All season, Blast goalie Scott Hileman said he had nothing personal to prove. He said the fact that he was on the bench last year, when the Blast won its first championship in 20 years, while Brett Phillips took Hileman's turn in the starting rotation, was no big deal.
That's what he said - until after he had anchored the Blast to a 6-2 victory in Game 3 over the Milwaukee Wave on Saturday night at 1st Mariner Arena for back-to-back Major Indoor Soccer League championships and earned the series' Most Valuable Player award.
"Last year, we won it and I was very happy for all of us," Hileman said. "But it wasn't the way I would have scripted it. This is.
"Last year, I was on the bench - and if I'd been coach, I'd have done the same thing - but now, I've nothing left to prove."
With Hileman in goal for all three games in the best-of-five series, the Blast won, 12-3, 8-4 and 6-2, to produce its first championship series sweep. It also was the first time in six trips to the finals, including the past five straight years, that Milwaukee has been swept.
The Blast used an opportunistic offense and a tenacious defense in which all five field players got behind the ball on every shift to frustrate the Wave and its league-leading scorer, Greg Howes.
"Scott stopped our momentum at every opportunity," Howes said. "The Blast embarrassed us on our home field in Game 1, and every time we looked like we might get something going, he made the key save.
"He thought they had something to prove, but I think every time you step on the field you have something to prove. They have back-to-back championships now, and do you know what they're thinking? They're thinking they want a third. That's how champions think."
Blast owner Ed Hale said yesterday that he is planning a celebration that will be announced later this week for the team and its fans, and that he is overjoyed with the team's success on and off the field.
"Of all the teams I've had, I truly think this is the best one," Hale said. "Scott peaked at the right time and in Milwaukee, with Howes and [Joe] Reiniger pounding the ball, he just rejected them. He was like a board over the goal and I think it got in their heads and he got stronger and stronger and stronger.
"In the five years he's played for me, I've never seen him play like that."
But there was more to the Blast's success. The tough team defense. What Hale calls the team's engine: Lee Tschantret, Danny Kelly, P.J. Wakefield. And its skill players, men like Denison Cabral, Carlos Farias, Giuliano Celenza, Tarik Walker, Chris Handsor and David Bascome.
"We did it our way," said Blast coach Tim Wittman. "Everyone on this team contributed; that's what makes it so neat. We brought in players no one else wanted, and we stuck together. To see it turn out like this is unbelievable."
Game 3 was tight through the first half, as Howes and Giuliano Olivero scored for the Wave and Bascome and Handsor scored for the Blast to forge a 2-2 tie.
"One thing we've been very good at is not to think too much about the scoring, while continuing to gain momentum," Walker said.
Kelly scored the winning goal in the third, and Tschantret (two goals) and Cabral ended Milwaukee's hopes with insurance goals.
"The entire team played well," Hale said. "You know, the first championship I'd won as a team owner last season was exceptional. But to win it this time, with my whole family here, with our long-loyal fans here, in front of a crowd like that, that brought back the atmosphere of the old days. That was really neat.
"And to do all that and not lose any money, it's special."
Hale said Saturday night's game, at which 9,862 fans screamed, danced at their seats and then swarmed the field for players' autographs afterward, was the "greatest grossing night [in tickets and ad revenue]" he has had as an owner.
"And yes," he added, "for the first time since I've owned the team, we have made a profit. It's not much, but it is something."
Hale wouldn't allow any pre-game preparations for a championship celebration in fear of jinxing the outcome, but several vendors took the initiative, supplying confetti and champagne.
"I was as surprised as everyone else," Hale said. "I think there is a buzz about this title this time. People love a winner and we've got a really good team."