Blast goalie Scott Hileman has been the team's iron man all season. He has played in all 43 games, and there have been highs along the way.
But last night, in front of 7,317 on fan appreciation night at the Baltimore Arena, Hileman came within 4: 08 of a rare indoor soccer shutout.
"It would have been something," he said, still smiling after making 18 saves as the Blast completed its 10-1 victory against the Buffalo Blizzard.
Even without the shutout, it was something. The Blast recorded its best defensive game of the season and set a franchise record for fewest goals in a game.
"It was a great ending to our home season," said Blast coach Kevin Healy. "We had a solid performance and played great team defense. It's something we've been trying to do all year. And Scott was brilliant. He's been brilliant all season."
Hileman was spectacular from beginning to end. In the first period, he saved a shootout goal. In the second period, he set up two goals and then made a great, blind save to stop what might have been the beginning of a Buffalo comeback.
"Scott had the horseshoe tonight," said Buffalo coach Paul Kitson, the Maryland Mania's coach last summer. "In that second period, when Omar [Dalombo] made a great shot through the box, that ball had eyes. It misses several Blast defenders and it was coming fast. But Scott saved it. It's the sign of a good goalkeeper being lucky at the right time."
The Blast's Mark Thomas led the victors with three one-point goals and one two-pointer. Danny Kelly (one point), Tarik Walker (two points) and Doug Neely (two points) rounded out the Blast's scoring. Buffalo forward Andrew Crawford ruined the shutout bid, beating Hileman over his left shoulder.
"It was a shootout, and Crawford is one of the best," Hileman said. "That's what he's paid to do. But we showed all these people who were in the stands tonight that we mean business. Maybe we'll get them back for the playoffs."
Buffalo, 18-24, ended its regular season with its fourth straight loss. The Blast improved to 26-17 and momentarily stayed in the chase for the Eastern Conference title, depending on the outcome of Cleveland's late game at Edmonton last night.
The Blast needs two Cleveland losses and its own victory in Wichita tonight to finish a top in the East Conference, but Healey didn't seem worried about the final conference standings.
"We just want the big trophy at the end," he said.
Before Hileman began his goaltending exhibition, National Professional Soccer League commissioner Steve Paxos presented Blast owner Ed Hale, Healey and team captain Lance Johnson with the East Division trophy.
And eight-year veteran Barry Stitz, retiring after this season, was honored by teammates. Stitz, a Baltimore native, is 30 and will become the soccer coach at Archbishop Curley, his alma mater.
"You don't retire at age 30 from this game," said Stitz's teammate Jason Dieter, after Stitz was presented with his No. 21 jersey framed. "We have eight guys on the bench older than 30. Barry is just moving on."
The players presented Stitz with a gold watch, with Johnson saying: "We just want to thank Barry for touching our lives."
Site: Kansas Coliseum, Wichita, Kan.
Time: 7: 35
Radio: WCBM (680 AM)
Outlook: The Blast lost the only other meeting between the teams this season in Baltimore, 16-14. Midfielder Denison Cabral will sit out this game with a hamstring injury but will be back for the playoffs. Forward Erik Rasmussen returns to the place where he began his indoor soccer career. Rasmussen, named to the Wings' 1980s All-Decade Team, scored 184 points for Wichita last season.