(Hamilton leads series, 2-0)
After dropping the opener of the SHL Finals, the Anchorage Igloos came into today’s Game 2 looking to start strong, cruise to victory, and even the series. They got the strong start down pat; five minutes into the game, they led 3-1. But then the spent the remaining 55 minutes watching the Hamilton Pistols slowly but surely tilt the ice in their direction, coming from behind to claim a 5-3 win and a 2-0 series lead.
“This was a tough one for us to take,” said Igloos LW Jerry Koons. “We felt like we should have had this one, and we let it get away.”
The beginning of this game, just like Game 1, was wide open and full of scoring. D Olaf Martinsson got Anchorage on the board just seven seconds in, with an awkward knuckling shot that eluded Pistols goalie Lasse Koskinen. At the 42-second mark, C Calvin Frye banked one in off the crossbar to tie it. And at 1:15, Igloos D Ted Keefe intercepted a pass and found RW Broni Zlotkin, who fired it above Koskinen’s catching glove to take a 2-1 lead.
“I don’t know what it is about these games,” said Frye. “It’s like no one’s allowed to play D until a couple minutes into it.”
Three and a half minutes after Zhlotkin’s tally, RW Nicklas Ericsson finished an odd-man rush with a beautiful deke that got Koskinen to bite, then deposited the puck in the vacant upper-right corner of the net to give Anchorage a two-goal lead. With the game getting out of control, Pistols LW Steven Alexander called his team out and urged them to turn the tide.
“Alex was basically screaming at us that we needed to wake up,” said Frye. “He said, ‘We can just back in this, turn things around and bury these guys.’ And that got us going.”
Fittingly, Alexander got the rally started himself. D Raymond Smyth hit him with a perfect pass in the neutral zone, and Alexander barreled up the ice at top speed. He pulled off a gorgeous toe drag to shake D Tony Citrone, crashed in toward the net, and went high for the score. Alexander then jumped into the boards and signaled to his teammates.
“He pointed and kind of waved us on like, ‘Okay, I got us started, now it’s your turn,'” said Frye. “Alex did what he needed to light the fire under us.”
After Alexander’s goal, the game shifted in Hamilton’s favor. For one thing, they tightened up their shoddy defense. Anchorage had 17 shots in the first period; they had 21 in the next two periods combined. And as the Igloos found their game stalling, the Pistols found theirs warming up.
In the second period, D Hercules Mulligan tied the game with a blast from the top of the offensive zone. The goal was originally credited to RW Ben Summers, who was believed to have tipped it, but replays showed that the puck just took a strange bounce off the ice on its way into the net.
In the first minute of the third period, RW Claude Lafayette gave Hamilton its first lead of the game on a slapshot that leaked through Anchorage goalie Ty Worthington‘s pads and trickled over the goal line before he could stop it. And in the middle of the third period, Alexander put a capper on the night. He received the puck in the left faceoff circle, his favorite spot, and wound up for his trademark slapper. Worthington readied himself to block it. But instead of shooting, Alexander slapped a pass to Lafayette, who put it into the yawning net for an insurance tally.
Igloos coach Sam Castor swatted down a question about whether he would go to backup Curt Freeze in net after Worthington struggled in each of the first two games. “Not even a consideration; this is Ty’s series unless he gets hurt,” said Castor. “Has he had a couple of rough games? Yes. But is that on him? No. it’s not. Our defense has left him out to dry far too often, and that needs to change in a hurry.”
Castor also criticized his team’s power play, which is 0-for-7 so far in the series. “We had four today, and didn’t do a thing with them,” the coach noted. “If we convert on even one of those, it’s a different game.”
As the series shifts to Anchorage for the next three games, the Igloos know they need to raise their game if they’re going to get back into it. “We need to control the flow of the game,” said Koons. “We did that against Portland, but so far this series, Hamilton has dictated the game. If we keep playing back on our heels, this is going to be a short series. We need to be on our toes instead.”