LAKE TAHOE - The overtime period had just begun, but all 20 California players remained glued to the bench, fatigued from the elevation and uneasy about what may unfold before them.
Then with 2:34 left in the frame, Gabriel Giammarco took the puck down into the Eastern Washington zone in an odd-man rush. The entire bench stood up in anticipation. Giammarco rifled his shot, deflecting off a defender, and the arena fell silent. Then, the net fluttered as the puck hit the top corner. To roars from the crowd, the Golden Bears mobbed the Sophomore, who had been clutch for the team all season. Cal had secured their way to the finals.
"There were times there where I got a little nervous" said Goaltender Sami Morse, who recorded 44 saves in the win. "We just kept battling and had more heart. I trusted my boys to get it done. This group is special."
The game started out in Cal's favor, with Patrick Tagari deflecting a shot from Chase Swerdlick in the first period. However, EWU took control in the second, as Bobby LaRue and Mitchell Hunt scored two unanswered goals late in the period. At that point, Goaltender Sami Morse turned it on, and thwarted Eastern Washington's remaining opportunities, shutting the door on several high-danger chances. With eighteen minutes to play in the third, Gabriel Giammarco was able to equalize off a freak deflection from the boards, collecting the puck in the slot and firing glove side.
As a whole, the game was quick, physical, and chippy, with 9 penalties called on both teams and plenty of hits to go around. Cal was able to win because of sustained pressure, some good breaks, and by limiting the majority of EWU's shots to the outer perimeter. The Golden Bears advance to the finals and the Eagles do not.
The road to make it to the PAC-8 Finals was much more difficult than previous years, with quality opponents like EWU and Boise State being added to the conference. Looking back, "this is the best I have felt qualifying for a Finals," stated Captain Michael Leone. "We still have a job to do; it's not over yet. We have Oregon tomorrow, and they're a tough opponent."
The 11th ranked Oregon, who beat Boise State on the other side of the Bracket, will prove to be strong competition for the California Golden Bears. In their two meetings this season, Cal split games with scores of 5-4 and 0-2. The Golden Bears will look to recover and regroup quickly before the finals tomorrow.