Coming into the 2019 season, it looked like the defending champion Anchorage Igloos were in for a strong performance. They returned most of the key pieces from last year’s team, and their opponents seemed to be standing still or getting worse. Their longtime rivals, the Michigan Gray Wolves, had an aging roster; meanwhile, neither the Seattle Sailors nor the Saskatchewan Shockers had made any major upgrades. The Igloos weren’t exactly on a glide path to the postseason, but they certainly appeared to have a strong shot at becoming the SHL’s first back-to-back champion.
The Igloos and their fans have been in for a rude shock so far this season, however. Anchorage stumbled badly out of the gate. Their offense has struggled to light the lamp, their power play has been lackluster, and their typically excellent defense has been merely average. Adding insult to injury, not only Michigan has been nearly unbeatable so far, but the Igloos have been looking up at both Seattle and Saskatchewan at times as well.
Finally, the situation came to a head. The Igloos held a closed-door, players-only meeting after last Saturday’s 3-2 overtime loss to Michigan, a game in which Anchorage blew a third-period lead and which ran their winless streak to seven. The players declined to discuss exactly what was said, but afterward, several of them spoke of the need to get things turned around quickly and get back on the winning track.
“I think there’s a sense among a lot of us that we’ve gotten a little complacent,” said Igloos C Jake Frost. “We’ve acted like the playoffs should be automatic for us, but we’re going to have to work hard to get there. This division is no cakewalk, that’s for sure.”
LW Jerry Koons, who was briefly demoted to the second line last week, said that the team planned to modify its approach on both ends. “Offensively, we’ve been getting a lot of shots, but we’re wanting to trade some of that quantity for quality,” Koons said. “Being a little more patient, getting better looks, getting into high-danger areas, that’s important.”
On defense, Koons said, “we just need to get back to basics a little bit. Wall work, shot blocking, things like that. We need to focus more of our time and attention there.”
LW Les Collins described the meeting as “very productive, and a good chance for everyone to speak up and get things off their chest.” Asked about the key message of the meeting, Collins said, “The big one was that we’re too good to be playing like this, and we need to step it up.”
The meeting seems to have had the desired effect, as Anchorage hasn’t lost a game since; their current winning streak sits at four games. The week’s highlights included Tuesday’s 4-1 win over Michigan, which handed the Wolves their first loss of the season, and a 7-2 thrashing of Washington on Saturday.
Coach Sam Castor, who called out his team publicly after a so-so start last season, was pleased at the players-only meeting. “To me, that’s a great sign of accountability,” Castor told reporters. “We’ve got a lot of veterans in this locker room, and for them to step up and call on the team to improve, that’s what I like to see.
“The best accountability comes from within, and we’re definitely seeing that here. In the long run, that’s what matters. And we have a good track record, so I’m confident we’re getting things turned around.”