The 2018 Vandenberg Cup Finals is a study in contrasts. The Anchorage Igloos, champions of the West, are making their third trip to the Finals in four years. Their success has been built on a powerful, high-flying offense. The Quebec Tigres, coming out of the East, parlayed their first-ever winning record into their first-ever Finals visit. They have risen to the top on the strength of their defense, goaltending, and prefer a slow pace.
“We play totally different games,” said Igloos coach Sam Castor. “Whichever team dictates the pace will win this series.”
The teams’ differing styles can be seen in the statistics. Anchorage averaged 37.3 shots per game during the regular season, the league’s second-highest total; similarly, only one team scored more than the Igloos’ 213 goals. Quebec, meanwhile, generated a mere 27.7 shots per game; only the expansion clubs in Boston and Kansas City were less prolific. (They were eighth in the league with 183 goals.) On the other side of the ledger, the Tigres held opponents to 27 shots per game, the second-fewest in the SHL; meanwhile, the Igloos yielded 30.5 shots a game, which placed them in the middle of the pack.
Perhaps ironically, both teams dispatched an opponent in the division round that resembles the club they will face in the Finals. In the West, the Igloos shocked the Michigan Gray Wolves in a sweep. The Tigres make no secret of their attempt to copy the Wolves’ model of defense, strong goaltending, and puck control. Quebec coach Martin Delorme made his SHL debut as the bench boss in Michigan. Meanwhile, the Tigres outlasted the Hamilton Pistols in a series that went the distance. The Pistols play a fast-paced, offense-first style that strongly resembles Anchorage’s.
The Igloos are widely considered the favorite in this series, despite the fact that Quebec actually finished with a higher point total in the regular season, 81 to 80. The Tigres have a bit of a chip on their shoulder as a result. “We definitely felt like we’ve been overlooked this season,” said Tigres LW Walt Camernitz, the free-agent signee who wound up tying for the team lead in goals with 31. “Everyone acts like it’s some sort of fluke that we won our division, or that we made the Finals. Now we have a chance to prove it on the ice. If we win the Vandy, people will have to take us seriously.”
Anchorage, meanwhile, is wary of assuming the Goliath role. Last season, they went into the Finals as heavy favorites, only to be stunned in seven games by the Hershey Bliss. “If anyone in this locker room thinks that the hard part is over because we beat Michigan, they’d better think again,” said Castor. “Anything can happen in a short series; we found that out the hard way last year. We definitely have the ability to win this, but Quebec’s not going to make it easy on us. We have to bring the same drive and intensity that we did in the last round if we’re going to do this.”
The Igloos’ star, C Jake Frost, said that the team is dedicating this series to teammate Remi Montrechere, who was hurt in the division round and will miss the Finals. “We’ve got to pick up the slack with Remi being out,” said Frost. “We’re going to do this for him, and for ourselves. We’re hungry for another title.”