In the 2019 Vandenberg Cup Finals, the student faces off against the master. The master, of course, is the defending champion Anchorage Igloos. The Igloos are making their fourth trip to the Finals in the last five years, and trying to win their third title. However, unlike last year, when they faced the Quebec Tigres – a team that plays the exact opposite of Anchorage’s fast-skating, high-scoring style – the champions are facing the Hamilton Pistols, a team unashamedly built in their image.
When Keith Shields became coach of the Pistols in 2016, he looked around for a successful team to emulate, and settled on the Igloos. “I felt like we had the personnel to play their style a lot better than, say, Michigan’s,” Shields said. “And honestly, Igloos games were a lot of fun to watch, and I figured that would fire up our fans.” The coach showed his players films of Igloos games and encouraged them to learn everything they could.
“In the early days, I think we watched more of [the Igloos’] game film than our own,” said C Calvin Frye. “I was seeing Jake Frost in my sleep.”
Now, Frye and his teammates will be seeing Frost in the flesh, and battling his team for the title. “For so long, we’ve been trying to be as good as they are,” said LW Steven Alexander. “Now it’s time for us to take the next step and become better.”
The young, scrappy, and hungry Pistols are excited for the challenge. “Our energy level in the locker room is through the roof,” said D Hercules Mulligan. “We can’t wait to get out on the ice and show the world what we’ve been building.”
The Igloos come into the series as the favorite, but only a narrow one. Most observers agree that while the West was once the dominant division, the gap between West and East has narrowed considerably in recent seasons. The Igloos had to go the distance to dispatch Quebec last year, and they lost to the Hershey Bliss the year before. And Anchorage finished with a record only slightly better than Hamilton’s (81 points to 78).
“Nobody on our side is going into this thinking it will be easy,” said Igloos coach Sam Castor. “Hamilton’s a very good team, and they can play our game better than anyone except us. They’ve studied everything we do, and they know how to counter us. We we able to run over Seattle, but this is going to be a different series. We’re going to have to bring our game up to the next level if we’re going to win this. We can’t afford to rest on our laurels.”
LW Jerry Koons struck a more confident tone than his coach. “We’ve been here before, and we know what we need to do,” Koons said. “We know that we’re up against a quality opponent, but we’ve faced quality opponents before. We just need to go out and play our game.”