Early goal, Bucheler’s gem enough to send Mudbugs into South finals

THE AGONY OF DEFEAT:  Lone Star players slump at the end of Monday night’s home ice loss to Shreveport in the winner-take-all Game 5 of the NAHL South Division semifinals, as the Mudbugs celebrate their 1-0 victory at the far end of the rink. (Photo by ROY LANG III, Journal Sports)

By ROY LANG III, Journal Sports

NORTH RICHLAND HILLS, Texas — When Shreveport forward Logan Gotinsky scored 17 seconds into Monday’s winner-take-all Game 5 of a North American Hockey League South Division semifinal, Mudbugs netminder Simon Bucheler had one thought: “I knew it was my turn to hold down the fort.”

The next 59:43 played out like a dream for Bucheler. The 21-year-old Quebec product kept his junior hockey career alive with a scintillating 25-save shutout as the Mudbugs beat Lone Star, 1-0, at the NYTEX Sports Centre.

“In this series, (one goal) has to be enough,” Bucheler told the Journal. “Their goalies have been playing fantastic, just like our defense has been. I came in with a positive mind-set into this game and I’m just happy I made the saves I made.”

Brahmas goaltender Arthur Smith was seemingly as impressive, but Gotinsky’s marker proved enough to send Shreveport into the South Division Final against top-seeded Oklahoma. Game 1 of that best-of-5 series begins Friday in Oklahoma City.

Monday’s classic punctuated yet another evenly contested series among bitter rivals. Although Shreveport owns a 3-1 playoff series advantage over Lone Star, Monday’s victory was just the 10th for Shreveport in the 19 NAHL postseason games between the teams.

This year’s matchup featured three overtime affairs (Games 1, 2 and 4), a 2-0 Brahmas victory Game 3 and Monday’s 1-0 classic.

Games 1 and 2 of the South Final are set for Friday and Saturday at the Blazers Ice Centre in Oklahoma City. Game 3 brings the Bugs back to George’s Pond at Hirsch Coliseum on May 12. Game 4, if necessary, will be at The George on May 13.

“It was just a typical Lone star-Shreveport series,” Mudbugs head coach Jason Campbell said. “It was hard, it was tough. I’m thankful I came out on top.”

Monday, Shreveport was forced to quell a Lone Star power-play late in the third. The kill featured some of Bucheler‘s best work. He was 0-2 in the series entering Monday, and didn’t know he’d be between the pipes for the decisive game until Monday morning.

“One (save) where I was diving back, it hit my finger tips,” Bucheler said. “I got lucky a couple of times, too.”

Teammate Nikola Goich boasted a 2-0 record in the series and was stellar between the posts for the Bugs, too, but experience was a big factor in Campbell’s decision for Game 5.

“Niko had two wins, but Bush had the experience, played in this building a lot — it’s a bit of a hostile environment,” Campbell said. “Niko tweaked his knee a little bit, too, it’s fine, but we went with the experience.”

The decision helped Bucheler – and the other players in their final year of junior hockey – keep the dream of a national championship alive.

“I knew tonight might have been my last game as a Mudbug, so I came in with a keep-this-ball-rolling attitude,” Bucheler said. “I was happy to play tonight and that the coaches had faith in me.”

Contact Roy at roylangiii@yahoo.com or on Twitter @roylangiii