Going into the second Vandenberg Cup Finals, the situation seems similar to last season, as the Eastern champion Washington Galaxy head into the series as a significant underdog against a powerful Western foe. There are a couple of key differences this time, however. For one thing, instead of the Anchorage Igloos, the Galaxy are facing off against the Michigan Gray Wolves this time. For another, the Galaxy feel much more confident heading into this series.
The Wolves come in on the heels of an impressive regular season. They finished with a record of 43-14-3, slightly better than Anchorage’s mark last season. Under new coach Ron Wright, Michigan displayed the same ferocious, swarming defense that helped them succeed last season, while adding a more potent offense that made them extremely tough to beat.
“This team is all about heart and hustle,” said Wright. “There’s plenty of talent here, make no mistake, but it’s paired with a grinding, blue-collar work ethic.”
Perhaps the Wolves’ greatest weapon, though, is between the pipes. G Dirk “The Bear” Lundquist has been the best goalie in the SHL for two seasons running, posting a 39-10-2 record with a 1.57 GAA and a .941 save percentage. “In the playoffs, every goal is critical,” said Wright. “And nobody in this league can prevent goals better than The Bear.”
Given Michigan’s many strength, the Finals will present a tall order for Washington. But according to Galaxy RW Jefferson McNeely, his team isn’t scared. “We feel like this series is a total toss-up,” said McNeely. “If the Wolves want to write us off, they’ll regret it.”
McNeely pointed out that his team has been tested. Last season, they pushed the heavily-favored Igloos to 7 games in the Finals. This year, they fought off a fierce challenge from Hershey to claim the division title on the last day of the season. They closed the season on a seven-game winning streak. “We’ve been in the trenches,” said McNeely. “We’re battle-tested, and we know how to win in key situations. We’ve got this.”