SHL Player of the Week – Week 11

Jerry Koons

The SHL selected Anchorage Igloos LW Jerry Koons as its Player of  the Week.  It’s the second time this season Koons has received the honor; he was also chosen back in Week 5.  Koons wasn’t able to repeat his 14-point performance from that week, but he did put up 9 points (4 goals, 5 assists) and led the Igloos to an undefeated week that puts them in position to claim the Western division title.  With his strong week, Koons is now tied with teammate Jake Frost for the league lead in goals with 40, and now holds the overall SHL lead in points with 82.

On Saturday, Koons had a goal and an assist as Anchorage swamped Saskatchewan 5-2.  On Tuesday, he scored twice and added an assist in a 6-0 rout of Dakota.  And on Friday, Koons put up a goal and two assists in a 5-4 win over Seattle.

“I’m pulling for Koonsy to win the [goal] title, honestly,” said Frost.  “Everyone knows my name, and they think this is my team.  But Jerry’s as important to us as I am.  More, even.  If we win the Vandy again this year, it’s going to be because Koonsy and me and Nicky and everybody gets this done.”

Change of the Guard Seems Imminent in SHL’s Last Week

Going into the final week of the 2017 SHL season, neither division race is terribly close, unlike the last couple of seasons.  Barring a seismic shift in the coming week, we aren’t going to see anything as dramatic as the 2016’s Hershey-Washington last-game showdown for the division.  Nonetheless, even if things unfold as expected, the results will still have their share of surprises.  As it stands, neither of last year’s Finals opponents will make a return trip this season.

In the West, the Michigan Gray Wolves head into the season’s final week trailing the Anchorage Igloos by 6 points.  The Wolves and Igloos have been the division powers since the league’s inception, so it’s no surprise that they will finish one-two yet again.  But the Wolves have been unable to make up the ground they lost when top scorers Hunter Bailes and Warren Marlow went down with injuries in midseason.  “We’ve fought hard all year, and I know we’re going to keep battling to the end,” said Wolves RW Gordon Lunsford.  “But we’re in a difficult spot right now.”

Michigan’s best chance to narrow the gap came on Wednesday, when they faced the Igloos at Arctic Circle Arena.  The game was a true heavyweight clash, as the Wolves stifled Anchorage’s league-best offense, with the Igloos responding in kind.  After two scoreless periods, Michigan actually drew first blood seven minutes into the third, when Lunsford dented the twine on a hard slapshot between Anchorage goalie Ty Worthington‘s legs.  “That got us fired up,” said Lunsford.  “We thought this was the goal that was going to set us on a run to take the division.”

But with just over a minute left in the game, the Igloos tied the game on a fluky goal by D Sebastian Pomfret, who flicked a rebound that bounced off the back of Michigan netminder Dirk Lundquist back and into the goal.  That sent the game to overtime, where Wolves C Wesley Knight committed a tough holding-the-stick penalty.  15 seconds into the power play, Igloos LW Les Collins beat Lundquist stick-side to seal a 2-1 win.

“That was a back-breaker,” admitted Lunsford.  “To go from thinking you’re on the road to the division to feeling like you’re on the brink of elimination… it’s a kick in the gut, no question.”

As surprising as the West race has been, things have been even more shocking in the East.  The Washington Galaxy have won the division in each of the last two seasons and established themselves as the class of the division.  When they caught fire out of the All-Star Break, winning 10 in a row and snatching first place away from the Hershey Bliss, it looked like they were set up to run to yet another title.  It hasn’t unfolded that way, though, as the Bliss have grabbed the lead right back over the last couple of weeks.

And while Hershey has played well, the race in the East has been a story of Washington collapse.  The Galaxy have dropped 11 of 15 over the last three weeks, and they head into the final week of the season 8 points back of the Bliss.  For a team with a reputation for stepping it up in the second half, their dismal performance has been completely unexpected.  “We can’t figure it out,” said LW Casey Thurman.  “We know we can do better than this, but it’s kind of like we’re stepping on the gas and there’s nothing there.”

Certainly, the Galaxy’s using scoring punch has been absent during their recent skid.  They’ve fallen from sixth in the league in goals scored to second-to-last, ahead of only Quebec.  Several of their stars, including Thurman (2 goals in the last 15 games), C Eddie Costello (3 goals), RW Jefferson McNeely (3 goals), and C J.C. Marais (2 goals), have been in slumps.  But the offense hasn’t been the only culprit.  The normally stout defense, which allowed fewer than two and a half goals per game over the first two-thirds of the season, has allowed over three per game during their slide.  Backup goalie Ron Mason has lost his last five starts.  Their special units have flatlined over the last three weeks, with their power play dropping from a league-leading 24.1% success rate to a middle-of-the-pack 19.6%, and their penalty kill going from 82.9% efficiency to 78.8%.  “It’s like it’s all falling apart at once,” said Costello.

For the Bliss, who have heard over and over that they’re too soft, too sloppy, or too star-dependent to beat the Galaxy, the turnabout has been pretty sweet.  “We’ve taken a lot of crap over the years about how we can never win the big one, or how Washington’s got our number,” said Bliss C Justin Valentine.  “We’ve never bought into that story, but we knew we were were going to keep hearing it until we proved it.”  On Saturday, Hershey came into Constellation Center and walloped Washington 5-1.  “That one definitely felt good,” said Valentine.  “To be able to go into their building and shut them down like that… it gave us confidence that this isn’t going to be like the other years.  It’s a new era for us.”

SHL Player of the Week – Week 9

Jake Frost

The SHL selected Anchorage Igloos C Jake Frost as its Player of the Week.  Frost had an incredible week, scoring 12 points (5 goals, 7 assists) and leading the Igloos to an undefeated week that lengthened their lead in the West to 6 points.  On Sunday, Frost scored twice and added an assist in the Igloos’ 5-1 win over Seattle.  On Wednesday, he had a four-point day (two goals, two assists) to lead Anchorage’s 6-1 beatdown of Hershey.  Then on Friday, Frost scored the Igloos’ first goal in a key 3-2 overtime win over Michigan.

Frost has resumed his place among the league;s top scorers.  His 37 goals leads the league, and his 61 points is third in the league overall, behind teammates Jerry Koons and Nicklas Ericsson.  It’s only the second time in SHL history that the top three point scorers in the league have all played for the same team.  (The Hamilton Pistols had the top four point scorers for a couple weeks last month.)

“We’ve got a lot of good scorers here, but in the end, it’s still Jake’s team,” said Ericsson.  “If it’s Game 7 of the Finals, Jake’s the guy we all want taking the big shot.  He’s our star, and we all know that.”

Mascot War Rekindled: Wally Wolf Hacks Rival’s Twitter Account

It was supposed to be over.  During the 2015 season, the Anchorage Igloos‘ Petey the Polar Bear and the Michigan Gray Wolves‘ Wally Wolf were proxies for the rivalry between the West’s two top teams.  Both mascots feuded throughout the season before finally burying the hatchet during an on-ice sumo wrestling match in the last week of the season.  Since the mascots made nice, members of both teams (including Michigan LW Vladimir Beruschko and Anchorage coach Sam Castor) have insisted that the hostilities were dead and gone, never to resume.

Petey the Polar Bear

Looks like the declaration of peace was a bit premature.  When the Igloos and Wolves clashed on Friday at Arctic Circle Arena, Petey’s official Twitter account was hacked.  Upon investigation, the hack was discovered to be the work of Michigan’s mascot.  Not only is the Petey-Wally rivalry back, it has entered a new frontier.

Wally traveled with the Wolves for Friday’s much-anticipated showdown.  It’s unusual for a mascot to join a team for road games, but the Wolves said that they had brought him as “a good-luck charm” and “to give him a chance to catch up with his friend Petey.”  The two mascots met for tea on Friday afternoon at an Anchorage cafe; video of the rendezvous appeared on both teams’ websites.  All seemed normal.

But during Friday’s game, a series of unusual tweets appeared on the @IgloosPetey account.  Typically, the Anchorage mascot doesn’t tweet much during games, apart from a few pro-Igloos messages and the occasional selfie with fans.  During this game, though, Petey was atypically active.  In addition, the content of his messages was far different than his standard fare.

“My butt itches,” @IgloosPetey tweeted about six minutes into the games.  From there, he issued a series of tweets predicting that the Igloos would lose the game, adding insults directed at several Anchorage players and even the city itself.  After C Jake Frost pushed a slapshot wide late in the first period, a tweet reading “Frost is overrated” appeared on the account.  Later, @IgloosPetey issued the following slam: “Anchorage is a two-bit town that smells like rotten fish… ugh!”

Igloos officials became aware of the situations when fans began tweeting complaints to the account.  At first, they thought the culprit was a disgruntled employee, but they later realized that the account had been hacked.  The team quickly took steps to regain control of the account, and by the end of the game (a 3-2 Igloos win in overtime) the offending tweets had been deleted.

Wally Wolf

When the front office discovered that the account’s password had been changed to “W@llyRuleS!”, they were able to identify the culprit.  Apparently, during the seemingly friendly lunch, Wally got hold of Petey’s phone and was able to change the password to his Twitter account.

Anchorage GM Will Thorndike took umbrage to the hack.  “I am deeply disturbed that Wally Wolf would resort to cyber warfare,” Thorndike told reporters.  “And to take advantage of a friendly get-together to launch his nefarious plan… that’s so low, I have no words.  But if that’s the way he and the Wolves want to play it, we can do that.  The mascot war is back on!”

Replied Michigan GM Tim Carrier, “I am disappointed to hear these accusations against Wally on the basis of very flimsy evidence.  But if the mascot war is back on, so be it.  Oh, and in case the Igloos intend to try something when they come to town: Wally’s Twitter account has two-factor authentication.”

Igloos Nab Winger Miranda from Seattle

This week, the Anchorage Igloos nosed into first place in the West for the first time all season.  The previous division leaders, the defending champion Michigan Gray Wolves, have been beset by injuries, and the Igloos have taken advantage.  Hoping to make their advantage stick, Anchorage made a trade at the deadline to bolster their depth at forward, picking up LW Waldo Miranda from the Seattle Sailors in exchange for F Rodney McElvern.

“We’re confident that we have a team strong enough to win the championship,” said Igloos GM Will Thorndike.  “But when we see a low-cost opportunity to improve, we’re going to pounce on it.  We saw an opportunity here, and we took it.”

Waldo Miranda

Miranda was in his second season with Seattle; they originally selected him from Hamilton in the expansion draft.  The 25-year-old winger bounced between the second and third line for the Sailors, putting up 11 goals and 8 assists in 38 games this season.  With the Igloos, he projects as a reserve, but one who’s ready to step in should an Anchorage winger get injured or need a rest.

“When you’re making a push for the postseason, you need depth,” said Thorndike.  “You never know when somebody’s going to go down or go into the slump, or you’re going to need to sub a guy in or out to take advantage of a matchup.  Waldo’s a guy who’s perfectly capable of starting, and probably would for most teams in the league.  To have someone like that coming off the bench, that’s a real luxury.  But it’s the kind of luxury that can make the difference between winning and losing the division, or winning or losing a playoff series.”

The Wolves are currently learning that lesson the hard the way.  Earlier this month, they lost top-line C Hunter Bailes to a major upper-body injury; he is due to return next week after missing almost a month.  Then on Tuesday they lost another center, Warren Marlow, to a lower-body injury.  Although his injury is far less severe than Bailes’, he is expected to be out for a week.  In the absence of two of their top scorers, Michigan’s offense has crumbled.  The Wolves declined to make any trades to fill the gap, believing that they’ll get back on track when Bailes and Marlow return.

Rodney McElvern

In exchange for Miranda, the Sailors received McElvern, a 22-year-old rookie who was Anchorage’s second-round draft pick out of Lake Ontario State.  McElvern was a 20-goal scorer in college; with the Igloos, he appeared in only 3 games, scoring no points and recording a -1 rating.

“We’re really excited to see what Rodney can do for us,” said Sailors GM Jay McKay.  “He’ll have plenty of ice time with us to show us what he’s got.  We’re not going to make the playoffs, so we’re looking to give our young guys more playing time down the stretch, and Rodney’s definitely going to get a real good look.”

SHL Player of the Week – Week 5

Jerry Koons

The SHL selected Anchorage Igloos LW Jerry Koons as its Player of the Week.  Koons had one of the highest-scoring weeks in SHL history, scoring 14 points (5 goals, 9 assists).  Powered by Koons and the rest of the potent top line, the Igloos went 3-1-1 on the week, allowing them to keep pace with Michigan in the ever-competitive Western race.  For the season, Koons has recorded 38 points, second in the league behind linemate Nicklas Ericsson; His 19 goals place him in the league’s top five.

Koons turned in his most impressive performance on Saturday, during a 10-2 demolition of Quebec.  The winger set a new league record for points scored in a game with 8 (3 goals, 5 assists).  In the same game, C Jake Frost became the first SHL player ever to score four goals in a game; Koons assisted on three of them.

“Jerry’s really starting to step into the spotlight,” said Anchorage coach Sam Castor.  “We’ve known all along what an incredible two-way player he is and how much he contributes to our success, but now the rest of the league is starting to figure it out as well.  That’s what makes us so dangerous; if teams key on Jake and try to shut him down, Jerry will make them pay.  We’ve got a lot of weapons.”