The Anchorage Igloos’ defense of their title is off to a less-than-inspiring start. Two weeks into the season, Anchorage sits at a ho-hum 5-4-1 record and are already 5 points behind division-leading Michigan, with Dakota and even Saskatchewan nipping at the Igloos’ heels. Coach Sam Castor, though, says it’s far too early to panic.
After Tuesday’s surprising 3-2 loss to the Shockers, a reporter asked Castor if the Igloos were suffering a “championship hangover.” Castor lit into the questioner, saying, “I don’t want to hear any of these Chicken Little sky-is-falling questions. This is why I never listen to sports radio: it’s all about this kind of hysterical response to whatever’s happening now. Anyone who’s panicking this early isn’t a real hockey fan.”
The coach pointed out that the Igloos got off to a similarly slow start last season, which is true. Two weeks in last year, Anchorage was 6-4-2 and trailing the Wolves by 4 points. They caught fire over the next three weeks, passed Michigan and never looked back on their march to the championship.
“Michigan is a jackrabbit,” said Castor. “We’re a little slower-starting, but we’ll be there in the end.” The coach noted that the Igloos were outshooting their opponents by a wide margin but that the shots weren’t going in, just as was the case last year.
“Any fans out there that are getting anxious, have a beer and relax,” said Castor. “We’re every bit as strong as we were last year, and we’re going to prove it.”
Despite Castor’s assurances, though, there are some reasons for concern. Anchorage’s offense has been a bit sluggish to date. LW Les Collins, who skates on the third line, currently leads the team in goals (5) and is tied for the team lead in points (10). It’s an encouraging start for Collins, who is a rising star, but a discouraging sign for the Igloos’ established stars. In particular, C Jake Frost appears to be struggling. Last year, he finished with 60 goals, second only to Steven Alexander of Hamilton in the league. This year, he has only 4 goals so far. Anchorage’s opponents appear to be planning their defenses around stopping Frost, and it’s been effective so far.
“I know I’m getting a lot fewer clean looks and quality shots than I did last year,” said Frost. “I’ve got to work on creating opportunities for my teammates where I can, and make other teams adjust.”
On the other end of the ice, G Ty Worthington has looked mortal compared to last season, when he posted a 32-8-4 record with a 2.09 GAA and a .926 save percentage. This year’s numbers (4-3-1, 2.72 GAA, .904) are far from dismal, but they’re also far from elite. Worthington’s performance hasn’t been able to make up for the Igloos’ sagging offense.
“I’m not up to the level I can play at,” Worthington admitted. “But I usually get stronger as the season goes along, and I expect that this year as well.”
Castor concedes that the division race will be competitive. “Let’s be honest: The Wolves were strong last year, and they are again. Dakota’s strong. Even Saskatchewan’s better. But we’re still kings of the hill. If anyone wants to take that title away from us, they’ll have to come and get it.”