In recent seasons, the Anchorage Igloos have mastered the art of the slow start. For the last three years, the Igloos have stumbled out of the gate, prompting a round of stories about whether the team’s reign at the top of the Western Division was finally over.
In 2018, the Igloos were 12-13-0 at the end of the season’s fifth week. Last year, Anchorage got off to a dreadful 3-6-3 start and were still mired in fourth place with a sub-.500 mark as late as Week 5. But shortly thereafter, the Igloos took off on runs that quickly re-established them in their usual perch in the standings. In both seasons, the Igloos reached the SHL Finals, in ’18, they won their second Vandy.
This season, the Igloos’ season-opening swoon was their worst yet. After losing 7-3 to the Portland Bluebacks last Sunday, Anchorage’s record stood at 2-7-0. It was the worst record in the league, the first time that the Igloos had ever earned that dubious distinction. The roster underwent significant turnover before this season, and the West’s other teams have been growing stronger by the season. Was this the year that the Igloos were finally done as a contender?
And then, right on schedule, they turned things around. Saturday’s wild 8-7 win over the Washington Galaxy was the Igloos’ seventh win in a row. They’ve lifted themselves out of the basement all the way into a tie for second in the West.
There’s plenty of time left in the season, but given the history, odds are that the Igloos will once again finish with one of the league’s best records. So what’s with the lackluster starts? Veteran D Ted Keefe thinks he knows the answer, and he doesn’t like it.
Keefe spoke to reporters after Saturday’s victory about the team’s tortoise-like starts. He argued that because the team is so accustomed to deep playoff runs, they’ve become bored by the regular season.
“I think we take it for granted,” said Keefe. “We figure we can sleepwalk through the first couple weeks, or even the first month, and then flip the switch and bam, we’re back to the playoffs. It hasn’t burned us yet, but it’s a dangerous game, if you ask me.”
Keefe went on to point out that the West is a lot more competitive than it used to be. “In the old days, Michigan was the only one you needed to worry about,” the defenseman said. “But now Portland’s damn good, and Saskatchewan’s solid too. Even KC and Dakota are playing better lately.
“It’s not written in the Constitution or the Bible or anywhere that we’re guaranteed a spot in the playoffs. And there’s no guarantee that even if we do get to the playoffs, we’ll go all the way. If we want to win the Vandy, we’ve got to play Vandy-quality hockey all season long. Bad hockey builds bad habits.”
C Jake Frost, who has a habit of slow starts himself, disagreed with Keefe’s assessment. “I don’t think we’re taking anything for granted,” said Frost. “But I do think that when you go deep in the playoffs every year and have shorter offseasons, it takes a little while to play your best hockey. We’ll be there when it counts; I’m confident.”
Igloos coach Sam Castor agreed with the spirit of Keefe’s critique, if not its specifics. “Our underlying numbers have been solid, even when we were losing,” the coach pointed out. “We were taking good shots, they just weren’t going in. And it’s taken some time to get the new guys integrated into our scheme.
“That said, I think Ted’s right to worry about losing our edge. If I ever get even a hint of our guys taking the postseason for granted, I’ll going to stop it cold. I’m not saying I’ll bag-skate ‘em till they drop, but they’ll get the message. There’s no such thing as a lifetime achievement playoff spot. You have to earn it every year, and our guys know that.”
If this year’s early swoon ends up being a temporary blip as usual, this will all be forgotten. But it Anchorage winds up missing the playoffs, they may wish they’d listened to their veteran defenseman.