Smoke Announce First Coach, Sign First Player

The Kansas City Smoke, one of the SHL expansion teams set to debut in 2018, held a press conference today at Heartland Telecom Center to introduce their coaching staff and their first-ever player.

“We know the fans are getting excited to see the team take the ice next season,” said Smoke GM Garth Melvin.  “So we’re excited to introduce them to some of the faces they’re going to see when they come to the arena.”

Randy Bergner

Kansas City’s new head coach will be a familiar face for fans of the SHL’s minor league.  Randy Bergner was the coach of the Omaha Ashcats, former affiliate of the Seattle Sailors.  Under Bergner’s leadership, the Ashcats finished with a 38-21-1 record, best in the league.  They were stunned in the first round of the playoffs by the eventual champion Utah Owls.  Omaha will be Kansas City’s affiliate this coming season, and Bergner is excited to remain in the area and receive a promotion.

“When Garth called me and asked me to come in for an interview, I thought they were maybe looking at me to coach Omaha,” said Bergner.  “That sounded pretty great to me, because I’d enjoyed my time there and I wanted to stay.  But after we’d talked for a bit, I realized he was looking at me for the top job.  Even better!”

Bergner hopes to instill in the Smoke the same team-first spirit he oversaw with the Ashcats.  “We didn’t have a big star to build around in Omaha, so we focused on building a tight, cohesive unit,” Bergner told reporters.  “And that’s what I expect to do here.  That Three Musketeers all-for-one-and-one-for-all attitude, that’s what we’re shooting for.”  The coach credited his assist, Rex Claymore, with helping to create that spirit in Omaha; Claymore will join Bergner in KC.

Joining Bergner and Claymore at the press conference was the Smoke’s first official player: defenseman Jon Rogers.  The 22-year-old graduated from Minnesota State-Bemidji and went to training camp with Seattle on a professional tryout agreement, but failed to make the team.  He spent the season in the KHL instead, putting up 3 goals and 6 assists, but the British Columbia native was eager for an opportunity to return to North America.  Rogers is considered a stay-home blueliner who’s not afraid to scrap.

“I saw Jon in camp last season and I was impressed,” said Bergner.  “It was a numbers game when he got cut, but I definitely took his name down.  I felt he was a guy who could play at this level if he got a chance.  So when I got hired here, he was my first call.  After my wife, I mean.”

“I’m really grateful I made that much of an impression,” said Rogers.  “I’m honored to be the first official player for this franchise.  This is a terrific opportunity, and I hope I can make my career here.”

Melvin said that the coaches and player will spend the offseason visiting schools, shopping centers, and bars in the Kansas City area, meeting the locals and educating them about the Smoke and the SHL.  “We know the fans here might not be totally tuned in to hockey yet,” said Melvin.  “So we want to get out into the community, let ’em know we’re here, and get’ em fired up for the season to come.”

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SHL Issues Year-End Awards

Starlight Hockey LeagueAt the SHL’s second annual awards banquet, SHL Commissioner Perry Mitchell handed out the trophies that recognized the league’s best players and coaches.  “The fierce competition for these awards shows just how strong our league is,” said Commissioner Mitchell.  These awards were voted on by SHL players, coaches, and media.

The 2017 award winners are as follows:

Most Valuable Player: LW Jerry Koons, Anchorage Igloos

Koons had a breakout season, scoring 44 goals and 90 points along with a +56 rating, and played a key role in the Igloos’ charge to the best record in the SHL.  He finished with the third-most goals in the league, behind teammate Jake Frost and Hamilton’s Steven Alexander.

“Jerry’s emergence this season gave us a valuable extra weapon,” said Anchorage coach Sam Castor.  “Opposing defenses couldn’t overload on Frosty, because then Jerry would burn them big-time.  He makes us a more balanced and more dangerous team.”

Other finalists for the MVP honor included fellow Igloos G Ty Worthington, Hershey C Justin Valentine, and Hamilton C Calvin Frye.


Rookie of the Year: 
LW Rod “Money” Argent, Seattle Sailors

The freshman class in the SHL wasn’t quite as strong this season as it had been the previous year, but there were a number of strong contenders for the award.  Argent was a surprise choice by the Sailors as the #1 pick in the draft, and he rewarded them with an impressive rookie campaign, leading the league in points among first-year players with 49, and tying Saskatchewan’s Elliott Rafferty for the most goals with 23.

“I understand where he got the nickname Money, because his shot is money in the bank,” said Sailors RW Vince Mango.  “His shot is like a laser, and he can thread it through traffic and find the tiniest cracks to slip the puck into the net.  He’s strong in the defensive end, too, unlike me.  He’s the total package.”

Argent narrowly beat out Hamilton G Lasse Koskinen to claim the honor.  Others who received votes included Rafferty, New York G Sherman Carter, and Anchorage D Tony Citrone.

 

Coach of the Year: Sam Castor, Anchorage Igloos

Castor was recognized for steering the Igloos to a league-best 42-12-6 mark, outlasting Michigan in a brutal Western race and claiming the division.  One testament to Castor’s brilliance was the fact that Anchorage was one of two teams with a better road record than home record.  Their 22-5-3 performance on the road was all the more impressive given that the Igloos’ road trips are much longer than any other team in the league.

“We’ve got a ton of talent on this team, but Coach Castor really knows how to get the most out of us,” said Frost, the Igloos star.  “He knows when to push us, when to lay back and trust us, when to find a way to take the pressure off.  He’s really great at figuring out situations for everybody to shine.  He knows just the right buttons to push to get us all performing at our best.”

Castor received the nod over Hershey’s “Chocolate Chip” Barber and Hamilton’s Keith Shields.

 

Sharp Shooter Award: C Jake Frost, Anchorage Igloos

The Sharp Shooter Award is one of two honors that is not awarded as the result of the vote.  Instead, it is given to the player who finished with the highest goal total.  This season, the winner was Frost, who finished with two more goals than runner-up Steven Alexander of Hamilton.  Frost sat out a game in the last week of the season after the Igloos clinched the division, possibly costing him a shot at 50 goals.

“It’s kind of a bittersweet feeling,” said Frost.  “I’m glad I had a strong season, absolutely.  But it feels a little empty because we weren’t able to bring the Vandy home.  We accomplished so much this year, but we couldn’t capture the ultimate prize.  It’s great that our team is winning so many awards, but we didn’t get the one that really counts.  That’s going to fuel us big time next season.”


Commissioner’s Trophy: 
LW Jerry Koons, Anchorage Igloos

Like the Sharp Shooter Award, the Commissioner’s Trophy isn’t awarded based on a vote. Rather, it goes to the player who finishes with the highest season point total.  Koons’ breakout offensive year allowed him to capture the point title.  With 90 points (44 goals, 46 assists), Koons finished a point ahead of teammate Nicklas Ericsson and three ahead of Frye.  He is the first player to win multiple individual awards in the same season, having also captured the MVP.

“I think we’re really set up well for the long run,” said Koons.  “We’ve got me and Frosty and Nicky, some quality young guys coming up like Collie [Les Collins] and Humps [Derek Humplik], plus excellent defense and a great goalie in Ty [Worthington].  We’re a strong team from top to bottom.  Yeah, it stings that we lost in the end this year, but I think we’ll be competing for titles a long time.”


Goalie of the Year: 
Dirk Lundquist, Michigan Gray Wolves

Lundquist becomes the first-ever repeat award winner; as the league’s unquestioned top netminder, it’s a well-deserved honor.  “The Bear” performed up to his usual standards again this year, going 32-13-4 with a 1.39 GAA and a .952 save percentage.

Unlike last season, though, Lundquist didn’t win the award unanimously; Anchorage’s Worthington (31-6-4, 1.78 GAA, .942 sv%) received a number of votes, and Quebec’s Riki Tiktuunen (17-14-7, 1.88, .941) received consideration as well.

“I think it’s a good thing for the league that there are other goalies who can challenge for the award,” said Lundquist.  “If I’m just racking up the award automatically every year, that’s not good for me or the SHL.  We’ve got some young pups coming along who are going to be able to push me, and they might even surpass me sometime.  That’s exciting.”

Defenseman of the Year: Max Madison, Michigan Gray Wolves

Although the Wolves missed the playoffs this year, they did managed to nab a pair of awards, one for Lundquist and one for Madison.  The man known as “Mad Max” is a throwback blueliner in a lot of ways.  He’s one of the fiercest and hardest-hitting defensemen in the league; his 101 penalty minutes was second in the league only to Hershey’s Ruslan Gromov.  “Max will drop gloves if you so much as look at him cross-eyed,” said Wolves coach Ron Wright.  “He’s an old-school guy, and I love him for it.”

But Madison isn’t just a one-dimensional thug.  He’s also a capable passer and scorer; this season, he turned in 10 goals and 34 points this season, while recording a +30 rating.  “In today’s game, there’s no room for guys who can’t do anything but fight,” said Wright.  “The game’s become too skilled and fast for that.  But if you have a blueliner who can contribute on offense and makes some noise, but knows how to put a hurting on a guy too, that’s a player who’s worth his weight in gold.  Max is that player.”

To win the award, Madison beat out Hershey’s Reese Milton, Anchorage’s Ted Keefe, Dakota’s Matt Cherner, and fellow Wolf Fritz Kronstein.

 

CHL Update: Owls Shock Rhinos in 5 To Win Championship

Coming into the first-ever CHL playoffs, no one gave the Utah Owls much of a chance to win.  Although they had been hot during the last month of the season, they only finished a few games above the .500 mark.  They had few players among the league leaders in any category, and they were better known for their wacky hotel escapades than for anything they did on the ice.  The smart money suggested that the Owls would be easily knocked out by the Omaha Ashcats in the Western Division playoff; failing that, they’d be taken down by the high-scoring Virginia Rhinos in the finals.

By the time the playoffs were over, however, the smart money wasn’t looking so smart.  Utah stunned Omaha by winning the division finals in four games and making it look easy.  Then in the Finals, with barely more drama, the Owls defeated the Rhinos 4 games to 1 to claim the inaugural Howard Trophy as CHL champions.

“Nobody believed in us,” said Owls C Lloyd “Goofy” Banjax.  “Everyone was just standing around, waiting for us to fail.  But we showed them!  We showed everybody that we’re the best there is!”

In Game 1, Utah walked into Waterfront Center and pushed the pace, with the teams combining for 85 shots.  The Owls hammered the Rhinos 6-2, with six different players scoring goals for the Owls.  “I absolutely did not see that coming,” said Virginia goalie Shawn Stickel.  “We’d heard those guys liked to play fast, but we weren’t expecting that kind of crazy speed.  It’s like they had rockets in their skates.”  Not only did the Rhinos lose the game, they lost winger Nick Krombopoulos for the series with an upper-body injury.

In Game 2, Virginia seemed to restore order, downing Utah 3-1.  But both sides wound up losing a defenseman to injury; the Rhinos lost Ivan Ackler, while the Owls saw Boris Badenov go down.  The series shifted to Wasatch Arena for Game 3, where the Owls turned the tables with a 3-1 win of their own.  In Game 4, Virginia took an early 2-0 lead, only to see Utah tie it up with a pair in the second period.  RW Colton Jabril put the Rhinos back up with a tally two minutes into the third period, and it looked like his team was about to tie the series up again.  But Owls LW Mickey Simpson banked one in off the crossbar with 12 seconds left to send it to overtime, and then C Remi “Roadrunner” Gallert nabbed the game-winner 2:05 into OT to give Utah a 3-1 series lead.

“After that, we knew we had it,” said Banjax.

The Owls took care of business in Game 5, with F Diego Garcia scoring two goals to lead his team to a 4-1 win.  The infamously boisterous team managed not to lay waste to the arena; instead, they formed a dogpile on the ice and soaked in the joy of an unexpected victory.

Utah’s secret?  Goalie Sherman Carter.  The top prospect started the season with the Owls before earning a quick call-up to the New York Night, before being sent down for the final games of the CHL season.  He was the key to the Owls’ postseason success, putting up a 1.99 GAA and a .949 save percentage against the league’s highest-scoring team.  Unsurprisingly, Carter was chosen as the Finals MVP.

“Sherm has been nothing short of awesome for us,” said Owls coach Wiley Kiyotie.  “The only sad thing is that he’s probably not going to be back here next year.  He’s headed to the pros to stick next year, and I know he’s going to be special.”

In the midst of the postgame celebration, Banjax was asked whether he thought his team could repeat next year.  “Probably not,” said the Utah center.  “But then, no one thought we’d win it this year.  So who knows?  I can’t wait to find out.”

Igloos Struggle with Stunning Upset

After the Hershey Bliss won Game 7 of the SHL Finals in overtime to claim the Vandy, the Anchorage Igloos lined up to shake hands with their opponents and congratulate them on a game well played.  After that, they quietly filed off the ice, barely acknowledging their stunned and heartbroken fans, and headed into the locker room.  In the clubhouse, they encountered workers hastily tearing down the plastic sheeting they’d put up, preparing for a celebration that never happened.  It was a fitting metaphor for the Igloos, who sat quietly and pondered how they had lost a series everyone thought they would win.

“It’s hard to believe,” said C Jake Frost, who led the league in goals but couldn’t get his team over the hump in the Finals.  “I don’t know that it’s really sunk in yet.  It doesn’t seem real.”

Coming into this series, Anchorage seemed almost guaranteed to win their second SHL title.  They finished the season 20 points ahead of Hershey, and appeared to be the superior team in virtually every way.  And after blasting the Bliss 5-1 in Game 1, it appeared the only question was whether the Igloos would sweep or win it in five.  But every game after that was a one-goal affair (save for a blowout Hershey win in Game 5), and two went to overtime.

“It was about as close to a tie as it could be,” said RW Nicklas Ericsson.  “But in the playoffs, there are no ties.  Someone must win.”

Anchorage’s league-best offense was virtually invisible after that first game; they scored only 8 times in the final six games of the series.  “We had a hard time establishing momentum on the attack,” said Frost.  “Most games during the season, we were able to play our game and impose our will on the other team.  Not in this series.  This was more like a Michigan game, the defense was that strong.”

Some Anchorage players pointed to the loss of netminder Ty Worthington, who was injured at the beginning of Game 5, as a pivotal factor in the series.  “I think we win it with Ty in there and healthy,” said D Ted Keefe.  “He was such a huge factor for us.”  On the other hand, the Bliss also lost their leading scorer, C Justin Valentine, in that game.

Igloos coach Sam Castor was blunt in his assessment of his team’s performance.  “It was a close series, but we were outplayed,” Castor told reporters.  “They wanted it more, and I don’t think we were properly prepared for that.  As a coach, I take responsibility for that.  I think we took them too lightly, which is always dangerous in a playoff situation.”

Looking forward, Castor and his players remain confident, especially with the expanded four-team playoff field next season.  “The good news is that with the bigger playoffs, we can make it even if Michigan finishes ahead of us,” said Frost.  “The bad news is that we’ll probably play them in the first round no matter what.  But that’s fine.  If you want to be the best, you have to beat the best.”

Colt Selected as Finals MVP

Brandon Colt

The SHL chose Hershey Bliss G Brandon Colt as the Most Valuable Player of the 2017 SHL Finals.  Colt isn’t generally regarded as one of the league’s elite netminder, but he turned in a top-notch performance against Anchorage in the Finals, putting up a 1.82 GAA and a .949 save percentage while leading the Bliss to a surprising seven-game upset over the Igloos.  In Game 3, he stopped all 34 shots as Hershey claimed a pivotal 1-0 win.  In Game 6, Colt made 46 saves in a 1-0 loss.

“Brandon really stepped his game up a level when we needed him to,” said Bliss coach Chip Barber.  “There’s no way we could have won this series without him standing on his head like that.  Getting that kind of performance out of him was like biting into a Snickers bar: sweet and satisfying.”

Through the first five games of the series, it looked like C Justin Valentine would be the favorite for the MVP award, as he’d scored 4 goals and put up 6 points.  But Valentine missed the last two games of the series with a leg injury, making Colt the obvious choice for the honor.

In addition to the MVP trophy, Colt received a year’s supply of Hershey chocolate bars and a Shetland pony.  “The chocolate bars are pretty cool; I do have a sweet tooth,” said Colt.  “But I got a pony!  Man, how cool is that?”

2017 SHL Finals – Game 7

HERSHEY BLISS 4, ANCHORAGE IGLOOS 3 (OVERTIME)

Coming into today’s winner-take-all Game 7, Hershey Bliss coach Chip Barber was honest about the challenge his team faced.  “It’s a heck of an assignment, that’s for sure,” said Barber.  “One game for all the marbles, on enemy ice, and we’re missing our top scorer,” Barber told reporters.  “How’s it going to come out?  I don’t know.  What I do know is that every man in here is going to give everything he has to win it.  We’re not holding anything back, because there is no tomorrow.”

In order to dramatize the stakes of the game, Barber placed a bag of marbles in every locker in the visiting locker room.  “This is it, we’re playing for all the marbles,” the coach told his players.  “And I know you’re all ready to go all in for the victory.”  One by one, each player stepped to the center of the room and tossed their marbles into a big bucket with the Bliss logo on it.

Next, injured captain Justin Valentine stepped up.  “I’m not going to be able to win it for us out there today,” Valentine said.  “So I need you guys to go out there and win it for me.  I’ve got total faith in everybody on this team.  I know you’ve got what it takes to win this one.  Let’s do it!”  Valentine then pulled out his iPhone and cued up the ’90s pop song “Tubthumping” by Chumbawumba, with its inspiring refrain “I get knocked down, but I get up again/You’re never gonna keep me down.”

“Maybe it was a little hokey,” admitted the captain, “but it put us in the right mood for the game.”

It definitely seems to have worked, as Hershey managed to eke out a 4-3 win in overtime to stun the Anchorage Igloos and win their first Vandy.

“We’ve been counted out so many times,” said Bliss LW Lance Sweet.  “But nobody in here ever gave up, nobody ever lost hope.  We believed in ourselves, and that carried us through.”

Hershey certainly could have lost hope after the first period, when the Igloos scored twice.  LW Les Collins got Anchorage on the board 10:31 into the game with a shot from the half-wall that snuck in under Bliss goalie Brandon Colt‘s armpit.  Then with 30 seconds left in the period, the Igloos got set up in Hershey’s end, and LW Jerry Koons deflected a shot past Colt to make it 2-0.  The crowd at Arctic Circle Arena roared its approval, thinking the game was in the bag.

“That was a real gut-check moment for us,” said C Henry Constantine.  “We knew we were about to let it slip out of our grasp.”

But Anchorage switched to a defensive, trapping style in the second period and they succeeded in slowing the game down and frustrating Hershey’s attempts to generate offensive momentum.  As the minutes ticked away, Anchorage’s two-goal lead loomed larger and larger.  The Bliss needed a hero.  True to the tenor of this series, help came from an unexpected source.

When Hershey acquired LW Vonnie McLearen at the deadline, they hoped he would give them the offensive jolt they needed to take the division title.  The deal didn’t quite work out as expected; McLearen struggled to mesh with his new teammates and managed only 2 goals and 10 points in 21 games with the Bliss.  He was a non-factor through the first six games of the Finals, failing to record a point and skating anonymously on a third line that achieved virtually nothing in its limited ice time.

But when the Bliss needed a spark in today’s game, it was McLearen who provided it, scoring a pair of goals in the span or 80 seconds to tie the game and stun the Anchorage crowd.  When three and a half minutes left in the second period, Hershey finally achieved sustained ice time in the offensive zone.  After failing to find a good look at the net in several tries, D Ruslan Gromov fired a hard slapper well wide of the net.  But McLearen shook free of his defender and deflected the puck past Igloos goalie Riley Lattimore.  Hershey was on the board at last.

But McLearen wasn’t finished.  Just over a minute later, the Bliss managed to break the Anchorage press, springing McLearen on an odd-man rush with linemates Sven Danielsen and Lee Fleming.  Danielsen headed for the net, faked a hard slapshot, then flipped the puck back to McLearen, who found the upper left corner of the net to make it 2-2.

“Just like that, it was like somebody pulled the plug on the crowd,” said Constantine.

Early in the third period, a visibly frustrated Igloos team committed three straight penalties, putting themselves on the defensive for the first several minutes, including a 5-on-3 situation for over a minute.  Anchorage managed to surivive the two-man deficit, but were still on the penalty kill when the Bliss took their first lead of the game.  D Nikolai Kulkarov, on a feed from – who else? – McLearen, fired a shot from the blue line that beat a screened Lattimore.

Igloos coach Sam Castor was sharply critical of his team’s play during the opening minutes of the third period.  “That was the only time in the series when we really fell down,” said Castor.  “We let the game get into our heads, and we played dumb hockey.  That isn’t like us, and it cost us.”

Kulkarov’s goal seemed to snap the Igloos out of their funk.  On the ensuing faceoff, Bliss D Pierre Chappelle took a double-minor for spearing Collins, and Anchorage cashed in on the power play.  C Derek Humplik tied it up with a laser from the top of the right faceoff circle.  The score brought the crowd back to life, and seemed to spur both teams on.  The second half of the third period was intense, as both teams went flat-out, setting up golden chances and making amazing stops.  Kulkarov fired up his team with a series of shot blocks that left him visibly pained but kept the Igloos from scoring the go-ahead goal.  On the other end, Lattimore made several brilliant stops, earning a round of stick taps from his teammates.

After 60 minutes, the game remained tied.  Sudden-death overtime is one of the most nerve-wracking experiences in sports, and when it occurs in a deciding game, the tension ratchets even higher.  Both squads were running on fumes and adrenaline in the extra session.  “I think we were all dead on our skates at that point,” said Sweet.  “The only thing that kept us going was the stakes of the game.”

Perhaps fortunately for both sides, overtime didn’t last long.  Just over three minutes in, RW Tyler Cloude turned the puck over in the offensive end.  Danielsen corraled it and flung a head man pass to Fleming, who found McLearen on a breakaway.  The winger streaked toward the Anchorage net, deked a shot toward the right post, then slid it under a sprawling Lattimore for the winning goal.  McLearen celebrated his hat trick by collapsing to the ice and sliding into the boards, before bouncing up and into the arms of his teammates.

“It was a real mountaintop moment,” said Sweet.  “It’s the highest I’ve ever been in my life.”

Before the Bliss retired to the locker to spray each other with champagne and chocolate syrup, they shook hands with the Igloos and then received the Vandy from Commissioner Perry Mitchell.  The commissioner called Hershey the “never-say-die team” and added, “You showed the skeptics just what an incredible team you are, and you proved that you have the heart of a champion.”

There was no question who would get to take the ceremonial first lap with the trophy.  Valentine took his time skating around the ice, both to avoid aggravating his injured leg and to soak in the moment as long as he could.

“We went through a lot to get here,” said the captain as tears rolled down his cheek.  “Finally, we made it!”

Continue reading “2017 SHL Finals – Game 7”

2017 SHL Finals – Game 6

ANCHORAGE IGLOOS 1, HERSHEY BLISS 0

The Anchorage Igloos knew that it was now or never.  In today’s Game 6 of the SHL Finals at Arctic Circle Arena, the Igloos had to win or they would be finished, suffering a stunning upset at the hands of the Hershey Bliss.  The Igloos showed up with the proper sense intensity, and finally pushed across a goal in the third to win 1-0 and stave off elimination.

“We knew we needed to come out desperate,” said Igloos C Jake Frost.  “We knew we needed to leave it all out there on the ice.  We knew we might get beat, but it wasn’t going to be because we were outskated or outhustled.  And we weren’t.”

Anchorage came out determined to push the pace and run past Hershey.  This strategy had two advantages: First, with Hershey’s top scorer Justin Valentine sidelined with an injury, the Igloos suspected that the Bliss would take a while to establish a rhythm on offense.  Second, since Igloos netminder Ty Worthington was also injured, Anchorage hoped that an aggressive approach would limit Hershey’s zone time and reduce the pressure on backup Riley Lattimore.

“We came out determined to dominate,” said Igloos coach Sam Castor.  “We just wanted to blow the doors off them.”

Dominate they did; they outshot Hershey 21-8 in a fast-paced, high-flying period.  But the period ended in a scoreless tie, as Bliss goalie Brandon Colt made a number of sterling stops to thwart the Igloos at every turn.  “This series would have been over already if Brandon hadn’t been so awesome,” said Bliss D Reese Milton.  “He’s really taken his game to the next level in this series.”

The game slowed down considerably in the second period, as the Igloos’ initial burst of energy wore off and Hershey was able to establish a more effective defensive rhythm.  Six and a half minutes into the period, the Bliss appeared to draw first blood, as RW Noah Daniels threaded a gorgeous pass to LW Russell Nahorniak, who fired the puck home between Lattimore’s legs.  But Castor challenged the goal, arguing that Hershey had entered the zone offside.  The referees spent over four minutes reviewing the play, as the Igloos and their fans waited with their hearts in their throats.  Finally, after an agonizing wait, head referee Laurent Villiers announced that the play was offside and waved off the goal, as the crowd roared.

“That was a huge momentum swing for us,” said Frost.  “When we dominated the first period and couldn’t score, and if that had counted… it would have crushed us.”

Both teams had a power play in the period but failed to convert.  After two periods, the game remained scoreless.  Anchorage was outshooting Hershey 32-14, but had nothing to show for it.

“We definitely knew the stakes, but so did they,” said Igloos LW Jerry Koons.  “It was a really well-played game on both sides.”

The tension in the arena amped up even further in the final period, as both teams were eager to close it out.  There were no fights, no penalties, no extracurriculars, just two teams giving it their all.  As the minutes ticked away and the zeroes remained on the scoreboard, both benches began to wonder if the game-winning goal would ever come.

“I don’t know if we could have handled OT,” said Koons.  “I was about to have a heart attack as it was.”

Finally, with 4:18 left in the game, Anchorage C Nile Bernard fired a shot from the right faceoff circle.  Colt made the save, but allowed an unusually juicy rebound.  The puck skidded to D Olaf Martinsson, who gathered it up and fired it at the open half of the net.  Colt reached back for it, but the puck found the twine.  Martinsson dropped his stick, shouted and pumped his fists as his teammates gathered around to celebrate him.

“If you’d have asked me to bet who would get the GWG, I wouldn’t have put money on Olaf,” laughed Frost.  “But he’s a pro, like everyone in here, and he came through when the spotlight found him.”

The Igloos switched to a more defensive style after Martinsson’s tally, and successfully denied the Bliss time in the offensive zone.  Hershey got only one more shot off in the final four minutes of the game.

Heading into the winner-take-all Game 7, Castor said that his team is ready.  “We showed today that we’ve got what it takes when the chips are down,” said the Igloos coach.  “We know tomorrow’s game will be at least as intense as this, probably more.  But we’re in this to win it, all the way.  We won’t accept anything less.”

Continue reading “2017 SHL Finals – Game 6”