Offseason Update: Hamilton Shares Vandy With Fans

The Hamilton Pistols won their second straight Vandy this season.  And the team had a very clear idea how they wanted to celebrate: “We want to share this trophy with our fans,” said RW Claude Lafayette.  “And we want to drink as much as we can while doing it.”

So far, the Pistols are living up to Lafayette’s goals.  There’s hardly a bar, nightclub, public park, or civic event this summer that the Pistols haven’t brought the Vandy to.  They’ve drank, danced, sung, and partied their way around the Greater Toronto Area, and the players and fans are thoroughly enjoying themselves so far.

“It’s been one crazy never-ending party so far,” said C Calvin Frye.  “I was worried about some of our guys at first.  But we’re staying hydrated and pacing ourselves just enough so that we can keep it going.  So far, so good!”

The Pistols said their victory party was inspired the NHL’s Washington Capitals, who became famous for their highly public and booze-fueled celebration of their first-ever Stanley Cup in 2018.  “They really redefined the standard for the party game,” said Lafayette of the Caps.  “They were definitely an inspiration to us.  Last year, when we won, we were too tired to really let it loose.  But this time, we knew we wanted to take it to the next level.”

The party began with the championship parade, which drew tens of thousands to downtown Hamilton to cheer on their heroes.  The Pistols stood atop double-decker buses, waving and throwing tchotchkes to the fans.  The parade route ended at Gunpowder Armory, where the fans packed in to listen to the players make giddy speeches and lead cheers.

Steven Alexander

“Winning our first Vandy was an incredible experience,” said LW Steven Alexander, “but it was damn hard work, and we were pretty tired afterward.  But you guys, with your cheers and your total support, you gave us the energy to go out and win it again.  This title is for you!”

Alexander also took a shot at the Pistols’ rival, the New York Night, and longtime antagonist and now-former coach Nick Foster.  “You guys might remember that clown down south of the border, the one who kept talking crap about me, about us,” Alexander shouted, as boos rained down from the fans.  “He kept saying his team was better than ours, their arena was better than ours, their fans were better than ours.  Well, guess what?  We just went back-to-back, and he just got fired.  Scoreboard, Nick!”

The parade was hardly the end of the celebration, however.  Reports began popping up on social media of various Pistols showing up at local restaurants, bars, and nightclubs, often with the Vandy in tow.  One night, Alexander, Frye, Lafayette, and the trophy showed up unannounced at a bar called Skipper Harry’s on the waterfront.  Alexander jumped up on top of the bar and shouted that he was buying a round for everyone in the house.  He then had the bartender fill the bowl in the center of the trophy with beer, which he chugged. After leading the bar in a round of “We Are the Champions,” Frye and Lafayette carried the Vandy around the beer, giving patrons a chance to snap selfies and, in some cases, replicate Alexander’s beer chug.

A couple days later, Ds Hercules Mulligan and Clayton Risch were spotted carrying the Vandy down Locke Street, pausing frequently for selfies and high-fives with fans.  Mulligan also carried a duffel bag filled with Pistols hats and T-shirts, and he tossed one to every person he spotted wearing Toronto Maple Leafs gear, shouting, “How’d you like to cheer for a winner for a change?” (The Maple Leafs have not won a championship since 1967.)

On another occasion, several players were taking a mini-bus to a nightclub when Alexander spied someone on the street wearing a shirt created by a Pistols fan blog.  The shirt featured the Pistols’ gunsight log, with a silhouette of the Vandy replacing the customary “H”.  Beneath the logo, the shirt read “We’ve Got Another Title In Our Sights.”  Alexander told the driver to stop the bus, then rushed out and greeted the surprised fan.  “That shirt is awesome!  Want to trade with me?”  The fan agreed, whereupon Alexander whipped off his shirt, autographed it, and handed it to the fan.  He then posted for a picture before hopping back on the bus.

The sightings continued on a daily basis over the next two or three weeks, as the Pistols kept appearing, flashing their hardware, drinking and dancing and singing with anyone who wanted to join in.

“They basically took the celebration and turned it into a rolling, never-ending street party,” said coach Keith Shields.  “They know how essential the fans are to our success, and they want to share that joy together.  I think it shows how special the bond is between our team and the city.  We’re all going to have memories to last a lifetime.”

2020 SHL Finals – Game 5

HAMILTON PISTOLS 5, ANCHORAGE IGLOOS 1

(Hamilton wins series, 4-1)

As the Hamilton Pistols prepared for a potential Finals-clinching Game 5, LW Steven Alexander stood in the middle of the visiting locker room and made a brief but powerful statement.

“This ends tonight,” said Alexander of the series.  “When we go back to Hamilton, I don’t want to play more hockey.  I want to be able to go party and celebrate with our friends.  Who’s with me?”

The other Pistols shouted their assent.  Then they went out and dominated the Anchorage Igloos, cruising to a 5-1 win and becoming the first team in SHL history to win back-to-back championships.

“Double Vandys, baby!” crowed Alexander after the game.  “We’ve started a revolution in the SHL.  The old empires are falling, and now it’s our time!”

The first period was competitive, as the Igloos – fighting for their playoff lives – came out fast.  They outshot Hamilton 16-7 in the opening stanza.  But thanks to Lasse Koskinen‘s strong goaltending and a couple of quality shots, the Pistols came away with a lead after 20 minutes.

The Igloos took the first six shots of the game, but couldn’t get any of them behind Koskinen.  When the Pistols finally got some offensive zone time about five minutes in, it didn’t take RW Claude Lafayette long to score the game’s first goal with a fierce snipe that snuck in between Igloos goalie Ty Worthington‘s left arm and torso.

That initial lead was short-lived; Igloos C Jens Bunyakin scored the equalizer just 30 seconds later.  But the Pistols didn’t let that slow them down.  Later in the period, Anchorage was setting up for another extended offensive shift when Pistols D Albie Glasco managed to poke-check the puck away from Igloos LW Jerry Koons and over the blue line.  That set up a Hamilton jailbreak, which ended with a gorgeous drop pass to C Calvin Frye, who stashed it in the upper left corner of the net to make it a 2-1 game.

“Even though [the Igloos] got most of the shots in the first, we still came out ahead,” said Frye.  “We felt confident at that point that we were going to take it.”

Over the final 40 minutes, the Pistols slowly squeezed the life out of both the Igloos offense and the fans at Arctic Circle Arena as they steadily added to their lead.  Anchorage had as many shots in the first as they did over the rest of the game.

“I have to hand it to them,” said Igloos C Jake Frost of his victorious opponent.  “They could have tried to trap and sit on their lead, but they didn’t.  They really took it to us.”

Hamilton added two more goals in the second period, one early in the period on a slapshot by D Clayton Risch, and another late in the period on a tip-in at the doorstep by C J.C. Marais.

Alexander, naturally, put the capper on things early in the third with a blast from his favorite spot at the edge of the left faceoff circle.  The feisty winger dropped his stick and thrust his arms in the air, then skated over to the waiting embrace of his teammates.  As the Pistols celebrated, their whoops and hollers echoed in the rafter of the painfully quiet arena.

After Alexander’s score, it was just a matter of letting the time wind off the clock.  As the minutes ticked away, several Igloos stars on the bench covered their heads with towels, either to hide their emotions or so they didn’t have to watch.  Others sat, staring blankly into the distance as their championship hopes withered away.

When the final horn sounded, though, the Igloos raised their sticks in the air in tribute to their fans.  And the crowd gave their fallen heroes a standing ovation.  They even saved some applause for the winning Pistols, who acknowledged the tribute before heading down to the locker room to celebrate.

The post-game scene was a boisterous, jubilant celebration.  The Pistols smoked cigars and poured champagne over themselves and each other.  Players swayed arm-in-arm, singing old drinking songs off key in between swigs of beer and whiskey.

“I can’t think of a group of guys I’d rather go to war with,” crowed Alexander.  “These are my friends, my teammates, my comrades in arms.  Next year, let’s go for a three-peat!”

Coach Keith Shields, tie askew and suit jacket missing, celebrated his players.  “In victory, the glory always goes to God,” said Shields, “but these boys worked so hard for this all season, and they deserve this celebration.  It’s been my honor and privilege to share it with them!”

In the home locker room, Igloos coach Sam Castor paid tribute to the champions.  “They just outplayed us,” Castor said.  “It’s not often that I have to say that, but it’s true.  It was a good, clean. well-played series, but they outplayed us. and they deserved the Vandy.  It’s a tough pill for us to swallow, but it gives us a little extra fuel for next season.”

Continue reading “2020 SHL Finals – Game 5”

2020 SHL Finals – Game 2

HAMILTON PISTOLS 5, ANCHORAGE IGLOOS 3

(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.”

Continue reading “2020 SHL Finals – Game 2”

2020 SHL Finals – Game 1

HAMILTON PISTOLS 6, ANCHORAGE IGLOOS 3

(Hamilton leads series, 1-0)

The SHL Finals got off to a fast start.  Both teams came out in top offensive form; they combined to fire 88 shots on goal.  But it was the defending champion Hamilton Pistols who got the upper hand, breaking the game open in the second period and cruising to a 6-3 victory over the Anchorage Igloos.

“We played the kind of game we wanted to play today,” said Pistols C Calvin Frye, who scored two of Hamilton’s half-dozen goals.  “We controlled the flow of play, kept the energy level high, and came away with the W.”

The first period established that this was going to be an offense-focused contest, but it wasn’t clear who would come away with the win.  The teams were trading goals in the early going.  The home team struck first, as D Burt “Hacksaw” Hampton – normally known more for his hard-hitting defense than his scoring touch – pounced on a loose puck above the faceoff circle and swatted it past a screened Ty Worthington and into the Anchorage net.  Worthington never tracked the puck, and didn’t flinch as it sailed over his catching glove.

“That was a real goal-scorer’s goal,” said LW Steven Alexander, struggling to suppress a smirk.  “Can’t wait to see the highlight reel on that.”

Just over a minute later, Igloos D Sebastian Pomfret deflected a slap-pass under the crossbar to tie things up.  About a minute after that, RW Claude Lafayette finished an odd-man rush with a knuckling shot that Worthington couldn’t corral before it crossed the goal line, putting Hamilton back in the lead.  On the following faceoff, Igloos C Jake Frost won the draw, then promptly led his team up the ice and pumped a slapshot top shelf.  Less than 5 minutes had elapsed, and the score already stood 2-2.

“At that point, it felt like we were headed for a football-type score,” said Frye.  “It was a little too crazy out there.”

After the initial adrenaline rush wore off, the pace settled down slightly, and the red-light parade came to a halt.  It wasn’t until after the halfway point of the period that Frye jabbed one home from the slot to break the deadlock, and got the crowd cranked up again.

Both sides agree that the key momentum shift occurred at the end of the first frame and the beginning of the second.  The Pistols had a pair of power plays that were virtually back-to-back and came up empty.  Then, with less than two minutes to go in the first, Hampton caught Igloos C Tom Hoffman up high with his stick.  Hoffman came away with a nasty cut below his eye; Hampton came away with a double-minor for high-sticking.

Anchorage had four minutes with which to tie the game or take the lead.  And they tried their hardest; they kept the puck in the offensive zone for well over three minutes of the man advantage and fired seven shots.  But Pistols goalie Lasse Koskinen didn’t buckle under the assault, stopping all seven, sometimes with acrobatic moves that left the crowd roaring.

As the seconds ticked away and the Igloos still couldn’t find the equalizer.  The Pistols and their fans steadily gained confidence as Koskinen stopped shot after shot.  And 35 seconds after the power play came up empty, RW Kenny Patterson swooped into the Anchorage zone and beat Worthington short-side to make it a 4-2 game.  Frye added his second tally a few minutes later to put the home team firmly in command.

“That double-minor, and the fact that we couldn’t convert, that swung the whole game,” said Igloos coach Sam Castor.  “Tip of the cap to Koskinen there; he really stood on his head.  But when we came up with that goose egg, and then Patterson went down and scored, that was a real back-breaker.”

The teams traded goals early in the third – C J.C. Marais scored for Hamilton, while Pomfret got his second for Anchorage – but the outcome was never really in doubt.

Pistols coach Keith Shields lauded praise on Koskinen, who made 40 saves in all.  “We really needed Koski today,” Shields said.  “It was a run-and-gun type of game, and you really need your goalie to be on his toes in that kind of game.  Koski definitely was.  Obviously, he was huge on that penalty kill, but all game he was seeing the puck great and making tremendous saves.  It’s a totally different game if he has an off night.”

If Koskinen and the Pistols are sharp again in tomorrow’s Game 2, they’ll be halfway to being the SHL’s first bakc-to-back champs.  But Anchorage will be eager to tilt the ice and even the series.

“We’ll be ready to bring the fight to them tomorrow,” said Frost.  “We had our hands full with them today, but they’ll have their hands full with us tomorrow.”

Continue reading “2020 SHL Finals – Game 1”