering Saturday night, the script was anything but written.
Before the puck even dropped on the Ducks’ I-5 cup clinching victory, the teams needed to play the last 5:45 of the game originally scheduled for Friday night. With the Ducks leading that game 3-2 late in the third period, Oregon’s Garrett Roberts checked a Husky through a plane of glass and the game had to be suspended until Saturday so the boards could be repaired.
“That was a big momentum swing for us,” Hanlon said. “We played a solid five minutes of hockey and shut them down. That was pretty positive for us.”
In the fourth game of the series, the Ducks and Huskies played a back and forth game for three periods with neither team building a two-goal lead. The Ducks had a golden opportunity to win it late in regulation with a five-minute power play but couldn’t score, and even allowed Washington to score a shorthanded goal, but Tyler Halverson forced overtime with a gorgeous blue-line goal.
“It was tough,” said captain Patrick Thornton. “We knew we had nine minutes left to go and we just had to keep shooting the puck because everybody can score on our team … We just kept going after that ‘W’.”
About four minutes into the extra frame, Sulitzer nearly set up teammate AJ Bernhardt for the game winner but the one-time shot went wide. But the puck stayed with the Ducks and on the ensuing sequence, Bernhardt returned the favor and Sulitzer put the puck in the net for the series clinching goal.
“It was a little bit discouraging missing the net on a really good opportunity,” Bernhardt said. “But we didn’t let up and we got the goal that won the cup.”
For Dan Effinger, the team’s lone fifth-year player, the win brought things full circle. The Ducks last won the I-5 Cup in Effinger’s freshman year, and he says it was much sweeter the second time around.
“This one was a lot more of a battle than the one in the past,” he said. “The one we won my freshman year we controlled pretty much every game, I think we swept them in the series. But this one means a lot more, we battled through a lot of adversity in this one, and the way it ended in OT on the power play, it was just awesome.”