2017 SHL Finals – Game 2


After the Hershey Bliss were embarrassed 5-1 in the first game of the SHL Finals, many observers were ready to declare the series over.  The heavily favored Anchorage Igloos had bludgeoned the Bliss, goading them into taking foolish penalties and stonewalling their shots.  Although Bliss coach Chip Barber pointed out that it “only counts as one loss,” many wondered if Hershey would be able to recover.

Turns out that they could.  The Bliss shook off the sting of the previous game, and although it required overtime, they managed to top the Igloos 2-1, tying the series at 1-1.

“When it comes to the playoffs, you’ve got to have a short memory,” said Bliss LW Lance Sweet, who scored the game-winning goal.  “If you led a bad game get in your head, you might as well forfeit.  We weren’t going to let that happen.”

In the first game, Hershey committed four penalties in the first period and giving up three goals, digging themselves into a big hole that they were never able to climb out of.  With that in mind, Barber cautioned his team to avoid taking cheap penalties in this game.  It appeared that the Bliss hadn’t heeded their coach’s words when, less than a minute into the game, linesman Ken McGillis made a controversial offsides call that nullified a potential odd-man rush for Hershey.  A frustrated Henry Constantine slammed his stick into the boards and was assessed a two-minute penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct.

“I was so mad at myself,” said Constantine.  “I thought we’d been ripped off on a bad call, then I went and made it worse.”

But the Bliss managed to kill off the penalty, and avoided taking any others in the period, which ended with no score.  Hershey also managed to avoid taking any penalties in the second period, after which the game still remained scoreless.  Through two periods, the game was about as evenly matched as possible: both teams had taken 18 shots, committed one minor penalty, and not managed to record a goal.

“Coming into the locker room after that second period with it still 0-0 really made us feel good,” said Bliss C Justin Valentine.  “Our confidence level was rising like, ‘Hey, we can hang with these guys.  And we can win this.'”

In the third period, Hershey went on the power play two minutes in when Igloos D Olaf Martinsson received a double minor for spearing Bliss LW Russell Nahorniak.  The Bliss needed only five second to convert, with Valentine blistering a close-range shot off of Anchorage goalie Ty Worthington‘s shoulder and into the net.  “That really silenced the crowd,” said Valentine.  “They knew that the way we were both playing, that might be the only goal of the game.”

The Igloos stepped up their pace after that in an effort to tilt the ice and overwhelm the Bliss.  Hershey held strong for much of the period, but with just under four minutes remaining, Igloos C Jake Frost and LW Jerry Koons got loose on a two-man breakaway that ended with Koons going top-shelf and finding the back of the net to tie it up.  The crowd at Arctic Circle Arena exploded as their heroes received new life.

The din only got louder a couple minutes later when Bliss LW Vonnie McLearen accidentally clipped Igloos LW Ben Summers in the face and got a minor for high-sticking.  The Igloos sent Worthington to the bench for a 6-on-4 advantage.  “We knew we were really going to be tested,” said Valentine.  “We knew we needed to stand strong.”

Stand strong they did, fighting off the penalty and sending the game to overtime.  The Bliss dominated the play in overtime but couldn’t quite break through until Igloos D Hans Mortensen was whistled for slashing, putting Hershey on the power play.

The Bliss didn’t press or panic with the man advantage.  They kept control of the puck, passing it around and waiting for an opportunity.  Sweet finally saw one when Bliss D Reese Milton faked a shot and slid it over to Sweet.  With Worthington out of position, the Bliss winger was able to find the open net, ending the game and giving Hershey a much-needed victory.

After the game, Barber highly praised the work of netminder Brandon Colt.  After a rough outing in Game 1, some fans were calling for Colt to be benched in favor of backup Milo Stafford.  But the coach kept faith in his starter, and Colt rewarded him with a strong game, stopping 33 shots.

“A lot of people were saying Brandon couldn’t handle it at this level, that he melts in the clutch like a bag of Kisses in a hot car,” said Barber.  “I don’t think they’ll be saying that after tonight.  This is a wide-open series.”

Continue reading “2017 SHL Finals – Game 2”

2017 SHL Finals – Game 1


The Anchorage Igloos entered the Vandenberg Cup Finals as heavy favorites.  The “favorite” label can come with considerable pressure in the playoffs, as anything can happen in a short series.  In Game 1, at least, the Igloos didn’t let the pressure get to them, as they scored three goals in the first period and cruised to a 5-1 win over the Hershey Bliss.

“If all the games are this easy, it’ll be a short series,” said Anchorage RW Nicklas Ericsson, who had a goal and two assists.  “But we know they won’t all be this easy.”

The Bliss put themselves in trouble in the first period, committing four penalties.  The Igloos took advantage, scoring a pair of power-play goals.  Four minutes into the game, Hershey D Nikolai Kulkarov was whistled for hooking when he brought down Anchorage C Derek Humplik in order to prevent a breakaway.  Igloos C Jake Frost buried a slapshot from the top of the faceoff circle to make it 1-0.  Late in the period, Bliss C Henry Constantine flipped the puck over the glass for a delay of game penalty.  Before they could kill it off, D Joel Baldwin tried to draw a tripping call, but was called for embellishment.  Igloos RW Remi Montrechere cashed in during the waning seconds of the period, putting a rebound home past a sprawled Brandon Colt.  In between, LW Les Collins scored during 5-on-5 play, and the Igloos went to the locker room with a 3-0 edge, depsite being outshot 19-8.  The crowd at Arctic Circle Arena razzed the visiting Bliss on their way into the locker room.

“We were a little shell-shocked,” said Bliss C Justin Valentine of the first 20 minutes.  “We’d dominated long stretches of play, but look at the scoreboard and they were wiping the floor with us.”

In the second period, Baldwin tried to fire up his struggling team by starting a pair of fights.  In mid-period, he responded to a rough check by RW Tony Citrone by throwing hands with him.  Late in the period, he scrapped with Collins after the two traded jabs during a faceoff.

“I felt like we needed to shake things up,” said Baldwin.  “And I thought a good fight or two might change the momentum.”

Baldwin’s fisticuffs failed to spark Hershey, however, as Anchorage LW Jerry Koons scored the only goal of the period, yet another power-play tally.

Bliss LW Noah Daniels salvaged some dignity for his team, scoring four and a half minutes into the third period to foil Anchorage netminder Ty Worthington‘s shutout bid.  But Ericsson put one more home for the Igloos to restore their four-goal advantage, and that’s how the game ended.

Hershey coach Chip Barber was crestfallen after the game.  “Not the way that we wanted to start this series,” Barber told reporters.  “This loss was as bitter as biting into a chunk of backer’s chocolate.  But it only counts as one loss, thank goodness.”

Barber highlighted a couple of areas for his team to improve on in Game 2.  “Obviously, we’ve got to cut down on the penalties,” the Bliss coach said.  “Against a team this good, you can’t give them extra chances.  And we’ve got to find ways to get some more pucks past Worthington.”  The Igloos goalie made 38 saves in the game.

Continue reading “2017 SHL Finals – Game 1”

Favored Igloos, Underdog Bliss Prepare for Finals

On paper, the 2017 Vandenberg Cup Finals look like a mismatch.  The Anchorage Igloos finished the season 20 points ahead of the Hershey Bliss, and they outrank Hershey in virtually every statistical category.

The Bliss have a strong offense that put up 206 goals and 586 points, both good for third in the league.  But the Igloos were first in the league offensively, outscoring Hershey by 100 points.  Hershey’s “Love Line” of LW Lance Sweet, C Justin Valentine, and RW Christopher Hart is undeniably impressive, with Sweet and Valentine both finishing among the top 10 point scorers.  But Anchorage’s top line of LW Jerry Koons, C Jake Frost, and RW Nicklas Ericsson all finished among the top 4 in the league in points.

Hershey’s defense was respectable, allowing 1953 shots, fifth in the SHL; Anchorage’s was better (1897 shots, second).  Between the pipes, the Igloos’ Ty Worthington (31-6-4, 1.78 GAA, .942 save percentage) outshone Bliss netminder Brandon Colt (24-16-4, 2.94, .909).  The only category in which Hershey is clearly superior is their league-best power play (21.9%).

But the Finals aren’t played on paper, and Hershey is plenty confident heading into the series.  “I’m already tired of all the sweep talk,” said Valentine.  “Nobody seems to think we can win this.  But nobody seemed to think we could beat Washington and win the division, either.  Nobody seemed to think we’d ever get over blowing it last year.  Believe me, we’re making note of everyone who’s writing us off and taking it all in.”

Bliss coach “Chocolate Chip” Barber echoed Valentine’s defiant tone.  “The so-called ‘experts’ seem to think we’re just going to roll over and play dead,” Barber told reporters.  “That kind of talk just fuels us, like a chocolate bar in the middle of the afternoon.  We look at this as a chance to prove ourselves on the biggest stage.  Don’t be surprised if the Vandy’s filled up with chocolate by the time this is over.”

For their part, the Igloos don’t appear to be taking this matchup lightly.  “You can throw out what happened in the regular season,” said Anchorage coach Sam Castor.  “It’s back to 0-0 now.  We haven’t won anything yet.  We know we’re going to need to stay sharp and play our best if we’re going to win thing.  No one in this locker room is taking anything for granted.”

Added Frost: “This is going to be a tough series.  We’re going to really have to be on our toes.  But we’ve been really strong this year, and I think we’re ready.”

2017 SHL Final Team Stats

Team Totals

Team             GP    SH    G    A  Pts   PP%  +/-
Anchorage        60  2554  238  448  686  19.8  101
Dakota           60  2626  218  402  620  18.8   -7
Hershey          60  2200  206  380  586  21.9   20
Saskatchewan     60  1910  185  346  531  17.7   -9
New York         60  2402  179  338  517  18.1  -50
Hamilton         60  1998  177  334  511  20.9  -14
Seattle          60  1795  174  323  497  19.9  -85
Washington       60  2196  171  312  483  19.5   27
Michigan         60  1987  169  307  476  16.7   64
Quebec           60  1453  109  192  301  16.9  -47

Team             GP   W   L   T   GAA   SH   SV    SV%   PK%  PIM
Michigan         60  40  16   4  1.64 1696 1596  0.941  85.9  506
Anchorage        60  42  12   6  2.16 1897 1766  0.931  84.7  527
Washington       60  33  27   0  2.54 1920 1767  0.920  78.0  592
Quebec           60  20  33   7  2.77 1927 1758  0.912  80.2  535
Hamilton         60  29  30   1  2.83 2091 1920  0.918  87.1  581
Hershey          60  32  22   6  2.94 1953 1774  0.908  79.3  477
Saskatchewan     60  23  35   2  3.28 2333 2135  0.915  77.5  474
Dakota           60  23  35   2  3.85 2225 1992  0.895  76.5  481
New York         60  21  36   3  3.98 2586 2345  0.907  76.4  557
Seattle          60  20  37   3  4.15 2493 2242  0.899  82.4  532

Continue reading “2017 SHL Final Team Stats”

2017 SHL League Leaders

Koons          ANC     90
Ericsson       ANC     89
Frye           HAM     87
Frost          ANC     80
Smyth          HAM     73
Sweet          HSY     73
Alexander      HAM     70
Karlsson       DAK     69
Valentine      HSY     69
Lafayette      HAM     68

Frost          ANC     47
Alexander      HAM     45
Koons          ANC     44
Valentine      HSY     39
Mango          SEA     38
Frye           HAM     37
Manning        NY      37
Airston        DAK     30
Beasley        SAS     29
Karlsson       DAK     28

Ericsson       ANC     73
Smyth          HAM     66
Lidjya         DAK     51
Frye           HAM     50
Sweet          HSY     48
Lafayette      HAM     47
Koons          ANC     46
Winchester     NY      46
Barnes         SAS     46
Hart           HSY     45

     Penalty Minutes     
Gromov         HSY    103
Madison        MIC    101
Hogaboom       WSH     92
Warriner       WSH     90
Kalashnikov    QUE     89
Collins        ANC     83
Wesson         HAM     82
Zhzhynov       QUE     82
Martinsson     ANC     80
Mulligan       HAM     79

Ericsson       ANC     57
Frederick      ANC     57
Koons          ANC     56
Frost          ANC     56
Keefe          ANC     52
Douglas        MIC     35
Kronstein      MIC     31
Bailes         MIC     31
Lunsford       MIC     31
Madison        MIC     30

       Goalie Wins       
Lundquist      MIC     32
Worthington    ANC     31
Colt           HSY     24
Orion          WSH     22
Koskinen       HAM     17

Lundquist      MIC   1.39
Worthington    ANC   1.78
Tiktuunen      QUE   1.88
Orion          WSH   2.40
Copeland       MIC   2.78

         Save %          
Lundquist      MIC  0.952
Worthington    ANC  0.942
Tiktuunen      QUE  0.941
Orion          WSH  0.925
Koskinen       HAM  0.924

SHL Player of the Week – Week 12

Jake Frost

The SHL selected Anchorage Igloos C Jake Frost as its Player of the Week.  Frost finished the season with a bang, scoring 12 points (7 goals, 5 assists), a total made all the more impressive by the fact that he played in only four of the Igloos’ five games this week.  His most impressive day came on Tuesday, when he scored four goals and added four assists in Anchorage’s division-clinching 9-1 stomping of Saskatchewan.

Frost’s final-week burst of scoring allowed him to finish with a league-leading 47 goals.  His 80 points was good for fourth in the league, trailing Igloos teammates Jerry Koons and Nicklas Ericsson and Hamilton’s Calvin Frye.  Frost led Anchorage to its second Congress Trophy as the Igloos racked up 90 points, the most in SHL history.

“Jake is a really remarkable player,” said Koons.  “He’s an elite scorer, but he’s totally unselfish.  He’s willingly taken a step back to allow guys like me and Nicky and Collie [Les Collins] to grow to our fullest potential.  But make no mistake, at the end of the day it’s still Jake’s team.”