What a difference a year makes. Both last season and this season, the Michigan Gray Wolves rocketed off to a strong start in the West. By this time last year, the Anchorage Igloos were in the process of overtaking the Wolves and establishing a division lead they wouldn’t relinquish all year. This year, however, is a different story. Michigan has yet to cool off, and the Igloos are already 10 points behind.
Friday’s head-to-head match between the two reflected the new reality. The Wolves banged home a pair of goals 11 second apart in the middle of the first period, then relied on their suffocating defense to hold Anchorage down the rest of the way. They limited the Igloos to 24 shots for the entire game, including only six in the third period, and surrendered a lone goal on the way to a 2-1 victory. With the win, Michigan moved to 4-0-1 against Anchorage on the season.
After the game, Igloos coach Sam Castor admitted that his team faces a tough road ahead. “Michigan’s doing to us what we did to them last year,” Castor said. “We’re playing well, but they’re practically unbeatable.”
The coach went on to say that his team would need to start beating the Wolves head-to-head if they were going to make some headway. “I mean, if we’d split the season series against them so far, we’d be two points back and this is a different conversation,” Castor pointed out. “We’ve got five more games against them this year. We need to treat them as playoff games, because that’s what they are for us.”
Igloos C Jake Frost agreed with his coach’s assessment. “I know there was a feeling in the locker room that [the Wolves] were going to come back to earth, just like last year,” said Frost. “That’s obviously not going to happen. They’re for real, and we need to accept that. If we’re going to take the division this year, we’re going to have to go get it ourselves.”
“I think we did come into the year a little complacent, like we’d already showed we were the best and we just had to go out there and do it again,” said Igloos LW Jerry Koons. “But Michigan is definitely stronger than last year. They’re more balanced; they don’t just rely on big checks and the Bear [goalie Dirk Lundquist] to win.”
For his part, Wolves coach Ron Wright is intent on making sure his team stays focused. “We haven’t won anything yet,” said Wright after Friday’s game. “The Igloos are too good for us to afford a slip-up. We take our foot off the gas, hit a little rough patch, and they’ll be neck-and-neck with us. We need to stay strong.”
Informed of Castor’s comment about treating Wolves-Igloos games as “playoff games,” Wright smiled and said, “We’ve looked at them that way all along.”
Michigan C Hunter Bailes said that the Wolves are ready for the long haul. “We’ve worked hard and fought hard to get to this point,” said Bailes. “We’re not about to let it slip through our fingers.”
The Igloos and Wolves next face off in two weeks at Arctic Circle Arena.