Last season, the Seattle Sailors made the postseason for the first time. It was a landmark moment not just for the franchise, but for the players, most of whom had never been to the playoffs before. So what was the experience like?
“Honestly, I have no idea,” said RW Vince Mango. “It was over before I really knew what was happening.”
Yes, the Sailors’ postseason was practically over as soon as it began. They were rudely dismissed in a three-game sweep in which they were outscored 10-2. They never led at any point in the series. And the team that sent them packing? The Anchorage Igloos.
This year, a number of things have changed. For one, the Sailors relocated, and are now known as the Portland Bluebacks. They added a couple of top-notch contributors in C Eddie Costello and G Jesse Clarkson. They’ve improved on both ends of the ice; they led the league in points and finished fourth in goals-against average. Their reward? Another trip to the playoffs… against the same team that swept them last season.
“I’m looking forward to it,” said Mango. “If you want to be the best, you got to beat the best. I’m looking forward to a little sweet revenge.”
On paper, the matchup looks like a blowout in favor of Portland. The Bluebacks finished the season 10 points ahead of the Igloos. They took the division lead in the third week of the season and never looked back. They were better on offense and in net. And they’re headed into the matchup with a fully healthy roster, while Anchorage is missing a key offensive cog, RW Waldo Miranda, who was injured on the last day of the regular season.
But as the Igloos would be happy to tell you, games aren’t played on paper. And they’ve got a few points in their favor as well. For one thing, they’ve got experience on their side. Anchorage has been in the playoffs every year except one (2016), and they’ve got two Vandys to their name. For another thing, they’re coming into the playoffs on a tear, having won 12 of their last 14 games. Portland, meanwhile, enters the postseason having gone 2-4-1 in their last seven games (although they’d long since locked up the division title by then).
But perhaps the biggest reason for the Igloos’ confidence is that they remember 2018. That year, they faced the rival Michigan Gray Wolves in the playoffs. The Wolves had cruised to the division title, leading wire-to-wire, while the Igloos had underperformed for much of the year before getting hot down the stretch to secure a spot. That matchup was considered even more lopsided than this one; Michigan finished 14 points ahead of Anchorage. But the Igloos proceeded to dispatch the heavily-favored Wolves in a stunning sweep, and went on to win their second title.
“We’ve definitely seen this movie before,” said Igloos C Jake Frost. “We liked the ending pretty well last time, and we’re looking forward to the sequel.”
“Everybody’s rushing to crown [the Bluebacks],” added LW Jerry Koons. “But we’re the ones who have been here before, been through the wars and come out on top. Don’t get me wrong, they’re a really talented team, but the playoffs are a whole different level of pressure.”
But Bluebacks coach Harold Engellund said that he’s not going to let his team get overconfident. He’s made a point of showing them plenty of footage of last year’s sweep.
“I know they’re getting tired of looking at it,” said Engellund. “But I tell them that the best way to get rid of those memories is to go out and make better ones.”
That’s exactly what his team will try to do. But in order to find their happy ending, the Bluebacks will need to find a way past the team that’s seen it all before.