2018 SHL Finals – Game 7

ANCHORAGE IGLOOS 4, QUEBEC TIGRES 3

There were several points this season when it appeared that the Anchorage Igloos would fail in their quest for their second Vandy.  The team hovered around the .500 mark for much of the season.  Coach Sam Castor called his club out for a lack of effort at one point.  Even as late as the trading deadline, it wasn’t clear whether the Igloos would be able to hold on to a playoff spot.

Anchorage finished the season strong, however, and seemed prepared to rampage through the postseason.  They swept the Michigan Gray Wolves in the division playoff, then won three straight in the Finals to push the Quebec Tigres to the brink.  But in one final, cruel twist of fate, they proceeded to lose three straight to Quebec to even the series, leaving it up to a winner-take-all Game 7 at Centre Citadelle.

“I suppose we could have made it harder on ourselves,” said C Jake Frost, “but I’m not sure how.”

Fortunately, Anchorage was up to the challenge.  In a game for the ages, the Igloos rallied from behind twice with the help of some unlikely faces and squeezed out a 4-3 victory, becoming the first two-time SHL champion.

“We really went through hell to get here,” said Castor, “but that makes the victory so much sweeter.”

After being manhandled by the Tigres in Game 6, the Igloos needed to get their offense back on track in this contest.  They got off to a decent start in the first period, outshooting Quebec 11-8, but they couldn’t get one past goalie Riki Tiktuunen.  Worse yet, Castor sensed that some of his stars – particularly Frost and RW Nicklas Ericsson – were pressing a bit.

“We were definitely playing tight out there early,” said the Anchorage coach.  “I knew we needed to do something to shake things up.”

To top it all off, D Tony Citrone was penalized in the first couple minutes of the game for a slashing call that the Igloos considered highly questionable.  On the ensuing power play, Tigres RW Stephane Mirac deflected a knuckling puck just inside the post to give the home team a 1-0 lead that stood up through period’s end.

Heading into the second, Castor decided to take a gamble.  The Igloos coach decided to give more ice time to their bottom line of LW Waldo Miranda, C Harvey Bellmore, and RW Broni Zhlotkin.  That group earned themselves the nickname “The Circus Squad” both because of their penchant for practical jokes and their tendency to make on-ice mistakes.  Castor tends to limit their shifts for that reason, but he gambled that their goofy nature might be an advantage in a high-pressure game like this.

“I figured they were too dumb to get scared,” said the Igloos coach.

Castor’s hunch paid off in a big way.  Two and a half minutes into the second period, during an extended offensive shift, Bellmore drifted close to the net and redirected a shot from D Olaf Martinsson over Tiktuunen’s right pad to tie the score at 1.

The deadlock lasted less than a minute, however, as D Laurie Workman fired a slapshot that beat a screened Ty Worthington to put Quebec back in front.

Castor’s solution?  Put the Circus Squad right back out there.  And just 16 seconds after Workman’s tally, Bellmore went top-shelf on Tiktuunen to tie the score back up.  To celebrate his offensive explosion, Bellmore beat his chest and let out a Tarzan scream.

“Sometimes, you just need to send the nutcases out there,” said Castor.

Later on in the period, LW Jerry Koons got the top line on the board, finishing a breakaway by beating Tiktuunen on the glove side and giving the Igloos their first lead of the game.

“We couldn’t let the bottom line do all the work,” quipped Koons.

The Igloos weren’t quite out of the woods yet.  A minute and a half into the third period, Mirac fired a laser past Worthington for his second goal of the game, tying the score.  Once again, the Circus Squad came to the rescue.  Bellmore, trying for a hat trick, fired a shot that wound up in a scrum in front of the net.  The puck wound up bouncing to Miranda, who fed it over to Zhltokin.  The rugged winger wrestled free of his defender and slapped it home to put the Igloos ahead for good.

“If anyone predicted that Broni Zhlotkin was going to get the goal that won the Finals, I want to meet that guy,” said Castor.  “He and I are going down to the racetrack.”

Anchorage still had to weather a couple of late Quebec rushes, but Worthington was on duty and kept the Tigres from tying the score.  With about two minutes left in the game, Mirac skated behind the net and tried a wraparound shot, but Worthington got over in the nick of time and deflected it with his skate blade.

The postgame handshake line was far from the usual perfunctory routine.  Players on both side squeezed each other’s arms, thumped chests, and even hugged.  It was a gesture of mutual respect between a pair of worthy adversaries who expect to see each other again in a situation like this.

“Quebec gave us everything we could handle,” said Castor.  “Stephane and his team deserve a ton of credit.  We got the Vandy this time, but I’m sure they’ve got one ahead of them.”

For his part, Tigres coach Martin Delorme kept his focus on the future.  “We learned a lot of lessons here that will serve us well,” Delorme told reporters.  “We faced a great team and nearly beat them.  I cannot wait for next season.”

Continue reading “2018 SHL Finals – Game 7”

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2018 SHL Finals – Game 3

ANCHORAGE IGLOOS 3, QUEBEC TIGRES 1

After taking the first two games of these Finals on the road, the Anchorage Igloos came home to Arctic Circle Arena with a chance to take a stranglehold on the series.  They did just that, completely muzzling the Quebec Tigres and rolling to a 3-1 victory that puts them one win away from a clean sweep of the playoffs.

“This is a group that’s hungry for the title,” said Igloos LW Jerry Koons, who had a goal and an assist in today’s game.  “We’re all driven with one singular purpose: winning the Vandy.”

During the division playoff, the Igloos used frantic, fast-paced first periods to get early leads and set the tones.  The Tigres managed to frustrate those attempts in the first two games, but Anchorage successfully turned up the heat in this game, outshooting Quebec 15-7 in the opening frame.

The Tigres were set back on their heels early thanks to a couple of quick penalties.  They succeeded in killing both of them off, but Anchorage held the puck in the zone after the second penalty ended, pinning Quebec in its own end.  Goalie Riki Tiktuunen tried to fall on the puck to give his players a much-needed breather, but was unable to secure it.  The puck wound up on the stick of Koons, who drilled it home over the prone Tiktuunen to draw first blood.

A couple minutes later, the Igloos’ Les Collins and Ben Summers broke out on an odd-man rush.  After a couple back-and-forth passes, Collins fired a shot that tucked under the crossbar to make it 2-0.

“That was important for us, to get a fast start and get the crowd pumped up,” said Summers.

The Igloos managed to kill off a 5-on-3 situation later in the period and went to the locker room with their two-goal edge intact.  Less than a minute into the second, however, Broni Zhlotkin was whistled for diving, and Quebec needed only 10 second of power-play time for Rupert MacDiarmid to convert, cutting the deficit in half.

“This postseason has been a real showcase for Rupert,” said Tigres coach Martin Delorme.  “He has been a highlight for us.”

But Anchorage managed to virtually extinguish the Tigres’ offense after that.  Quebec would only record three more shots in the remainder of the period.  The Igloos didn’t accomplish this through trapping and slowing the pace of the game; rather, they maintained possession of the puck and skated past the Tigres.

When Tigres RW Sindri Pentti went off for tripping just before the halfway mark of the period, Igloos RW Nicklas Ericsson ripped a shot between Tiktuunen’s legs to restore Anchorage’s two-goal edge.  For the rest of the second period and all of the third, the Igloos maintained control of the game for long stretches, and the Tigres struggled to gain possession of the puck, much less to get shots off.  Quebec registered only four shots in the third period; for the game, they were outshot 37-15.

“Our guys just put on a clinic out there on playing with a lead,” said Igloos coach Sam Castor.  “We just controlled play and dominated the ice, and just slowly sucked the life out of them.”

As for the Tigres, they’ll need to win on enemy ice in Game 4 to avoid being swept, and they’ll need to win four in a row – including the next two in Anchorage – in order to win the series.  “We have dug ourselves into a very deep hole,” said Delorme.  “We have only one choice now if we’re going to win this.  It will not be easy, but it is the task we have left for ourselves.”

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Igloos Prevail Over KC In Wild OT Battle

When the Anchorage Igloos hosted the Kansas City Smoke on Friday, they were hoping for an easy win over a team on an eight-game winless streak, which would allow them to solidify their second-place standing in the West.  While the Igloos did ultimately prevail over the Smoke, it was anything but easy.  Twice, Anchorage had to rally from three-goal deficits, and needed overtime before they escaped with a wild 8-7 victory.

“Man, that was a battle we weren’t expecting!” exclaimed C Jake Frost after the game.  “We showed a lot of fight, a lot of heart, but boy, KC put a scare into us.”

The Smoke showed up ready to play.  It only took 15 seconds for LW Louis LaPlante to get on the board with his first goal of the season, a slapper past Igloos netminder Wendall Cantillon. Frost evened things up two minutes later with a shot from the right faceoff circle, but rookie C Noel Picard put the Smoke back ahead just over a minute later with a tip-in from the slot.  Midway through the first, Kansas City struck twice to take a 4-1 lead, leaving the crowd at Arctic Circle Arena in an uneasy silence.

Igloos coach Sam Castor considered lifting Cantillon at that point.  But given that it was the backup’s first action all week, the coach stayed with his goalie.  “Wendall’s got to have a chance to deal with adversity,” said Castor.  “I wanted to see how he’d react, and how the team would react.”

Anchorage rallied to Cantillon’s rescue, with RW Remi Montrechere and D “Chilly Willy” Calligan scoring to pull within one by the end of the period.  Four minutes into the second period, Montrechere struck again to tie it up and bring the crowd to its feet.

“We felt like the mommentum was going our way,” said Montrechere.  “We were in control and ready to pull away.”

As it turned out, the momentum was about to shift back to the visitors.  Three minutes after Montechere’s tally, Smoke LW Piotr Soforenko deflected a shot past Cantillon to retake the lead.  C Phil Miller went top-shelf to make it a 6-4 game at the end of the second period.

47 seconds into the third period, Kansas City D Tony Hunt notched a power-play tally to give the Smoke another three-goal lead and putting the Igloos behind the eight ball.

“We needed a jolt, and fast,” said Frost.

They got a pair of jolts in short order.  Five seconds after Hunt’s score, Montrechere blasted a shot just inside the pole to complete his hat trick.  Then, a minute later, C Broni Zhlotkin took exception to a rough hit from Hunt and dropped the gloved with him at center ice.  Although the donnybrook completed Hunt’s “Gordie Howe hat trick” (a goal, an assist, and a fight), it fired up both the Anchorage bench and the crowd.

Twenty seconds after the fight, LW Les Collins banged home a juicy rebound to pull the Igloos within one.  Six and a half minutes later, C Nile Bernard went five-hole on KC goaltender Brooks Copeland and tied it up.  Bernard jumped up against the boards in the corner as the fans banged the glass in delight.

Although the atmosphere in the arena remained near delirium for most of the third period, the Igloos couldn’t push the go-ahead goal across.  Frost and Collins each hit the post, and Copeland made a tremendous sprawling stop with three minutes left in regulation to rob Montrechere of a fourth goal.

The game went to overtime, with both teams and the fans exhausted.  “In OT, that was all adrenaline,” said Frost.  “We had no energy left.”  With a minute and a half left in the extra session, RW Nicklas Ericsson faked a pass to Frost in the slot and slid it up to the blue line, where D Ted Keefe fired a blast that hit the crossbar and went in for the game-winning goal.

Keefe’s goal delivered the Igloos their fourth straight win and their fifth in the last six games.  It also moved Anchorage seven points clear of Saskatchewan and Seattle for second place; it’s their largest lead of the season.  But Castor remains dissatisfied with his team’s performance.  “We had no business winning this game,” the coach said.  “We’ve looked a lot better this week, but we’re going to need to tighten it up on a night-to-night basis if we’re going to make the playoffs.”

Castor’s players were happier with the outcome. “Coming back from a three-goal [deficit] in a game is a game is impressive,” said Frost.  “Doing it twice in one game?  That doesn’t happen.  We’re pretty awesome!”

2015 SHL Finals – Game 5

Washington SmallAnchorage SmallWASHINGTON GALAXY 3, ANCHORAGE IGLOOS 1

With one more game at home in the SHL Finals, the Washington Galaxy were eager to capture a victory and move to the brink of capturing the Vandy. They got what they wanted, snagging a 3-1 win and leaving the heavily favored Anchorage Igloos needing to claim back-to-back wins in order to avoid a stunning upset loss in the Finals.

“This is not the position we wanted to be in,” said Igloos C Jake Frost.  “We established ourselves as the best team all season long, and for us to lose the Finals… that would be a real blow.”

Just as they did in game 4, the Galaxy struck first.  When C Eddie Costello scored on a three-on-one a little more than four minutes into the game, the crowd at Constellation Center practically raised the roof with delight.  “The place was really rocking,” said Washington RW Jefferson McNeely.  “The fans were believing right from the start, and we were believing too.”

Igloos C Broni Zhlotkin dampened the crowd’s enthusiasm with less than two minutes left in the period, redirecting a blue-line shot by RW Remi Montrechere and beating Galaxy goaltender Roger Orion stick-side to even the score at 1.

“For us, getting it back even before the break was key,” said Montrechere.  “We didn’t want them getting too confident.  The momentum was shifting away from us, and we needed to snatch it back.”

In a repeat of Game 2, the 1-1 tie persisted through a scoreless second period, as both teams took turns making furious rushes to no effect.  In the first half of the period, the Igloos dominated the action, stepping up the pace of action with their patented fast breaks and trying to overwhelm the depleted Washington skaters.  Orion did a valiant job turning them aside, although on two separate occasions Anchorage rang shots off the post.

In the latter half of the period, Washington took its turn in the driver’s seat, scarcely letting the Igloos get the puck out of their own end and bombarding Worthington with shots.  But the Anchorage netminder held firm, keeping the Galaxy from breaking the tie.  The home fans remained excited, but their cheers took on a nervous edge.

“When [the Igloos] were trying to race past us and we were able to stop them, that got everybody fired up,” said Galaxy LW Casey Thurman.  “But then we threw everything we had at them and we couldn’t get it done either.  And we all felt like this was a must-win game for us.  It was getting intense.”

The Galaxy got a much-needed break 2:47 into the third period.  Although the referees had been calling a fairly loose game to that point, head linesman Scott Pritchard whistled Anchorage D Hans Mortensen for a controversial interference call, sending the Igloos bench into hysterics.  Igloos coach Sam Castor remained miffed about the penalty even after the game.

“We got burned by inconsistent officiating,” said the Anchorage coach.  “If they’d been calling it tight all game, fine.  But they’d already made it clear they were going to let the teams play, at least up until that point.  There were easily a half-dozen things [the Galaxy] did that were worse than what Hans did, with no call.  All I ask for is consistency.  If something’s not a penalty in the first, it shouldn’t be in the third.”

Castor and the Igloos only became more furious when Galaxy LW Todd Douglas beat Worthington top-shelf 32 seconds into the power play to put Washington ahead. “That one really burns,” said Castor.  “It was a knife in the gut at the worst possible time.”

Less than three minutes later, an Anchorage defensive breakdown sprung Douglas on a breakaway; he fed C Drustan Zarkovich, who slid the puck under Worthington’s right pad for a 3-1 lead.

“You’ve really got to look in the mirror if Drustan beats you on a breakaway,” Galaxy coach Rodney Reagle quipped after the game.  “He’s a great guy and a good player, but he’s not exactly a racehorse out there.”

After securing the two-goal edge, the Galaxy spent the rest of the game in a defensive mode.  With Orion (30 saves) continuing to provide stout netminding, Washington preserved their win and took a 3-2 lead in the series.

“All we’ve got to do now is win one in Anchorage, and we’ve already done that,” said Thurman.  “We’re ready for this.”

The Igloos headed home fueled by anger at the late call against Mortensen.  “A lot of guys in here feel like the refs won this one, not the other team,” said Frost.  “We’re not looking for the refs to decide this series.  We want to take care of business ourselves.”

Continue reading “2015 SHL Finals – Game 5”