After an emotionless summer season of Roller Hockey International play in which checking was often an afterthought, the Bullfrogs tried to establish a physical presence in a hurry Sunday night.
And while few players wanted to talk about it, the Bullfrogs' 8-6 loss to the St. Louis Vipers in the league championship game at the Arrowhead Pond was a result of a brutal start that backfired, costing Anaheim a third consecutive in-line title in front of an announced crowd of 6,143.
The game was less than three minutes old when Bullfrog defenseman Chad Seibel was ejected for kneeing St. Louis defenseman Ryan Aikia. Seibel was called for "intent to injure," and the Bullfrogs were handed a four-minute major penalty. St. Louis was also awarded a penalty shot.
Bullfrog goaltender Rob Laurie, stopped the penalty shot by Christian Skoryna, but the Vipers ran up a 3-0 lead playing with a man advantage.
"I think maybe we were too prepared for this one," Bullfrog defenseman Darren Perkins said. "We had a game plan to go on and maybe it burned us early on."
St. Louis forward Mike Martens, who had a hat trick, said the penalty gave the Vipers a big boost.
"If we had any doubt in our minds as to whether we could do it, that definitely helped our attitude and thought preparation," he said.
It was also sweet revenge for Martens and Skoryna, who were on the losing side a year ago at the Pond when the Bullfrogs beat Orlando in the Major League Roller Hockey final. The Bullfrogs also won RHI titles in 1993 and 1997 and were appearing in their fourth consecutive league title game.
Bullfrog Coach Brad McCaughey refused to discuss Seibel's penalty or much of anything else. But St. Louis Coach Perry Turnbull said that he felt the four-minute major penalty gave his team a big lift.
"We have great team speed and that penalty at the start of the game, that play dug a big hole for them," Turnbull said. "We were very successful on the power play."
Nonetheless, the Bullfrogs (22-4-2) rallied to tie the score, 3-3, early in the second quarter, then took a 5-4 lead with 6:23 left in the third on the second goal by Roman Hubalek.
But five minutes later, Jame Yoder tied it for the Vipers. And five minutes after that, St. Louis grabbed a 6-5 lead when Ben Gorwich intercepted a bad pass by Laurie behind the Bullfrog net and scored on a wraparound shot.
Bullfrog right winger Sean White tied the score, 6-6, with 3:43 remaining, firing in a rebound off St. Louis goalie James Jenson. But a minute later, Yoder fed Martens, who beat Laurie with a slap shot.
Martens' empty-net goal with 1:12 to play iced the game for the Vipers (19-8-1).
"I don't have a lot to say," McCaughey said. "I congratulate St. Louis. They played a great game. The better team tonight won."