Igloos Co-Owner Buys Jackalopes, Moving Them to Milwaukee in ’21

Coming into the 2020 offseason, the SHL had one item atop their to-do list: find a buyer for the Dakota Jackalopes.  The league assumed control of the Jackalopes from then-owner Roger Scott at the trading deadline, as the team encountered severe financial distress.  They had no interest in continuing to operate the team next season, so they were eager to find a new owner as soon as possible.  They understood that the new owner was likely to relocate the team.  They didn’t expect, however, that the new owner would already be a member of the SHL family.

Colin Mills, co-owner of the Anchorage Igloos, officially agreed this weekend to purchase the Jackalopes franchise.  Mills had reportedly been in talks with the league for several weeks, and the other owners unanimously approved the sale on Sunday.  Upon taking ownership of the team, Mills announced that he would be moving it to Milwaukee.

“I am pleased to announce that this saga has finally reached its conclusion,” said SHL Commissioner Perry Mitchell.  “We have tried for multiple years to seek an outcome that would allow the Jackalopes to remain in the Dakotas, but it has become painfully clear that the market was not viable.  Now, the franchise has a new lease on life, with an owner who has the means and the track record of success, and in a city that can support it.  I’m excited for great days ahead!”

For Mills, the choice of city was a no-brainer.  “I love Milwaukee,” he said.  “It’s a lively, fun city and a great place for a hockey team.  Honestly, I can’t understand why there hasn’t been a team there from the start.  I can’t wait to bring the Vandy to the shores of Lake Michigan!”

The new owner said that his first priority would be to hire a general manager, and then work with the new GM to hire a coach.  The Jackalopes did not renew the contracts of GM Paul Mindegaard or coach Flim Dahlgren at the end of the season.  Mills said that the new GM would have free rein in shaping the roster – and a healthy budget with which to do so.  Dakota finished the season with the league’s smallest payroll.

“As an owner, I want to find the smartest GM I can, and then trust him to evaluate the talent and build a winning team,” Mills said.  “One thing’s for sure, though: the days of salary dumps and avoiding high-dollar players are over.  I want our team to have a competitive payroll, and we certainly have plenty of room under the cap to go stock up.”

The Jackalopes players reacted positively to news of their new owner.  “I’m going to miss our fans in Dakota,” said LW Ryan Airston.  “They were the best.  But playing in front of bigger crowds, and knowing that we’ll be able to re-sign guys and go after big-name free agents, that’s really exciting!  It’s such a change from the last few years that I’m still a little bit in shock.”

“I’m looking forward to having some stability, finally,” said LW Joe Freelander, who earlier this year called for the Jackalopes to move.  “There’s been so much churn in the locker room, so many questions about what was going to happen.  Now we have some answers and a stable future, and that will allow us to just focus on hockey.”

Mills said that he plans to hold a rally in Milwaukee soon, at which he will unveil the team’s new name and logo.

And what happens to the Igloos?  Mills sold his share of the team to his co-owner, Leslie Mills.  She seems to be looking forward to sole ownership.  “Finally, I have total control!” Leslie Mills said.  “It’s all mine!  Hahahahaha!”

First-Time Winners Dominate SHL Annual Awards

At the SHL’s fifth annual awards banquet, Commissioner Perry Mitchell continued his annual tradition of handing out trophies honoring the league’s best players and coaches.  As usual, the awards were chosen based on votes from SHL players, coaches, and media. As was the case last year, many of this year’s award winners were first-timers.

During his opening remarks, Commissioner Mitchell cited the recently-completed Finals between the Hamilton Pistols and the Anchorage Igloos as an example of the best the league has to offer.  “It was a series that featured some of the league’s best veterans – players like Steven Alexander, Jake Frost, Raymond Smyth, and Ty Worthington – right alongside emerging stars like Lasse Koskinen and Tom Hoffman.  The present and the future, playing together on the same ice.  It showed me once again that our league is in good hands, now and for years to come.”

The 2020 award winners are as follows:

Most Valuable Player: C Calvin Frye, Hamilton Pistols

Last season, Frye’s teammate Steven Alexander has a monster second half, led the Pistols to their first-ever SHL title, and was the overwhelming choice as the league’s MVP.  This year, it was Frye who took over the role as the team’s premier offensive option.  It was Frye who led the team to its second straight title and earned Finals MVP honors in the process.  And it is Frye who is the runaway winner of the league MVP award.  Frye finished ahead of Alexander (as well as the rest of the Pistols) in goals (42) and points (77).

“There’s no way that we would have won these titles without Alex; he’s our heart and soul, and his drive sets the tone for the whole team” said Pistols coach Keith Shields.  “But there’s also no way we would have gotten over the hump without Cal, and without him flourishing and blossoming into the superstar he is now.  He’s the puzzle piece that clicked everything into place.”

Others receiving MVP votes included Hershey’s Justin Valentine, Portland’s Eddie Costello, and Anchorage’s Tom Hoffman

Rookie of the Year: RW Bengt Frederiksson, Kansas City Smoke

This award comes as little surprise; when Frederiksson was chosen with the first overall pick in the draft, he was considered one of the league’s best-ever scoring prospects.  The Swedish-born winger didn’t disappoint, finishing in the top 10 in the league in points with 71 (two points shy of the SHL rookie record set last year by Boston’s Alain Beauchesne).  In a down year for scoring around the league, Frederiksson still finished with 28 goals, and displayed a surprisingly deft passing touch with 43 assists.  It’s the second year in a row that a Smoke player claimed the Rookie of the Year honors; last season, the award went to D Bastien Chouinard.  Thanks in no small part to Frederiksson’s offensive spark, Kansas City jumped 21 points and moved from last place to fourth in the standings.

“Bengt gave our top line a whole new spark,” said Smoke coach Randy Bergner.  “Just look at his speed, his incredible shot, and his creativity.  He just transformed our offense.  He’s still figuring some things out, but watching him gives me hope.  We’re starting to resemble a real, functioning hockey team, and that’s pretty cool.”

Frederiksson received a stiff challenge for the award from Dakota D Brady Prussian, who raised eyebrows by recording 11 goals and 25 points in just half a season.  Other vote-getters included Hamilton’s Elvis Bodett, Boston’s Levi Rudyard, and Hershey’s Nash Gould.

Coach of the Year: Kyle Barrow, Boston Badgers

2020 was Barrow’s first season as a head coach, after many years as an assistant in Anchorage.  he made an auspicious debut in a number of ways.  The Badgers saw a dramatic improvement in their on-ice fortunes, jumping from 45 points to 64 and finishing with a .500 record for the first time in franchise history.  Barrow also turned around what had been a toxic and hard-partying clubhouse, getting the team to focus on playing hard and winning games.  On a personal level, the coach was a trailblazer; he is the first openly gay figure in the league.

Barrow dedicated his win to his husband, Jim, and to the LGBTQ community.  “Even though the world is changing, there’s still a lot of prejudice out there and a lot of barriers for us, especially in sports,” said Barrow.  “But I’m here to say that there are no limits to what you can achieve.  And I hope that if there are young queer kids out there who dream of being a player or a coach someday, they can see me and know that it can happen.”

Other finalists included Hamilton’s Keith Shields, Portland’s Harold Engellund, and Anchorage’s Sam Castor.

Sharp Shooter Award: C Calvin Frye, Hamilton Pistols

The Sharp Shooter Award is one of two awards that is not given out base on the outcome of a vote.  Instead, the honor is awarded to the player who finishes the season with the highest goal total. This year’s winner was Frye, whose 42 goals in the 2020 season allowed him to finish three goals ahead of his nearest competitors, Alexander and New York’s Brock Manning.

Frye is the first player to win the MVP and the Sharp Shooter Award in the same season.  (Last year, Alexander won the MVP and the Commissioner’s Trophy.)  With the Pistols taking home the Vandy as well, it’s a highly decorated year for the 25-year-old center.

“This year has been an amazing ride for me and for the whole team,” said Frye.  “I can’t wait to see what we get done together next year!  Maybe we can make it three in a row.”

Alexander paid tribute to his younger teammate, saying, “It can be hard sometimes when you have two alphas on a team, but it’s not like that with us.  We complement each other’s game, and we’re both focused on creating the best opportunities for the team.”

Commissioner’s Trophy: LW Lance Sweet, Hershey Bliss and LW Chase Winchester, New York Night

Similar to the Sharp Shooter Award, the Commissioner’s Trophy is not awarded based on the result of a vote.  Instead, the award goes to the player who finishes with the highest point total.  For the second season in a row, this award was split between two players.

Sweet is a first-time award winner.  Skating on Hershey’s high-powered “Love Line”, Sweet racked up plenty of assists facilitating for Justin Valentine and Christopher Hart, in addition to scoring plenty of goals in his own right.  He finished the season with 84 points, including 57 assists (the third-highest total in the league) and 27 goals (second on the Bliss, behind Valentine).

“It’s great that Lance won this award, because he doesn’t get enough recognition,” said Valentine.  “He’s the ultimate team player.  When we need someone to create and set us up, he’s there with a perfect pass right on the tape.  When we need someone to generate offense, he can create his own shot and drive it home with the best of them.  If we need somebody to get along the wall and dig pucks out, he’s there for that too.  He’s a super-utility player.”

Winchester claims the award for the second year in a row and the third time overall.  He has long been one the SHL’s top assist men, regularly feeding high-scoring linemates Manning and Rick Nelson.  He once again led the league in assists with 68, seven ahead of the second-place finisher, Hamilton’s Claude Lafayette.  Thanks to his league league-leading assist haul, the 33-year-old Winchester was able to tie Sweet atop the points leaderboard.

“I’m getting to the backside of my career,” said Winchester.  “And what I want more than anything is to win a Vandy.  But until that happens, I’m glad that I can at least get some props for my passing prowess.”

Goalie of the Year: Ty Worthington, Anchorage Igloos

Historically, this award has belonged to Dirk Lundquist.  The Michigan goaltender had won this award three of the previous four seasons.  However, Lundquist (and the Wolves) had a down year in 2020, opening the field to other contenders.  This time around, the award went to Worthington, Lundquist’s close friend and netminder for the Wolves’ longtime rival in Anchorage.  Worthington had a typically terrific season, going 27-15-4 with a 2.40 GAA and a .926 save percentage.  Those marks are good enough to rank him first in the SHL in save percentage, second in GAA, and third in wins.

“Ty has always been one of the league’s top goalies,” said Igloos coach Sam Castor.  “But he’s always had to stand in The Bear’s shadow.  Finally, this season, Ty is able to get some of the recognition that he deserves.”

Other finalists for the award included Portland’s Jesse Clarkson, Quebec’s Riki Tiktuunen, and Lundquist.

Defenseman of the Year: Reese Milton, Hershey Bliss

This honor has been a long time in coming.  Milton has long been recognized as one of the SHL’s elite blueliners, but year after year, he would come up frustratingly short in the voting for the award.  He has been a finalist for the award every year in which it has been awarded, and he has come in second in the voting three times.  But this year is the first time Milton has actually won the award, getting the nod over Saskatchewan’s Wyatt Barnes in a close vote.  Milton’s two-way brilliance was just too much for the voters to ignore this time around: his 48 assists and 64 points were tops among blueliners, and his 16 goals tied him for second at the position, while his 150 blocks were second-most in the league.

“Wait, I actually won?!” said Milton, upon learning of his award.  “I didn’t think that was allowed!  I thought maybe the voters were biased against squirrels.  I thought I was always going to be the bridesmaid, never the bride.  Not literally, because I’ve never been an actual bridesmaid.  But you know what I mean.”

In addition to Barnes, other award finalists included Boston’s Matt Cherner, Portland’s Benny Lambert, and Milton’s teammate Jean-Luc Aubin.

CHL Update: Spuds Down Rhinos, Claim Second Straight Crown

This year’s CHL playoffs had a… familiar ring to them.  Three of the four playoff teams also made it last season.  (Only the Halifax Atlantics were newcomers.)  In the Finals, the Idaho Spuds faced off against the Virginia Rhinos for the second straight season.  Just like last season, the series lasted 6 games.  And just like last season, the Spuds emerged victorious, claiming their second consecutive Howard Trophy.

“This is the way to do it!” said Spuds C Dale Wilcox, shouting to be heard over the booming music in the victorious locker room.  “Go all the way and then have a big party.  I’m ready to do this every year!”

Idaho came into the Finals as the favored team, but they knew that the series would be no cakewalk and that the Rhinos would give them a battle.  “There’s a reason why Virginia makes the Finals every year,” said Spuds coach Gilbert McCoyne before the series started.  “They know how to bring their game up a level when it counts.  I know we’re going to have our hands full.”

The Rhinos showed in Game 1 that they would be no pushovers.  They walked into Treasure Valley Arena and muzzled Idaho’s roaring offense.  They limited the Spuds to just 25 shots, and goalie Quentin Chislic turned them all aside.  Second-period scores by RW Hank Diehl and LW Errol Garner were enough to deliver Virginia a 2-0 victory.  The home team was eager to get even in Game 2, which turned out to be something of a defensive chess match.  D Jackson Creed finally got the Spuds on the board in the series midway through the first period, and RW Dylan Alizarin added a power-play marker early in the second to double the lead.  C Ron Yaeckel struck back for Virginia later in the second, but the Rhinos’ offense sputtered after that (they managed only 19 shots in the contest) and they went on to lose 2-1.

The action shifted to the Tidewater for the next three games.  In Game 3, the pace picked up and both offenses got their opportunities.  The Rhinos took the early lead on a power-play score from D Graham Bellinger.  But Idaho overturned that lead early in the second, as RW Trace Walker and D Geoff Moultrie scored just over a minute apart.   Goalie Kelvin White slammed the door from there, stopping 34 Virginia shots to secure the Spuds’ 2-1 victory.  Game 4 wound up going to overtime, as Idaho LW Terry Cresson scored on the man advantage early in the third to even the score.  In the extra session, Idaho had numerous opportunities to take control of the series, but Chislic made one ten-bell save after another to keep the Rhinos in it.  (He had 10 saves in overtime, and 34 for the game.)  Finally, just over 14 minutes into overtime, Bellinger scored his second goal of the game to give Virginia a 3-2 win and even the series.

LW Zane Skandalakis, who had been one of the Rhinos’ leading regular-season scorers, finally returned from injury for Game 5, and it seemed like the series momentum might be shifting in favor of the underdogs.  But Idaho scored three times in the first five minutes of the third period to break open a tie game.  Virginia battled back, with a goal by Yaeckel and another by D Valeri Nistrumov with under five minutes remaining, but they couldn’t come up with the equalizer, and fell 5-4 to move within one game of elimination.

Coming back home for Game 6, the Spuds were looking to close things out.  But the Rhinos once again refused to go quietly.  D Rusty Sienna‘s goal on a shot from the point gave Idaho the early lead, but Virginia surged ahead before the end of the first on goals by Skandalakis and D Roscoe “Ruckus” Corbetta.  The score remained the same through the second, as Idaho wasted three power-play opportunities.  It looked as though the Rhinos would force Game 7.  But RW Britt Cadmium finally tied it in the third, finishing a beautiful dangle with a snipe between Chislic’s legs.  Then close to the period’s midpoint, Cresson picked up a sloppy pass in the neutral zone and fed Wilcox, who crashed the net and tucked it top-shelf for what would prove to be the game-winning goal in a 3-2 series clincher.

In a tight series that consisted almost entirely of one-goal games, it was fitting that netminder White, who finished the series with a 2.08 GAA and a .929 save percentage, was chosen as the Finals MVP.  “This was a real chess match of a series,” said McCoyne.  “If Kel hadn’t been on his toes in the net, a couple of those games could have easily gone the other way.  He snuffed out a lot of potential rallies.”

For the Rhinos, who have been to the Finals four straight years but have only won once.  they could only ponder what might have been.  “Ever see that movie ‘Sliding Doors’?” said coach Jeffrey Marsh.  “When you lose a series, it’s a lot like that.  The puck goes in instead of hitting the post, that failed clear actually makes it out of the zone instead of winding up in the back of the net, and suddenly you’re dyeing your hair blond and marrying some other guy.  I don’t actually remember how that movie ended because I fell asleep halfway through, but it was probably like that.”

Igloos Ponder Future After Difficult Finals Loss

The Anchorage Igloos have been the SHL’s standard of excellence since the league’s beginning.  They’ve been a great regular-season team, and they’ve been even better in the playoffs; they’ve been to the SHL Finals five times in six seasons.  They’ve had some big wins (championships in 2015 and 2018), and they’ve had some tough losses (like their 2017 Finals loss to the Hershey Bliss).

One thing had never happened to the Igloos before: they’d never been decisively outplayed in a postseason series.  That is, until now, when the Hamilton Pistols won their second straight Vandy in a five-game series in which they were clearly the superior team.

“This is different for us,” said C Jake Frost.  “We’ve lost before, but [the losses] were always close.  Even last year, the puck bounces different a couple times, and maybe that goes our way.  But this year, [the Pistols] just flat-out beat us.  They were the better team in this series.  We’re not used to that.”

Coach Sam Castor echoed Frost’s assessment.  “Coming into the Finals, after the way we knocked out Portland, we were feeling pretty confident,” the coach noted.  “We were hot, and we felt like we were poised for the win.  But Hamilton just took control of those games, and we couldn’t adjust.  That’s never happened to us before.”

Just like last year, the Igloos face some difficult contract decisions in the offseason.  The team is always right up against the salary cap, and they’ve got several players who need new contracts, led by D Ted Keefe, C Tom Hoffman, and winger Waldo Miranda.  It’s likely that the team will be saying goodbye to at least one or two key contributors by next season.

“We’re a tight-knit group that’s been through a lot together, and it’s hard to think about not being part of that anymore,” said Keefe, who directed his agent to halt extension talks in midseason to avoid the off-ice distraction.  “But change is part of life.  We’ll have to see what happens.”

In addition to the offseason roster shuffle, the Igloos face a large question: how much longer can their dynasty last?  It’s reasonable to argue that Hamilton, with consecutive championships, is now the SHL’s standard of excellence.  But Anchorage’s core is aging, there are rising powers in the West as well.  The Portland Bluebacks, who finished first in the regular season before suffering their playoff upset, should be as strong as ever.  The Saskatchewan Shockers have been on a steady upward climb, and the Kansas City Smoke have improved as well.  Even the Dakota Jackalopes, likely playing in a new city with a larger payroll, could be a threat.  Anchorage isn’t even guaranteed to make the playoffs next season.

“We’re not handing over our crown until someone takes it from us,” said LW Jerry Koons.  “But yeah, the division isn’t going to be a cakewalk, and we’ll need to be ready for that.”

Koons has a point; It would be foolhardy to count out a team with the Igloos’ talent and experience.  But it would also be myopic to assume that they will remain a Finals fixture forever.

“This team has some good runs left in them, I’m confident of that,” said Castor.  “It’s just going to be more of a fight.  But we’ve got that fight.”

Frye Selected as Finals MVP

Hamilton Pistols C Calvin Frye isn’t fond of talking about himself.  “I’m just a kid from Sarnia who can skate pretty good,” he likes to say.  “I’m pretty boring, to be honest.”  But it’s getting harder and harder for Frye to avoid the spotlight.  The 2016 first-round draft pick has blossomed into one of the league’s best players.  This season, he led the league in goals with 42.  He helped the Pistols become the SHL’s first back-to-back champions.  And now, the kid from Sarnia has been named the 2020 SHL Finals MVP.

“So much for keeping it low-key,” said Frye.  “I guess I’m famous now.”

Calvin Frye

When asked, Frye has always insisted that LW Steven Alexander is the true star of the Pistols.  But Frye has increasingly become the focal point of Hamilton’s offense.  He led the team in Finals goals with 5, and he was second to linemate Claude Lafayette in Finals points with 11.

For his part, Alexander considers Frye a deserving MVP.  “That kid has worked his [behind] off to get where he is,” the winger said.  “Make no mistake about that, he’s as driven and hard-working as I am.  Cal has been critical to our success as a team, and I love sharing a line with him.”

Hamilton coach Keith Shields also raved about Frye’s performance.  “In practice and in games, you know you’re going to see Fryer giving it his all out there,” Shields said.  “He’s a great mentor to the younger guys, a leader by example, and a total team player.  I can’t say enough good things about him.”

Frye helped get the series off on the right foot for the Pistols, scoring twice and adding an assist in Game 1’s 6-3 victory.  In Game 2, Frye scored and had assists on the game-winning and insurance goals, as Hamilton came from behind to triumph 5-3.  In Game 3, he and Alexander teamed up for a pair of goals in Hamilton’s 3-2 win.  And in Game 5, Frye scored the go-ahead tally and assisted on another to help the Pistols clinch the Vandy.

“Alex and Cal are great for each other,” said Lafayette.  “Alex is fire and Cal is ice.  They balance each other perfectly.  They’re a big reason why we’re such a dangerous team.”

In addition to the MVP award, Frye received a year’s supply of coffee and donuts from Tim Hortons and a new Kia Seltos SUV.  “I’m not gonna lie, I grew up on Timbits,” said Frye.  “So this is a nice nostalgia trip for me.  And I can take my sweet new ride to go pick them up!”

2020 SHL Finals – Game 5

HAMILTON PISTOLS 5, ANCHORAGE IGLOOS 1

(Hamilton wins series, 4-1)

As the Hamilton Pistols prepared for a potential Finals-clinching Game 5, LW Steven Alexander stood in the middle of the visiting locker room and made a brief but powerful statement.

“This ends tonight,” said Alexander of the series.  “When we go back to Hamilton, I don’t want to play more hockey.  I want to be able to go party and celebrate with our friends.  Who’s with me?”

The other Pistols shouted their assent.  Then they went out and dominated the Anchorage Igloos, cruising to a 5-1 win and becoming the first team in SHL history to win back-to-back championships.

“Double Vandys, baby!” crowed Alexander after the game.  “We’ve started a revolution in the SHL.  The old empires are falling, and now it’s our time!”

The first period was competitive, as the Igloos – fighting for their playoff lives – came out fast.  They outshot Hamilton 16-7 in the opening stanza.  But thanks to Lasse Koskinen‘s strong goaltending and a couple of quality shots, the Pistols came away with a lead after 20 minutes.

The Igloos took the first six shots of the game, but couldn’t get any of them behind Koskinen.  When the Pistols finally got some offensive zone time about five minutes in, it didn’t take RW Claude Lafayette long to score the game’s first goal with a fierce snipe that snuck in between Igloos goalie Ty Worthington‘s left arm and torso.

That initial lead was short-lived; Igloos C Jens Bunyakin scored the equalizer just 30 seconds later.  But the Pistols didn’t let that slow them down.  Later in the period, Anchorage was setting up for another extended offensive shift when Pistols D Albie Glasco managed to poke-check the puck away from Igloos LW Jerry Koons and over the blue line.  That set up a Hamilton jailbreak, which ended with a gorgeous drop pass to C Calvin Frye, who stashed it in the upper left corner of the net to make it a 2-1 game.

“Even though [the Igloos] got most of the shots in the first, we still came out ahead,” said Frye.  “We felt confident at that point that we were going to take it.”

Over the final 40 minutes, the Pistols slowly squeezed the life out of both the Igloos offense and the fans at Arctic Circle Arena as they steadily added to their lead.  Anchorage had as many shots in the first as they did over the rest of the game.

“I have to hand it to them,” said Igloos C Jake Frost of his victorious opponent.  “They could have tried to trap and sit on their lead, but they didn’t.  They really took it to us.”

Hamilton added two more goals in the second period, one early in the period on a slapshot by D Clayton Risch, and another late in the period on a tip-in at the doorstep by C J.C. Marais.

Alexander, naturally, put the capper on things early in the third with a blast from his favorite spot at the edge of the left faceoff circle.  The feisty winger dropped his stick and thrust his arms in the air, then skated over to the waiting embrace of his teammates.  As the Pistols celebrated, their whoops and hollers echoed in the rafter of the painfully quiet arena.

After Alexander’s score, it was just a matter of letting the time wind off the clock.  As the minutes ticked away, several Igloos stars on the bench covered their heads with towels, either to hide their emotions or so they didn’t have to watch.  Others sat, staring blankly into the distance as their championship hopes withered away.

When the final horn sounded, though, the Igloos raised their sticks in the air in tribute to their fans.  And the crowd gave their fallen heroes a standing ovation.  They even saved some applause for the winning Pistols, who acknowledged the tribute before heading down to the locker room to celebrate.

The post-game scene was a boisterous, jubilant celebration.  The Pistols smoked cigars and poured champagne over themselves and each other.  Players swayed arm-in-arm, singing old drinking songs off key in between swigs of beer and whiskey.

“I can’t think of a group of guys I’d rather go to war with,” crowed Alexander.  “These are my friends, my teammates, my comrades in arms.  Next year, let’s go for a three-peat!”

Coach Keith Shields, tie askew and suit jacket missing, celebrated his players.  “In victory, the glory always goes to God,” said Shields, “but these boys worked so hard for this all season, and they deserve this celebration.  It’s been my honor and privilege to share it with them!”

In the home locker room, Igloos coach Sam Castor paid tribute to the champions.  “They just outplayed us,” Castor said.  “It’s not often that I have to say that, but it’s true.  It was a good, clean. well-played series, but they outplayed us. and they deserved the Vandy.  It’s a tough pill for us to swallow, but it gives us a little extra fuel for next season.”

Continue reading “2020 SHL Finals – Game 5”

2020 SHL Finals – Game 4

ANCHORAGE IGLOOS 6, HAMILTON PISTOLS 4

(Hamilton leads series, 3-1)

For the Anchorage Igloos, there was only one goal in today’s Game 4: don’t get swept.  After the Hamilton Pistols won the first three games of the SHL Finals, the Igloos were on the brink of that ignominious end, and they were determined not to let that happen.  Not in front of their own fans at Arctic Circle Arena.  For a proud veteran team, the thought of such a humiliation was too much to bear.  And they didn’t let it happen, scoring four times in the second period on the way to a 6-4 win.

“This is the statement we’ve been looking for all series,” said C Jake Frost.

When the puck dropped to open the second, the game was tied 1-1 and the outcome was far from certain.  Igloos C Tom Hoffman, skating on the top line in a shake-up move by coach Sam Castor, won the faceoff and slid the puck to LW Jerry Koons.  Koons raced up the ice and passed it back to Hoffman, who began to loop behind the net, only to fire it just before he crossed the goal line and put it in to give the Igloos the lead.

Five minutes later, RW Nicklas Ericsson got behind the Hamilton defense and received a perfect pass from D Sebastian Pomfret.  Ericsson broke in alone on the net, dangled a bit, then went high to put the Igloos up by two.

“Nick is such a brilliant passer and facilitator that it’s easy to overlook his scoring talent,” said Castor.  “Just a remarkable player.”

Unlike in previous games, Anchorage managed to keep the Pistols from seizing the momentum.  When D Russ Klemmer scored to put Hamilton back within one less than a minute later, the Igloos kept the pressure on.  It was Frost who crashed the net and collected the loose puck and jammed it in to restore Anchorage’s two-goal lead.  When Pistols C Marco Venezio cut the deficit in half again, the Igloos needed just nine seconds for Koons to score on a slapshot from the slot.

Early in the third period, the Pistols threatened one more time when D Clayton Risch scored on a fluky looper of a shot that grazed the crossbar and went in.  This time, Anchorage’s seldom-used third line pitched in, as RW Jean Pierre Fleury juked his defender with a beautiful toe drag and then fired a shot about Hamilton goalie Lasse Koskinen‘s glove for his second goal of the game.

Any hope for a Pistols comeback in the rest of the game was snuffed out by a parade of penalties.  Hamilton went to the box three times in the third period, preventing them from establishing any sort of rhythm or sustained pressure.  As the final horn sounded, the Igloos gathered in a knot and traded head bumps while the crowd cheered with relief.

So the Igloos managed to prevent the sweep.  Their next goal: a win in Game 5 to keep Hamilton from celebrating on Anchorage’s ice.  “I said yesterday that we’re taking these one at a time,” said Castor.  “We got this one, and now we need to come out tomorrow and get the next one.”

The Pistols, meanwhile, remained confident that they will ultimately prevail.  “We never expected a sweep,” said coach Keith Shields.  “Anchorage is too good and talented a team to go down without a fight.  But if we keep playing the way we’ve been playing, we’ll be in good shape.”

Continue reading “2020 SHL Finals – Game 4”