The matchup for the Vandenburg Trophy Finals is now set, as the Anchorage Igloos claimed the Western Division and will meet the Washington Galaxy for the championship. The Igloos came into the last week of the season with the best record in the league, but with only a 6-point edge on the second-place Michigan Gray Wolves. The two teams have battled it out all season, with Michigan’s heavy physical style pitted against Anchorage’s faster, skill-based play.
At the start of the week, Igloos RW Nicklas Ericsson fired a shot across the bow by saying, “There’s a lot riding on this title. I know a lot of people are rooting for talent to win out over thuggishness.” Gray Wolves LW Vladimir Beruschko shot back, “The win will come down to heart, who is the biggest warrior. We do not mean to make it easy.”
The teams faced off head-to-head on Saturday in Anchorage, with the Igloos winning 3-1 to put the Wolves behind the 8-ball. “No more room for errors,” said Michigan coach Martin Delorme after the game. “All there is now is winning.”
The Gray Wolves got a break in their next game; they shut out Dakota 2-0, while Anchorage blew a lead late and suffered a stunning 3-2 loss to Saskatchewan. “We can’t take our foot off the gas yet,” Igloos coach Sam Castor admonished his team after the game. “The lack of effort we showed in the third was appalling. Michigan’s too good for us to take this for granted.”
The Igloos and Gray Wolves then faced off again, this time at Cadillac Place. Between periods, the team’s mascots, Anchorage’s Petey the Polar Bear and Michigan’s Wally Wolf, engaged in a sumo-style wrestling match at center ice. The mascots have been feuding all season, and both teams felt it was time to settle things.
Each mascot won one fall; just as they were preparing to line up for the deciding third fall, Wally stuck out his hand to offer peace. Petey shook, and they left the ice arm-in-arm. “If Petey and Wally can make peace, there’s hope for the world,” said a visibly moved Igloos C Nile Bernard. The Gray Wolves won the actual game, 2-1, to remain alive.
The battle lasted until the second-to-last game of the season, when the Igloos routed Saskatchewan 6-2 to clinch both the division and the Congress Trophy for winning the league points title. The team engaged in a fairly low-key celebration; Castor led a locker-room toast and the players exchanged high-fives and hugs, but there wasn’t any loud music or over-the-top shouting and hollering.
“I think we’re all focused on the [championship trophy],” said C Jake Frost. “We won’t really feel like the season is complete unless we win the whole thing.”
Castor predicted glory for his team, saying, “We’ve fought long and hard to get to this point. We’ve been a strong team from the start, and we’re getting stronger. I think it’s going to be very tough to beat us.”