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.”