After the Hershey Bliss won Game 7 of the SHL Finals in overtime to claim the Vandy, the Anchorage Igloos lined up to shake hands with their opponents and congratulate them on a game well played. After that, they quietly filed off the ice, barely acknowledging their stunned and heartbroken fans, and headed into the locker room. In the clubhouse, they encountered workers hastily tearing down the plastic sheeting they’d put up, preparing for a celebration that never happened. It was a fitting metaphor for the Igloos, who sat quietly and pondered how they had lost a series everyone thought they would win.
“It’s hard to believe,” said C Jake Frost, who led the league in goals but couldn’t get his team over the hump in the Finals. “I don’t know that it’s really sunk in yet. It doesn’t seem real.”
Coming into this series, Anchorage seemed almost guaranteed to win their second SHL title. They finished the season 20 points ahead of Hershey, and appeared to be the superior team in virtually every way. And after blasting the Bliss 5-1 in Game 1, it appeared the only question was whether the Igloos would sweep or win it in five. But every game after that was a one-goal affair (save for a blowout Hershey win in Game 5), and two went to overtime.
“It was about as close to a tie as it could be,” said RW Nicklas Ericsson. “But in the playoffs, there are no ties. Someone must win.”
Anchorage’s league-best offense was virtually invisible after that first game; they scored only 8 times in the final six games of the series. “We had a hard time establishing momentum on the attack,” said Frost. “Most games during the season, we were able to play our game and impose our will on the other team. Not in this series. This was more like a Michigan game, the defense was that strong.”
Some Anchorage players pointed to the loss of netminder Ty Worthington, who was injured at the beginning of Game 5, as a pivotal factor in the series. “I think we win it with Ty in there and healthy,” said D Ted Keefe. “He was such a huge factor for us.” On the other hand, the Bliss also lost their leading scorer, C Justin Valentine, in that game.
Igloos coach Sam Castor was blunt in his assessment of his team’s performance. “It was a close series, but we were outplayed,” Castor told reporters. “They wanted it more, and I don’t think we were properly prepared for that. As a coach, I take responsibility for that. I think we took them too lightly, which is always dangerous in a playoff situation.”
Looking forward, Castor and his players remain confident, especially with the expanded four-team playoff field next season. “The good news is that with the bigger playoffs, we can make it even if Michigan finishes ahead of us,” said Frost. “The bad news is that we’ll probably play them in the first round no matter what. But that’s fine. If you want to be the best, you have to beat the best.”