Igloos, Pistols Ready to Duel in Finals

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.”

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2019 SHL Playoff – Game 4

Eastern Division Series (Hamilton wins, 3-1)

HAMILTON PISTOLS 2, HERSHEY BLISS 1 (OVERTIME)

A month and a half ago, Eddie Costello was going nowhere.  The veteran center, who is in his contract year, was biding his time playing meaningless games with a Washington Galaxy team that was mired in the depths of the division.  Though Costello had numerous friends on the team, he longed for the excitement of a playoff race.

Then the Hamilton Pistols came along and acquired Costello at the trade deadline.  The Pistols were firmly fixed on winning the Vandy, and they felt that the center would provide the secondary scoring they needed.  He didn’t come cheaply – he cost the Pistols two top prospects and a first-round pick – but they felt his speed, scoring touch, and postseason experience would be just what the young club needed.

Today, Costello repaid the investment that Hamilton made in him, scoring an overtime goal that propelled the Pistols to their first-ever SHL Finals appearance with a 2-1 win over the Hershey Bliss.

“The playoff excitement, this is what you live for as a player,” Costello said in the middle of a boisterous Hamilton locker room, as teammates pounded his back and poured beer on his head.  “I didn’t think I was going to be here this year, but these guys took the plunge, and thank God they did!”

Costello’s goal brought an end to a tense, close game that bore no resemblance to the Pistols’ 5-0 blowout the night before.  In that game, the visiting Bliss seemed rattled by the din at Gunpowder Armory, and never got their heads into the game.  This time around, Hershey didn’t allow the noise to distract them.

“We’re all professionals, and we’re not going to let a little crowd noise throw us off our game,” said C Justin Valentine before Game 4.  “We just need to tune it out and focus on what happens on the ice.”

Indeed, Hershey played with an edge and a hunger that was missing in the previous game.  Even when the seemingly unstoppable Steven Alexander scored on a first-period power play to put the Pistols ahead and whip the crowd into a frenzy, the Bliss didn’t panic.  They hung tough and didn’t let the Pistols add to their lead through the remainder of the first and through all of the second.

In the opening seconds of the third, Hamilton D Hercules Mulligan took a cross-checking penalty.  Although Hershey’s power play had been missing in action since Game 2, they clicked this time, with Valentine jabbing a rebound underneath the right pad of Pistols goalie Lasse Koskinen to tie the score.  The crowd quieted suddenly, and the normally mild-mannered Valentine capped his hand to his ear, mocking the silence.

The game remained tied through the remainder of regulation, even through a bizarre stretch that saw a Bliss penalty followed by two Pistol penalties in the span of 33 seconds.  As the game went into overtime, the fans resumed their raucous cheering, albeit with a bit of a nervous edge.

Just over six minutes into the extra session, Bliss LW Sven Danielsen was attempting to bring the puck into the offensive zone when he was leveled by a ferocious check from Pistols D Burt “Hacksaw” Hampton.  The crowd cheered the hard hit, but Pistols RW Kenny Patterson spotted the puck trickling free in the neutral zone.  He scooped it up just ahead of a couple Hershey players, then flicked a headman pass to Costello.

Costello sailed through center ice and past the blue line.  All that stood between him and the net was Bliss goalie Brandon Colt and D Nikolai Kulkarov.  The center bore down on the net, using Kulkarov as a screen, and fired a low line drive toward the right post.  The puck eluded Colt’s catching glove, banked off the post, and went in.

Costello turned around, dropped to his knees, threw his arms in the air, and slid toward his jubilant teammates, who engulfed him near the blue line.

“Bring on the Igloos!” roared Alexander during the postgame celebration.  “What are they gonna do to stop us?!”

In the visiting locker room, Bliss coach Chip Barber praised his team in defeat.  “My guys gave it a heck of a ride this season,” said Barber.  “When you consider where we came from last year and everything we overcame, there’s nothing to hang our heads over.  We just ran across a team that was a little better.  It would have been good to get a few more bites of the chocolate bar, but it’s still a sweet season.”

 

E Final - Game 4, Hershey @ Hamilton, Gunpowder Armory

                   1   2   3   OT   F
Hershey            0   0   1    0   1
Hamilton           1   0   0    1   2

Hershey                G   A PTS PIM +/-   Hamilton               G   A PTS PIM +/-

Milton          D      0   1   1   0   0   Alexander       LW     1   0   1   0   0
Valentine       C      1   0   1   2   0   Smyth           D      0   0   0   0   0
Baldwin         D      0   0   0   2   0   Frye            C      0   1   1   0   0
Hart            RW     0   1   1   0   0   Risch           D      0   0   0   0   0
Nahorniak       LW     0   0   0   0   0   Lafayette       RW     0   0   0   0   0
Meloche         D      0   0   0   0  -1   Gunnarson       LW     0   0   0   0   1
Kirkpatrick     C      0   0   0   2  -1   Mulligan        D      0   1   1   2   0
Montrechere     RW     0   0   0   0   0   Glasco          D      0   0   0   2   0
Danielsen       LW     0   0   0   4   0   Patterson       RW     0   1   1   2   1
Aubin           D      0   0   0   0   0   Campbell        LW     0   0   0   2   0
Kulkarov        D      0   0   0   0  -1   Dyomin          D      0   0   0   0   1
Daniels         RW     0   0   0   0  -1   Marais          C      0   0   0   0   0
Ketterman       C      0   0   0   0   0   Hampton         D      0   0   0   2   1
Swindonburg     LW     0   0   0   4  -1   Estabrook       F      0   0   0   0   0
Cargill         D      0   0   0   0   0   Costello        C      1   0   1   2   1
----------------------------------------   ----------------------------------------
TOTALS                 1   2   3  14   0   TOTALS                 2   3   5  12   1

Scratches:
HSY:  Minnik, Chappelle, Lapointe, Sweet (DL)
HAM:  Constantine, Baker, Klemmer

Hershey             SH    SV    G    Sv%
----------------------------------------
Colt                32    30    2  0.938

Hamilton            SH    SV    G    Sv%
----------------------------------------
Koskinen            40    39    1  0.975


First Period
------------

GOALS:
05:36  HAM  Alexander PP (Frye, Mulligan)

PENALTIES:
02:14  HSY  Swindonburg 2:00 (Tripping)
03:15  HAM  Hampton 2:00 (Holding the Stick)
05:28  HSY  Valentine 2:00 (Unsportsmanlike Conduct)
15:42  HAM  Glasco 2:00 (Holding the Stick)
19:38  HSY  Danielsen 2:00 (Delay of Game)

Second Period
-------------

GOALS:
None


PENALTIES:
09:00  HAM  Costello 2:00 (High-sticking)
12:32  HSY  Danielsen 2:00 (Roughing)
14:21  HSY  Baldwin 2:00 (Tripping)
18:08  HSY  Swindonburg 2:00 (High-sticking)

Third Period
------------

GOALS:
00:34  HSY  Valentine PP (Hart, Milton)

PENALTIES:
00:09  HAM  Mulligan 2:00 (Cross-checking)
07:30  HSY  Kirkpatrick 2:00 (High-sticking)
07:51  HAM  Patterson 2:00 (Diving)
08:03  HAM  Campbell 2:00 (Tripping)

Overtime
--------

GOALS:
06:31  HAM  Costello (Patterson)

PENALTIES:
None


SHOTS
------
                   1   2   3   OT   F
Hershey           11  12  14    3  40
Hamilton          12   8  10    2  32

POWER PLAYS
-----------

Hershey          1 for 6
Hamilton         1 for 7

INJURIES
--------

None

2019 SHL Division Playoff – Game 3

Western Division Series (Anchorage wins, 3-0)

ANCHORAGE IGLOOS 3, SEATTLE SAILORS 1

When it comes to the SHL Western Division Series, the Anchorage Igloos can’t be beat.  Literally.  Last year, facing the heavily favored Michigan Gray Wolves, the Igloos dispatched them in a shocking three-game sweep.  This year, facing a Seattle Sailors team making its first postseason appearance and riding high on the emotion of their impending move to Portland, the Igloos once again didn’t drop a single game.  Today’s 3-1 victory in Game 3 completes another sweep, one that sends Anchorage to the SHL Finals for the third year in a row.

“We know how to play our best hockey at this time of year,” said Igloos C Jake Frost.  “We’ve been here before, so we know what it takes to win.  We don’t hesitate to step up our game, whether that’s pulling longer shifts or sacrificing our bodies to make plays.  It’s second nature to us, because we’ve been here before.”

As has been typical for this series, the game was fast-paced and filled with offense.  Both Anchorage’s Ty Worthington and Seattle’s Rocky Goldmire were under siege from the beginning, as the teams combined for 33 shots in the first period.  Both goalies were up to the task, though, and only one shot made it through: a bouncer from Igloos RW Ben Summers that deflected off the stick of a Sailors defender and into the net, giving Anchorage a 1-0 lead at the midway point of the period.

Seattle struck back early in the second, as C Marco Venezio finished an 3-on-1 rush by putting the biscuit into a wide-open net.  The crowd at Century 21 Arena roared its approval, and Igloos coach Sam Castor called time and admonished his team to tighten up on defense.

“I told my guys that there’s a difference between playing up-tempo and playing firewagon hockey,” said Castor after the game.  “I felt like we were trading chances with those guys, and we’re better than that.  I told them I didn’t want to see any more odd-man rushes.”

Heeding their coach’s instructions, Anchorage played a more disciplined game afterward, slowly suffocating Seattle’s chances.  The Igloos’ work in the third period was particularly masterful, as they repeatedly frustrated the Sailors’ zone entries while maintaining offensive pressure of their own.

“The third was just a clinic by our guys,” said Castor.  “It’s like we set up a brick wall at the blue line and wouldn’t let [the Sailors] in.”

The Igloos got the lead back just over four minutes into the final period.  C Nile Bernard picked the pocket of Sailors RW Elliott Pepper as he crossed through center ice.  Bernard then fired a perfect pass to LW Les Collins, who streaked past the Seattle defenders and beat Goldmire on the blocker side.

A couple minutes later, Sailors RW Vince Mango took a rare penalty for high-sticking on a failed lift check.  On the ensuing power play, C Jake Frost collected the puck in the slot and put it past Goldmire, giving Anchorage a bit of insurance.

Things got a bit hairy for the Igloos in the final minute of the game, as they took a pair of penalties in quick succession and the Sailors pulled Goldmire for a 6-on-3 advantage.  But the Igloos penalty kill and Worthington held strong, and the game ended with the lead intact.

The Igloos now await the winner of the Eastern playoff between Hamilton and Hershey.  “I think we feel pretty confident against either of those teams,” said Frost.  “They’re both strong teams, but neither one has the kind of experience we do.”

Sailors coach Harold Engellund expressed remorse at the sweep.  “I really hoped we could at least win one for our fans here at home,” said Engellund.  “Would have been a nice going-away present.  But those guys, they’ve just got so many ways to beat you.  I hope we can learn from the experience and come back stronger next year.”

 

W Final - Game 3, Anchorage @ Seattle, Century 21 Arena

                   1   2   3   OT   F
Anchorage          1   0   2        3
Seattle            0   1   0        1

 
Anchorage              G   A PTS PIM +/-   Seattle                G   A PTS PIM +/-

Koons           LW     0   1   1   2   0   Argent          LW     0   0   0   0   0
Keefe           D      0   0   0   0   1   Lambert         D      0   0   0   0  -1
Frost           C      1   0   1   0   0   Beasley         C      0   0   0   0   0
Martinsson      D      0   0   0   0   1   Lidjya          D      0   0   0   0  -1
Ericsson        RW     0   1   1   2   0   Mango           RW     0   0   0   2   0
Collins         LW     1   0   1   0   2   Lane            LW     0   0   0   2   1
Bernard         C      0   2   2   0   2   Mortensen       D      0   0   0   2   0
Frederick       D      0   0   0   4   0   Derringer       C      0   0   0   0  -2
Summers         RW     1   0   1   2   2   Gatecliff       D      0   0   0   2   0
Miranda         LW     0   0   0   0  -1   Pepper          RW     0   0   0   0  -2
Citrone         D      0   0   0   2   0   Gaspard         LW     0   0   0   0  -2
Theroux         C      0   0   0   2  -1   Fairwood        D      0   0   0   6   0
Calligan        D      0   0   0   0   0   Venezio         C      1   0   1   2   1
Fleury          RW     0   0   0   0  -1   Durien          RW     0   1   1   0   1
Kerasov         D      0   1   1   0   0   Gallagher       D      0   1   1   0   0
----------------------------------------   ----------------------------------------
TOTALS                 3   5   8  14   1   TOTALS                 1   2   3  16  -1

Scratches:
ANC:  Pomfret (DL), Kennedy, Zhlotkin
SEA:  Snelling, Bacon, McElvern

 
Anchorage           SH    SV    G    Sv%
----------------------------------------
Worthington         40    39    1  0.975

Seattle             SH    SV    G    Sv%
----------------------------------------
Goldmire            38    35    3  0.921

 

First Period
------------

GOALS:
09:55  ANC  Summers (Kerasov, Bernard)

PENALTIES:
02:31  ANC  Koons 2:00 (Roughing)
04:01  ANC  Frederick 2:00 (High-sticking)
05:53  SEA  Fairwood 2:00 (Hooking)
06:19  SEA  Venezio 2:00 (Diving)
12:05  SEA  Fairwood 2:00 (Unsportsmanlike Conduct)
12:15  SEA  Mortensen 2:00 (High-sticking)

Second Period
-------------

GOALS:
01:48  SEA  Venezio (Durien, Gallagher)

PENALTIES:
02:16  SEA  Fairwood 2:00 (Slashing)
09:29  SEA  Lane 2:00 (Slashing)
10:46  ANC  Ericsson 2:00 (Tripping)

Third Period
------------

GOALS:
04:08  ANC  Collins (Bernard)
07:21  ANC  Frost PP (Koons, Ericsson)

PENALTIES:
01:35  ANC  Summers 2:00 (High-sticking)
04:14  ANC  Citrone 2:00 (Diving)
06:41  SEA  Mango 2:00 (High-sticking)
12:11  SEA  Gatecliff 2:00 (Tripping)
19:15  ANC  Frederick 2:00 (High-sticking)
19:22  ANC  Theroux 2:00 (Diving)


 
SHOTS
------
                   1   2   3   OT   F
Anchorage         14  10  14       38
Seattle           19  10  11       40

 
POWER PLAYS
-----------

Anchorage        1 for 8
Seattle          0 for 7

 
INJURIES
--------

None

 

Eastern Division Series (Hamilton leads, 2-1)

HAMILTON PISTOLS 5, HERSHEY BLISS 0

Coming into the postseason, the Hamilton Pistols felt that they had a secret weapon: their rowdy home crowds.  The Gunpowder Armory is the league’s oldest arena by far, and Hamilton’s hockey-mad fans know how to rattle the rafters with their claps, stomps, and cheers.  During last year’s playoff against Quebec, the Pistols looked like a different team in front of their home crowd; they had an extra spark, some extra crowd-fueled energy.

“We’ve got good working-class fans here who love the game,” said coach Keith Shields.  “And when they’ve got a couple beers in ‘em and they’re feeling that playoff energy… well, they make a ton of noise, and it really fires our guys up.  We’ve got the best fans in the league, if you ask me.”

In today’s Game 3, the Armory was at full crazy, and the Pistols responded.  They blew past the shell-shocked Hershey Bliss, and moved themselves within a game of their first Finals appearance with a 5-0 shutout.

“[The Bliss] didn’t know what hit ‘em,” said Shields.  “As soon as they took the ice and heard our fans hollering their lungs out… you could see it in their eyes.  They didn’t know how to handle it.”

The roar in the building was deafening at opening puck drop.  It didn’t get any quieter when Bliss D Cedric Meloche was penalized for tripping just ten seconds into the game.  And when Pistols RW Kenny Patterson found the lower left corner of the net on the ensuing power play, it felt as though the old arena might just tumble to the ground.

“The bench was literally shaking,” said LW Steven Alexander.  “It was kind of like, ‘Holy [crap], is this an earthquake?’”

The crowd shouted hosannas to Patterson and jeers to the Bliss.  The hubbub had barely died down when Patterson scored again, this time on a sharp angle shot that Bliss goalie Brandon Colt couldn’t quite reach.

For Patterson, a veteran winger who was contemplating retirement before signing an extension with Hamilton last summer, the playoff atmosphere validated his decision to return.

“As a player, this is what you get up for,” said Patterson.  “The energy in the building was just through the roof, and we definitely fed off of that.”

The Bliss managed to keep the Pistols off the board for the rest of the period, and the crowd’s buzz dimmed a bit as the scoreless second period unfolded.  Late in the period, though, Hershey D Bruce Minnik made the fateful decision to pick a fight with Hamilton D Clayton “Crusher” Risch.  Minnik said later that he was trying to fire up his team.  He may have done that, but the fight also woke up the crowd, which got back to full boil in the final minute of the period when Bliss LW Russ Nahorniak was sent to the penalty box for hooking.

At the start of the third, Hershey found themselves in a 5-on-3 situation when D Steve Cargill was sent off for cross-checking.  The Bliss managed to kill of the penalty, but they couldn’t get the puck out of their end, and RW Claude Lafayette made the exhausted visitors pay with a redirection of a Vitaly Dyomin slap shot that beat Colt.

“We knew we’d won at that point, and so did they,” said Lafayette.

The Pistols gave their fans plenty to cheer in the remainder of the period: goals from LW Magnus Gunnarson and D Albie Glasco, and a rousing fight between D Hercules Mulligan and Cargill.  But as the minutes wound down, the crowd had a different goal in mind.  For the last ten minutes, chants of “Over in four!  Over in four!” echoed through the old area.

Alexander is on board with the fans’ desire.  “We want to get this done, right here, and celebrate with our fans on home ice,” he said.  “They’ve come this far with us, and they deserve it.”

 

E Final - Game 3, Hershey @ Hamilton, Gunpowder Armory

                   1   2   3   OT   F
Hershey            0   0   0        0
Hamilton           2   0   3        5

 
Hershey                G   A PTS PIM +/-   Hamilton               G   A PTS PIM +/-

Milton          D      0   0   0   4   0   Alexander       LW     0   1   1   0   2
Valentine       C      0   0   0   0  -2   Smyth           D      0   2   2   0   2
Baldwin         D      0   0   0   0  -2   Frye            C      0   1   1   0   2
Hart            RW     0   0   0   0  -2   Risch           D      0   0   0   7   0
Nahorniak       LW     0   0   0   2  -2   Lafayette       RW     1   1   2   0   2
Meloche         D      0   0   0   2  -2   Gunnarson       LW     1   0   1   0   1
Kirkpatrick     C      0   0   0   0  -1   Mulligan        D      0   0   0   5   0
Montrechere     RW     0   0   0   0  -1   Glasco          D      1   1   2   0   2
Danielsen       LW     0   0   0   0  -1   Patterson       RW     2   0   2   0   1
Aubin           D      0   0   0   0  -2   Campbell        LW     0   0   0   0   1
Daniels         RW     0   0   0   0  -1   Dyomin          D      0   1   1   0   2
Minnik          D      0   0   0   5  -2   Marais          C      0   1   1   0   1
Ketterman       C      0   0   0   0  -1   Hampton         D      0   1   1   0   2
Swindonburg     LW     0   0   0   0  -1   Estabrook       F      0   0   0   2   1
Cargill         D      0   0   0   7   0   Costello        C      0   1   1   0   1
----------------------------------------   ----------------------------------------
TOTALS                 0   0   0  20  -4   TOTALS                 5  10  15  14   4

Scratches:
HSY:  Kulkarov, Chappelle, Lapointe, Sweet (DL)
HAM:  Constantine, Baker, Klemmer

 
Hershey             SH    SV    G    Sv%
----------------------------------------
Colt                30    25    5  0.833

Hamilton            SH    SV    G    Sv%
----------------------------------------
Koskinen            23    23    0  1.000

 

First Period
------------

GOALS:
01:19  HAM  Patterson PP (Smyth, Glasco)
06:55  HAM  Patterson (Smyth, Costello)

PENALTIES:
00:10  HSY  Meloche 2:00 (Tripping)
18:01  HAM  Estabrook 2:00 (Roughing)
18:48  HSY  Milton 4:00 (Spearing)

Second Period
-------------

GOALS:
None


PENALTIES:
15:03  HAM  Risch 5:00 (Fighting)
15:03  HSY  Minnik 5:00 (Fighting)
19:18  HSY  Nahorniak 2:00 (Hooking)

Third Period
------------

GOALS:
02:51  HAM  Lafayette (Dyomin, Alexander)
09:47  HAM  Gunnarson (Hampton, Marais)
15:14  HAM  Glasco (Lafayette, Frye)

PENALTIES:
00:01  HSY  Cargill 2:00 (Cross-checking)
10:48  HAM  Risch 2:00 (Hooking)
14:12  HAM  Mulligan 5:00 (Fighting)
14:12  HSY  Cargill 5:00 (Fighting)


 
SHOTS
------
                   1   2   3   OT   F
Hershey            9   5   9       23
Hamilton          15   7   8       30

 
POWER PLAYS
-----------

Hershey          0 for 2
Hamilton         1 for 4

 
INJURIES
--------

None

2019 SHL Division Playoff -Game 2

Eastern Division Series (Series tied, 1-1)

HAMILTON PISTOLS 8, HERSHEY BLISS 4

The Hamilton Pistols live by the credo best expressed by D Hercules Mulligan: “If you knock me down, I get the [heck] back up again.”  After the Hershey Bliss knocked the Pistols down by winning Game 1 of their playoff series and taking a two-goal lead in Game 2, the boys in red and black got back up and started swinging back hard.  They rallied to take the lead, then applied the knockout blow with a five-goal third period to seal an 8-4 win, evening up the series at a game apiece.

“When we say we’re young, scrappy, and hungry, this is what we’re talking about,” said Pistols LW Steven Alexander, who scored a hat trick in this game.  “We’ve got a great chance to win the Vandy, and we are not throwing away our shot.”

Just over six minutes into today’s game, it looked like the Bliss were well on their way to taking a 2-0 series lead, thanks to goals by LWs Russ Nahorniak and Gabriel Swindonburg.  But Alexander struck back just 12 seconds after Swindonburg’s goal, blasting a slapshot through Hershey netminder Brandon Colt.

Hamilton swung the momentum in their direction in the second period.  Five minutes into the stanza, LW Magnus Gunnarson finished a breakaway by going five-hole on Colt to tie the game.  Four minutes later, D Raymond Smyth picked off a lazy pass by Hershey D Cedric Meloche and fed it to RW Claude Lafayette, who beat Colt on the glove side to give the Pistols a lead that they wouldn’t relinquish.

It was the third, though, that turned the game into a rout.  Alexander scored his second goal 20 seconds into the period.  Five minutes later, C Calvin Frye deflected one into the back of the net to make it 5-2.  A frustrated Bliss D Joel Baldwin took a holding-the-stick penalty shortly after that, and LW Jamie Campbell scored on the power play that followed.  The teams traded goals a couple times after that, but the win was assured.

Alexander angered the Bliss by completing his hat trick on a power play with 13 seconds left to go and Hamilton up by three.  The closing seconds of the game turned into a scrum, and Hershey’s players said they would remember the disrespect.  “Him spiking the football like that, it didn’t sit well with us,” said D Reese Milton.  “I’d expect there will be more coming.”

After being rocked for all eight goals, some observers called for Colt to be benched for Game 3 in favor of backup Oliver Richardson.  Bliss coach Chip Barber said that he planned to stick with his starter.  “Brandon’s the one who got us here,” said Barber.  “And I’m not going to panic over one game.  We’re looking past it, and we’re focused on the next one.”

But with the series shifting north of the border, have the Pistols seized the momentum for good?  Coach Keith Shields thinks it’s possible.  “My guys were all the way awake in this one,” said Shields.  “If we keep playing like this, I don’t see who’s going to stop us.”

 

E Final - Game 2, Hamilton @ Hershey, Chocolate Center

                   1   2   3   OT   F
Hamilton           1   2   5        8
Hershey            2   0   2        4

 
Hamilton               G   A PTS PIM +/-   Hershey                G   A PTS PIM +/-

Alexander       LW     3   1   4   0   4   Milton          D      0   3   3   0   1
Smyth           D      0   4   4   0   5   Valentine       C      1   1   2   0  -4
Frye            C      2   3   5   0   4   Baldwin         D      0   0   0   2   0
Risch           D      0   0   0   4  -1   Hart            RW     1   2   3   0  -4
Lafayette       RW     1   2   3   0   4   Nahorniak       LW     1   0   1   0  -4
Gunnarson       LW     1   0   1   0   1   Meloche         D      0   0   0   4  -5
Mulligan        D      0   0   0   0  -1   Kirkpatrick     C      0   1   1   0   1
Glasco          D      0   1   1   2   5   Montrechere     RW     0   0   0   0  -1
Patterson       RW     0   0   0   0  -1   Danielsen       LW     0   0   0   2  -1
Campbell        LW     1   0   1   0  -1   Aubin           D      0   0   0   0  -5
Dyomin          D      0   0   0   0   0   Kulkarov        D      0   0   0   0   0
Marais          C      0   1   1   2   1   Daniels         RW     0   0   0   2   1
Hampton         D      0   0   0   2   0   Ketterman       C      0   0   0   0  -1
Estabrook       F      0   0   0   0   1   Swindonburg     LW     1   0   1   2   1
Costello        C      0   1   1   0  -1   Cargill         D      0   0   0   0   1
----------------------------------------   ----------------------------------------
TOTALS                 8  13  21  10   4   TOTALS                 4   7  11  12  -4

Scratches:
HAM:  Constantine, Baker (DL), Klemmer
HSY:  Minnik, Chappelle, Lapointe, Sweet (DL)

 
Hamilton            SH    SV    G    Sv%
----------------------------------------
Koskinen            39    35    4  0.897

Hershey             SH    SV    G    Sv%
----------------------------------------
Colt                44    36    8  0.818

 

First Period
------------

GOALS:
02:16  HSY  Nahorniak PP (Hart, Milton)
06:14  HSY  Swindonburg (Kirkpatrick)
06:26  HAM  Alexander (Frye)

PENALTIES:
00:27  HAM  Glasco 2:00 (Elbowing)
07:58  HSY  Daniels 2:00 (Cross-checking)

Second Period
-------------

GOALS:
05:03  HAM  Gunnarson (Glasco, Marais)
09:20  HAM  Lafayette (Smyth)

PENALTIES:
01:10  HSY  Meloche 2:00 (High-sticking)
09:52  HAM  Risch 2:00 (Unsportsmanlike Conduct)

Third Period
------------

GOALS:
00:20  HAM  Alexander (Frye, Smyth)
05:19  HAM  Frye (Lafayette)
07:00  HAM  Campbell PP (Costello, Smyth)
07:16  HSY  Valentine (Milton, Hart)
10:59  HAM  Frye (Alexander, Smyth)
15:50  HSY  Hart PP (Milton, Valentine)
19:47  HAM  Alexander PP (Lafayette, Frye)

PENALTIES:
05:39  HSY  Baldwin 2:00 (Holding the Stick)
13:02  HSY  Swindonburg 2:00 (Cross-checking)
13:17  HAM  Marais 2:00 (Unsportsmanlike Conduct)
14:11  HAM  Hampton 2:00 (Tripping)
17:07  HSY  Meloche 2:00 (Slashing)
18:06  HSY  Danielsen 2:00 (Cross-checking)
19:55  HAM  Risch 2:00 (High-sticking)


 
SHOTS
------
                   1   2   3   OT   F
Hamilton          14  11  19       44
Hershey           18  10  11       39

 
POWER PLAYS
-----------

Hamilton         2 for 6
Hershey          2 for 5

 
INJURIES
--------

None

 

Western Division Series (Anchorage leads, 2-0)

ANCHORAGE IGLOOS 5, SEATTLE SAILORS 1

The Seattle Sailors’ first-ever trip to the playoffs is threatening to be a short one.  The Sailors had no answer for the Anchorage Igloos – C Jake Frost and G Ty Worthington in particular – and they never recovered from another early deficit on the way to a 5-1 Game 2 defeat that left them one loss away from elimination.

“We’ve got to dig deep and find another level,” said Sailors LW Rod Argent, “or we’re going to die quick and quiet.”

The game unfolded at the fast pace that both the Sailors and Igloos prefer.  But Worthington was up to the challenge – making 37 saves – while Seattle’s Rocky Goldmire was not.

Anchorage coach Sam Castor lavished praise on his netminder.  “Ty always answers the bell, doesn’t he?” Castor marveled.  “When the spotlight is on and we need a big game, no one in this league does it better.  Nothing rattles him.  He makes our whole team better.”

As in Game 1, the first period set the tone for the game.  LW Waldo Miranda put the Igloos on the board when the game was less than two minutes old, potting a juicy rebound that Goldmire couldn’t control.  Sailors D Doron Lidjya evened it just before the midway point of the period, but then Frost took over.

When Seattle D Benny Lambert went to the box for cross-checking a minute and a half after Lidjya’s tally, Frost made the Sailors pay with a shot that ticked off of Goldmire’s glove and went in.  Then with less than two minutes left in the period, Frost got behind the Sailors defense and beat a helpless Goldmire to make it 3-1.

Frost made it a hat trick less than five minutes into the second, firing up the crowd and deflating the Sailors.  “After Frosty scored, I looked up and down [the Sailors’] bench, and their shoulders just sagged,” said LW Jerry Koons.  “They were beat already.”

Koons finished the scoring early in the third with a redirect of a Nicklas Ericsson slapper that found the roof of the net.  For much of the rest of the game, the crowd amused itself by serenading the dispirited Sailors with repeated choruses of “Na-Na Hey-Hey Kiss Him Goodbye.”

Seattle coach Harold Engellund predicted that his team would be rejuvenated for Game 3 as the series shifted to Century 21 Arena.  “Playing in front of our home fans, it should put a little pep in our step,” said Engellund.  “It’ll have to, or we’re going to be done.”

 

W Final - Game 2, Seattle @ Anchorage, Arctic Circle Arena

                   1   2   3   OT   F
Seattle            1   0   0        1
Anchorage          3   1   1        5

 
Seattle                G   A PTS PIM +/-   Anchorage              G   A PTS PIM +/-

Argent          LW     0   1   1   2  -2   Koons           LW     1   1   2   0   2
Lambert         D      0   0   0   2   1   Keefe           D      0   0   0   0  -1
Beasley         C      0   1   1   0  -2   Frost           C      3   0   3   0   2
Lidjya          D      1   0   1   0   1   Martinsson      D      0   0   0   4  -1
Mango           RW     0   0   0   0  -2   Ericsson        RW     0   4   4   2   2
Lane            LW     0   0   0   0  -1   Collins         LW     0   0   0   0   0
Mortensen       D      0   0   0   0  -3   Bernard         C      0   0   0   0   0
Derringer       C      0   0   0   0   0   Frederick       D      0   1   1   2   3
Gatecliff       D      0   0   0   0  -1   Summers         RW     0   0   0   2   0
Pepper          RW     0   0   0   0   0   Miranda         LW     1   0   1   0   1
Gaspard         LW     0   0   0   0   0   Citrone         D      0   1   1   4   1
Venezio         C      0   0   0   0  -1   Theroux         C      0   1   1   0   1
Snelling        D      0   0   0   0  -1   Calligan        D      0   0   0   0   1
Durien          RW     0   0   0   0  -1   Fleury          RW     0   0   0   0   1
Gallagher       D      0   0   0   0  -3   Kerasov         D      0   1   1   0   3
----------------------------------------   ----------------------------------------
TOTALS                 1   2   3   4  -3   TOTALS                 5   9  14  14   3

Scratches:
SEA:  Fairwood, Bacon, McElvern
ANC:  Pomfret (DL), Kennedy, Zhlotkin

 
Seattle             SH    SV    G    Sv%
----------------------------------------
Goldmire            38    33    5  0.868

Anchorage           SH    SV    G    Sv%
----------------------------------------
Worthington         37    36    1  0.973

 

First Period
------------

GOALS:
01:41  ANC  Miranda (Theroux)
09:20  SEA  Lidjya (Argent, Beasley)
12:11  ANC  Frost PP (Ericsson, Koons)
18:04  ANC  Frost (Ericsson, Kerasov)

PENALTIES:
05:39  ANC  Citrone 2:00 (High-sticking)
09:27  ANC  Ericsson 2:00 (Slashing)
10:49  SEA  Lambert 2:00 (Cross-checking)

Second Period
-------------

GOALS:
04:49  ANC  Frost (Frederick, Ericsson)

PENALTIES:
05:59  ANC Citrone 2:00 (Tripping)
09:01  ANC  Frederick 2:00 (Unsportsmanlike Conduct)
13:24  ANC  Summers 2:00 (Roughing)

Third Period
------------

GOALS:
01:26  ANC  Koons (Ericsson, Citrone)

PENALTIES:
11:28  ANC  Martinsson 4:00 (Spearing)
19:08  SEA  Argent 2:00 (High-sticking)


 
SHOTS
------
                   1   2   3   OT   F
Seattle           13  11  13       37
Anchorage         16   9  13       38

 
POWER PLAYS
-----------

Seattle          0 for 6
Anchorage        1 for 2

 
INJURIES
--------

None

2019 SHL Division Playoff – Game 1

Western Division Series (Anchorage leads, 1-0)

ANCHORAGE IGLOOS 2, SEATTLE SAILORS 0

Seattle Sailors RW Vince Mango didn’t waste words when diagnosing his team’s loss to the Anchorage Igloos in Game 1 of the Western division series.

“It was the refs,” said Mango.  “We lost this game because of crappy officiating.”

What got Mango so hot and bothered?  Seattle had a couple of questionable calls against them in the opening minutes of the game, and Anchorage converted on the subsequent power plays, putting the Sailors in a hole they never dug out of in a 2-0 loss.

The first controversial call came during the opening puck drop.  Sailors D Hans Mortensen, jockeying for position with Igloos counterpart Dave Frederick, accidentally jabbed Frederick in the midsection.  Referee Scott Pritchard immediately sent Mortensen to the box with a double minor for spearing, a call that sparked outrage on the Seattle bench.

“There’s always bumping and jostling that goes on during faceoff,” said Mango.  “Sending a guy to the box on the opening faceoff, for incidental contact?  You’ve got to be kidding me.”

The early penalty allowed the Igloos to start the game on offense, and the Sailors struggled to clear the puck out of their end.  Igloos C Jake Frost ultimately fired a shot from the slot that found the upper-left corner of the net, putting Anchorage on top.

Just over a minute later, with the Sailors still fuming over the initial penalty, C Marco Venezio received a minor for elbowing LW Waldo Miranda.  Seattle players thought that the supposed infraction was weak at best, and that Miranda should have been called for embellishment instead.

“They went behind the net, and Marco barely grazed [Miranda], but [Miranda] snapped his head back and got the call,” said Mango.  “Completely ridiculous.”

Less than a minute into that power play, Igloos LW Jerry Koons fired a severe-angle shot that snuck between Seattle goalie Rocky Goldmire’s body and the post for another goal.

Seattle received two more minor penalties in the period, which they successfully killed off.  All in all, the Sailors spent much of the opening frame on the penalty kill, a key reason that they were outshot 16-7 in the period.  Although they weren’t penalized in either of the other two periods, they never managed to mount a successful pushback.  Anchorage goalie Ty Worthington easily turned aside all 28 shots he faced.

Coach Harold Engellund agreed with Mango that the calls played a role, but added that the Sailors deserved the blame for their defeat.

“Mentally, we just took ourselves out of the game,” said Engellund.  “We had a couple bad penalties against us early in the game and got in a hole, and we spent the rest of the night being mad at the refs instead of playing hockey.  When you’re in the playoffs, there’s no time to feel sorry for yourself.”

Igloos coach Sam Castor regarded the Sailors’ fury with amusement.  “As soon as I saw that [the Sailors] were spending their time arguing with the officials instead of trying to score, I put the W in my mental scorebook,” Castor said.  “Honestly, I hope they never get over it.”

“For what it’s worth, I thought the officiating was very fair,” the Igloos coach said with a sly grin.

 

W Final - Game 1, Seattle @ Anchorage, Arctic Circle Arena

                   1   2   3   OT   F
Seattle            0   0   0        0
Anchorage          2   0   0        2

 
Seattle                G   A PTS PIM +/-   Anchorage              G   A PTS PIM +/-

Argent          LW     0   0   0   0   0   Koons           LW     1   0   1   0   0
Lambert         D      0   0   0   0   0   Keefe           D      0   1   1   2   0
Beasley         C      0   0   0   0   0   Frost           C      1   0   1   0   0
Lidjya          D      0   0   0   0   0   Martinsson      D      0   0   0   0   0
Mango           RW     0   0   0   0   0   Ericsson        RW     0   2   2   0   0
Lane            LW     0   0   0   0   0   Collins         LW     0   0   0   0   0
Mortensen       D      0   0   0   4   0   Bernard         C      0   0   0   0   0
Derringer       C      0   0   0   0   0   Frederick       D      0   0   0   0   0
Gatecliff       D      0   0   0   2   0   Summers         RW     0   0   0   0   0
Pepper          RW     0   0   0   4   0   Miranda         LW     0   0   0   2   0
Gaspard         LW     0   0   0   0   0   Citrone         D      0   0   0   0   0
Venezio         C      0   0   0   2   0   Theroux         C      0   0   0   0   0
Snelling        D      0   0   0   0   0   Calligan        D      0   0   0   0   0
Durien          RW     0   0   0   0   0   Fleury          RW     0   0   0   0   0
Gallagher       D      0   0   0   0   0   Kerasov         D      0   1   1   0   0
----------------------------------------   ----------------------------------------
TOTALS                 0   0   0  12   0   TOTALS                 2   4   6   4   0

Scratches:
SEA:  Fairwood, Bacon, McElvern
ANC:  Pomfret (DL), Kennedy, Zhlotkin

 
Seattle             SH    SV    G    Sv%
----------------------------------------
Goldmire            36    34    2  0.944

Anchorage           SH    SV    G    Sv%
----------------------------------------
Worthington         28    28    0  1.000

 

First Period
------------

GOALS:
01:45  ANC  Frost PP (Ericsson, Kerasov)
04:15  ANC  Koons PP (Keefe, Ericsson)

PENALTIES:
00:00  SEA  Mortensen 4:00 (Spearing)
03:18  SEA  Venezio 2:00 (Elbowing)
13:08  SEA  Gatecliff 2:00 (Elbowing)
18:28  SEA  Pepper 4:00 (Spearing)

Second Period
-------------

GOALS:
None


PENALTIES:
11:40  ANC  Keefe 2:00 (Interference)
14:24  ANC  Miranda 2:00 (Diving)

Third Period
------------

GOALS:
None


PENALTIES:
None



 
SHOTS
------
                   1   2   3   OT   F
Seattle            7   9  12       28
Anchorage         16   9  11       36

 
POWER PLAYS
-----------

Seattle          0 for 2
Anchorage        2 for 4

 
INJURIES
--------

None

 

Eastern Division Playoff (Hershey leads, 1-0)

HERSHEY BLISS 3, HAMILTON PISTOLS 1

Coming into the Eastern playoff against the Hamilton Pistols, Hershey Bliss C Justin Valentine predicted that the series would go the distance, noting that the teams were very evenly matched.  “The key to winning this series is going to be taking one game at a time,” Valentine said.

The Bliss took their first step forward in today’s Game 1, making the most of their opportunities and withstanding a late Hamilton charge to secure a 3-1 win in front of a sellout crowd at Chocolate Center.

“I thought we did a great job today,” said Valentine.  “We didn’t get too fancy, we just played good, straight-ahead hockey and didn’t screw anything up.  Seems simple, but in the playoffs, nothing is.”

The Bliss came out strong in the first period, outshooting the Pistols 15-8.  Hamilton goalie Lasse Koskinen was sharp, turning aside most of Hershey’s blasts.  He was pierced once in the first, though, when LW Gabriel Swindonburg crashed the net and made a slap-pass to D Reese Milton, who jammed it home just inside the left post.

Early in the second period, Hershey took advantage of a rare Hamilton miscue to double their lead.  D Albie Glasco collected the puck in the defensive end, and fired a headman pass to center ice to start a breakout.  Swindonburg anticipated the pass and picked it off, starting an odd-man rush that RW Noah Daniels finished by beating a sprawling Koskinen up high.

But Hamilton hung tough, and when Bliss C Vance Ketterman was sent off for high-sticking in the closing minutes of the second, Pistols LW Steven Alexander scored on the ensuing power play to cut the deficit in half.

The Pistols turned up the intensity in the third, and Hershey found themselves in a tough spot midway through the period when they took a pair of penalties just 29 seconds apart.  During the 5-on-3, C Calvin Frye nearly scored the game-tying goal, but his shot pinged off the crossbar.  The Bliss fought off the penalty kill, and a couple minutes later, Ketterman added a little insurance with a wrap-around shot that got past Koskinen.

Despite the loss, Pistols coach Keith Shields remained upbeat.  “We had nothing to be ashamed of in the way we played today,” Shields said.  “We basically played dead-even, but a couple of the breaks went their way.  If they’d gone our way, we probably get the win.  I know my guys will be playing hungry tomorrow, but if we keep playing as well as we did today, we should be good.”

 

E Final - Game 1, Hamilton @ Hershey, Chocolate Center

                   1   2   3   OT   F
Hamilton           0   1   0        1
Hershey            1   1   1        3

 
Hamilton               G   A PTS PIM +/-   Hershey                G   A PTS PIM +/-

Alexander       LW     1   0   1   0   0   Milton          D      1   0   1   0   1
Smyth           D      0   0   0   0  -1   Valentine       C      0   0   0   0   0
Frye            C      0   1   1   0   0   Baldwin         D      0   0   0   0   1
Risch           D      0   0   0   0  -1   Hart            RW     0   0   0   0   0
Lafayette       RW     0   1   1   0   0   Nahorniak       LW     0   0   0   0   0
Gunnarson       LW     0   0   0   2  -1   Meloche         D      0   0   0   0   1
Mulligan        D      0   0   0   0  -1   Kirkpatrick     C      0   1   1   2   2
Glasco          D      0   0   0   0  -1   Montrechere     RW     0   0   0   0   1
Patterson       RW     0   0   0   0  -2   Danielsen       LW     0   1   1   2   1
Campbell        LW     0   0   0   0  -2   Aubin           D      0   0   0   0   1
Dyomin          D      0   0   0   0  -1   Kulkarov        D      0   1   1   0   1
Marais          C      0   0   0   0  -1   Daniels         RW     1   0   1   2   2
Hampton         D      0   0   0   0  -1   Ketterman       C      1   0   1   4   1
Estabrook       F      0   0   0   0  -1   Swindonburg     LW     0   2   2   0   2
Costello        C      0   0   0   0  -2   Cargill         D      0   1   1   0   1
----------------------------------------   ----------------------------------------
TOTALS                 1   2   3   2  -3   TOTALS                 3   6   9  10   3

Scratches:
HAM:  Constantine, Baker (DL), Klemmer
HSY:  Minnik, Chappelle, Lapointe, Sweet (DL)

 
Hamilton            SH    SV    G    Sv%
----------------------------------------
Koskinen            32    29    3  0.906

Hershey             SH    SV    G    Sv%
----------------------------------------
Colt                30    29    1  0.967

 

First Period
------------

GOALS:
10:24  HSY  Milton (Swindonburg, Cargill)

PENALTIES:
16:50  HAM  Gunnarson 2:00 (Holding the Stick)

Second Period
-------------

GOALS:
01:18  HSY  Daniels (Kirkpatrick, Swindonburg)
17:40  HAM  Alexander PP (Frye, Lafayette)

PENALTIES:
05:46  HSY  Kirkpatrick 2:00 (Interference)
17:14  HSY  Ketterman 4:00 (High-sticking)

Third Period
------------

GOALS:
14:50  HSY  Ketterman (Kulkarov, Danielsen)

PENALTIES:
10:21  HSY  Daniels 2:00 (Slashing)
10:50  HSY  Danielsen 2:00 (Tripping)


 
SHOTS
------
                   1   2   3   OT   F
Hamilton           8  10  12       30
Hershey           15   8   9       32

 
POWER PLAYS
-----------

Hamilton         1 for 4
Hershey          0 for 1

 
INJURIES
--------

None

Upstart Sailors Face Champion Igloos in West Playoff

For as long as there has been an SHL, the West has been a battle between two teams: the Anchorage Igloos and the Michigan Gray Wolves.  The teams have traded division titles since the beginning; last year, when the playoffs expanded to four teams, the Wolves won the regular-season title, only to be swept in the playoffs by the Igloos, who went on to win their second Vandy.

This year, for the first time, the Western playoffs include a representative that’s not one of those two teams.  The defending champion Igloos, by virtue of their usual second-half surge, made it to the postseason again, but the Wolves fell apart down the stretch and finished fourth.  Instead, the Seattle Sailors – a team that had never finished higher than fourth before – will be facing the Igloos in the Western playoff.

Vince Mango

“I think it’s a breath of fresh air for the league,” said Sailors RW Vince Mango.  “The old Michigan-Anchorage storyline had gotten a little stale.  We’re here to shake things up.”

As Mango noted, the Sailors bring some fresh faces to the postseason (D Hans Mortensen is the only member of their roster with SHL playoff experience) and a dramatically different approach from the hard-hitting, slow-paced Wolves.  Seattle has always depended on its fast-paced, high-flying offense, led by the colorful and controversial Mango (whose 45 goals were good for fifth in the league).  The Sailors scored 227 goals in the regular season, the second-highest total in the league.

In past seasons, the Sailors’ high-octane offense had been let down by an indifferent defense and mediocre goaltending.  This season, though, coach Harold Engellund has improved the team’s commitment in its own end, and it’s paid dividends.  In addition, Seattle got a career year out of netminder Rocky Goldmire (24-14-1, 2.90 GAA, .915 save percentage).  It adds up to a defense that’s not outstanding, but is good enough to support their scoring attack.

“This season’s been like Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” said Engellund.  “For once, we’re not too hot or too cold; we’re just right.”

In the other corner, Anchorage brings the experience of three previous playoff trips, as well as a roster that’s dripping with talent.  The team that’s scored more goals than Seattle this year?  The Igloos, with 233.  They have a league-leading nine players who reached double figures in goals, starting with C Jake Frost with 49.

Unlike Seattle, though, the Igloos don’t rely solely on their offense.  Their 2.49 GAA placed them third in the league, and Ty Worthington (29-15-4, 2.45, .920) remains one of the league’s elite goalies.  Anchorage is brilliant on special teams, too; their 19.3% power-play percentage is third in the league, while their 88.4% penalty kill percentage was second only to Michigan.

Jerry Koons

“This may be the best team we’ve ever had,” said LW Jerry Koons.  “Which is kind of scary to say, but it’s true.  We’ve been in the spotlight before, and we’re not going to let it shake us.

Each team is down a defender.  Seattle’s Woody Fairwood (12 goals, 30 assists, +26 in the regular season) is expected to return at some point during the series; Anchorage’s Sebastian Pomfret (10 goals, 22 assists, +13) is not.

Both teams are also facing the end of an era.  The Sailors are leaving Seattle and moving to Portland after this season; the players have dedicated this season’s run to their fans in the Emerald City.  The Igloos aren’t going anywhere, but salary cap constraints mean that several key contributors likely won’t be able to return next season.  “If we’re going to have to break up this team,” Frost said, “I’d really like for us to go out on a high note.”

So what will prove decisive in this matchup?  Will it be Anchorage’s skill and experience, or Seattle’s confidence and enthusiasm?  Will the Sailors win one for the fans they’re leaving behind, or will the Igloos produce one last run for their veteran roster?  On paper, Anchorage is the favorite.  On the ice, though, anything can happen.

“I know we’re the underdog here, because they’re the champs and they’ve been good for a lot of years,” said Sailors LW Rod Argent.  “But we’ve been proving the haters wrong all season, and we’re definitely ready to do it again.”

East Playoff Features Teams That Learned From Adversity

If it’s true that champions are forged in adversity, this year’s Eastern playoff features a pair of opponents who are hard as iron.  One team won the Vandy in a massive upset two years ago, then stumbled through a disaster of a season in which everything seemed to go wrong at once; this season, they’ve weathered the loss of a star player and clawed their way back to the top.  The other team sailed through a breakout 2018 before stumbling down the stretch and losing an agonizing five-game playoff; this year, they shook off a disappointing first half to charge into a playoff spot.

The Hershey Bliss and the Hamilton Pistols are both well-balanced and battle-scarred, they both finished with 78 points, and they’re poised to face off in what should be an epic best-of-five series.

“This one should be a treat for the fans,” said Pistols coach Keith Shields.  “Two talented and well-matched teams trading haymakers until someone falls.  I can’t wait to get started!”

Both teams have learned from their past struggles and made adjustments.  For Hershey, they had to shake off the damage of a season when it seemed that every break went against them, and they were dismissed as an accidental champions, a team that lacked the heart and physicality to be a real contender.

Chip Barber

Coach Chip Barber taught his team to tune out the naysayers and just play loose.  “I mean, all the bad breaks we got last season, we couldn’t possibly have that many again,” said Barber.  “We’d been through the worst, and we survived.  So this season, instead of waiting for the next thing to go wrong, let’s just relax and laugh it off.”  The result was a cohesive, resilient locker room that responded to the loss of top-line LW Lance Sweet without missing a beat.  The Bliss dedicated the rest of the season to their fallen comrade and went 13-7-0 without him.

Many around the league thought goalie Brandon Colt might be finished after his poor performance last season at age 33.  But Hershey hired a new goaltending coach, Jayson Frink, who helped Colt with the mental side of his game, visualizing performances beforehand and learning to refocus quickly after goals.  The veteran responded with a strong bounce-back season (29-16-1, 2.68 GAA, .909 save percentage).  “Frinker really turned everything around for me,” said Colt.  “He gave me a whole new toolkit, a different way to see the game.  I’d probably be done if he hadn’t come along to help me out.”

Meanwhile, Hamilton’s major weakness was an overreliance on their star, LW Steven Alexander.  Historically, stopping the Pistols meant stopping Alexander.  Even as the team got deeper and developed additional weapons, Alexander tended to fall back on his old do-everything ways.

This season, assistant coach Jack Thornberry worked with Alexander to help him learn to trust his teammates and moderate his famous intensity somewhat.

Steven Alexander

“I’ve always felt like I had to be the hero,” said Alexander.  “I’ve always felt like everything relied on me.  Coach Thornberry helped me understand that it’s okay to spread the load around, and that it actually hurts the team if I try to carry it all myself all the time.”

It took a while for the lessons to take root, and Alexander’s struggle to adjust was one reason for his subpar first-half numbers.  But the young winger was also distracted by his impending marriage, which took place at Gunpowder Armory in the last game before the All-Star break.  And in the second half, everything changed for Alexander.  He scored an incredible 70 points post-All-Star Game.  And it wasn’t all goals, either; Alexander set a career high in assists with 48.  With their newly-married star leading the way, the Pistols become red-hot in the second half, going 20-10-2.

Hamilton is a strong two-way team, with the third-most goals scored (223) and the fourth-lowest GAA (2.50).  They dominated in 5-on-5 play; their +64 plus-minus was by far the best in the SHL.

This matchup figures to be a very close one; a good or bad bounce here and there might prove the difference.  Hamilton looks slightly better statistically, but Hershey is stronger on special teams.  The Bliss have an edge that may prove critical: home-ice advantage.  Although both teams finished with the same number of points, Hershey had more total wins, earning them an extra game at Chocolate Center.  Home ice proved crucial in last year’s Eastern final; will history repeat itself?

“We’re not worried about any of that stuff,” said Alexander, when asked about Hershey’s home-ice advantage.  “We just need to go in and play our game, and that will be enough to win.  Simple as that.”