(Anchorage wins series, 4-2)
“I didn’t think today was going to be our day,” said Anchorage Igloos coach Sam Castor.
The coach meant that in two senses. Given what a tight, competitive series this SHL Finals has been, it seemed likely to go the distance. And when the visiting Igloos blew a two-goal lead in the final six and a half minutes of regulation, it seemed virtually certain that the Hamilton Pistols would ride their momentum to a win and force a seventh game.
Fortunately for Anchorage, D Tony Citrone had other ideas. After absorbing the body blow of a blown late lead, the visiting Igloos dominated the extra session until Citrone completed his hat trick on a booming slapshot from inside the left faceoff circle, giving his team a 4-3 win and clinching their third-ever Vandy, denying the Pistols their third consecutive title.
“As good as we’d played all game, I wasn’t going to let us lose,” said Citrone.
Through the first forty minutes, it looked as though Anchorage was on track for the victory. After a scoreless first period, the Igloos broke through with goals on back-to-back shots before the midpoint of the second. LW Veikko Sikanen got the Igloos on the board first at the eight-and-a-half minute mark with a shot that slipped between the pads of Hamilton goalie Lasse Koskinen. Fifty seconds later, Citrone launched a knuckling shot from just inside the blue line that bounced under Koskinen’s blocker.
“It was a good scoreless game, then bam-bam, we’re down 2-0,” said Pistols D Hercules Mulligan. “The game comes at you fast.”
Shortly after Citrone’s goal, Hamilton committed back-to-back penalties that left them killing off a 5-on-3 for almost a minute. But although Anchorage got off five shot attempts during the extended power play, they were unable to get it past Koskinen. LW Steven Alexander nearly got the Pistols on the board in the waning minutes of the period by collecting a rebound and firing it at a yawning net, but Igloos goalie Ty Worthington got across at the last possible moment and knocked it aside.
In the third period, facing the end of their season, the Pistols pulled out all the stops, firing 20 shots in a wide-open period. Mulligan ended Worthington’s shutout bid in the first minute of the period by firing a wrister through traffic. But when Citrone scored on the power play with just under 15 minutes remaining to make it 3-1, it seemed as though the game was almost out of reach. The crowd at Gunpowder Armory kept cheering and trying to get their heroes back into it, but the minutes kept ticking away and the score stayed the same.
The Pistols got a break when Igloos D Laszlo Cierny was whistled for tripping with 8:12 remaining after he accidentally upended Pistols D Albie Glasco in the neutral zone while chasing a loose puck. Anchorage nearly killed off the penalty, but LW Magnus Gunnarson potted it for the Pistols with 17 seconds left on the power play to pull within one again.
From that point until the end of regulation, Hamilton dominated the puck, outattempting the Igloos 14-2 over the final six and a half minutes. The Pistols nearly scored the tying goal on a scrum in front of the Anchorage net with four and a half minutes left. RW Waldo Miranda tried to jam it home; Worthington knocked it down but left a juicy rebound. Alexander nearly buried the rebound, but Worthington threw up his glove at the last second to deflect it. Alexander scooped it up again and fired it just wide.
Two minutes later, Alexander fired a slapshot from just below the faceoff dot that went in and came back so fast that he wasn’t certain it was a goal. But when he spotted referee Darren St. James pointing vigorously at the net, Alexander threw his arms in the air and let out a scream.
“The momentum felt like it was all in our corner,” said Alexander. “It was just a matter of time before we scored the game-winner, or so I thought.”
But when the siren sounded at the end of regulation, Hamilton’s momentum evaporated with it. The Igloos gathered themselves during the intermission, and came out determined to end it. They outshot Hamilton 6-1 in the extra session. Cierny came up huge, blocking three consecutive Pistols shots. Finally, 8:29 into overtime, Citrone scored and touched off the Igloos’ celebration.
C Jake Frost took the first lap around the ice with the Vandy. As he thrust the trophy over his head, the center thought about the bumpy road he experienced this season: the multiple injuries that cost him a shot at the scoring title, the hard-fought division playoff against Milwaukee, and the drawn-out battle in the Finals. He thought about his friends who weren’t there, veteran players who had been let go due to salary cap considerations: Ds Ted Keefe and Olaf Martinsson, C Nile Bernard, RW Remi Montrechere, and all the others.
“I’m grateful we made it back to the mountaintop,” said Frost. “And everybody in this locker room deserves credit for that. But so do Keefer, Nile, Remi, Olaf… all the guys who helped build the championship culture we have. They’re not here to celebrate with us, but they deserve to be.”
Castor lauded the Igloos for rising to the occasion one more time. “I know a lot of the so-called experts thought we were over the hill, that our window had closed,” said the Igloos coach. “Fortunately, we’ve got a lot of great players here who were able to ignore that and just play our game. We made it through a ton of adversity and beat the two-time defending champs. I consider it a privilege to coach a strong, determined bunch of guys like this. We’re the champions again!”