2020 SHL Finals – Game 5


(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 4


(Hamilton leads series, 3-1)

For the Anchorage Igloos, there was only one goal in today’s Game 4: don’t get swept.  After the Hamilton Pistols won the first three games of the SHL Finals, the Igloos were on the brink of that ignominious end, and they were determined not to let that happen.  Not in front of their own fans at Arctic Circle Arena.  For a proud veteran team, the thought of such a humiliation was too much to bear.  And they didn’t let it happen, scoring four times in the second period on the way to a 6-4 win.

“This is the statement we’ve been looking for all series,” said C Jake Frost.

When the puck dropped to open the second, the game was tied 1-1 and the outcome was far from certain.  Igloos C Tom Hoffman, skating on the top line in a shake-up move by coach Sam Castor, won the faceoff and slid the puck to LW Jerry Koons.  Koons raced up the ice and passed it back to Hoffman, who began to loop behind the net, only to fire it just before he crossed the goal line and put it in to give the Igloos the lead.

Five minutes later, RW Nicklas Ericsson got behind the Hamilton defense and received a perfect pass from D Sebastian Pomfret.  Ericsson broke in alone on the net, dangled a bit, then went high to put the Igloos up by two.

“Nick is such a brilliant passer and facilitator that it’s easy to overlook his scoring talent,” said Castor.  “Just a remarkable player.”

Unlike in previous games, Anchorage managed to keep the Pistols from seizing the momentum.  When D Russ Klemmer scored to put Hamilton back within one less than a minute later, the Igloos kept the pressure on.  It was Frost who crashed the net and collected the loose puck and jammed it in to restore Anchorage’s two-goal lead.  When Pistols C Marco Venezio cut the deficit in half again, the Igloos needed just nine seconds for Koons to score on a slapshot from the slot.

Early in the third period, the Pistols threatened one more time when D Clayton Risch scored on a fluky looper of a shot that grazed the crossbar and went in.  This time, Anchorage’s seldom-used third line pitched in, as RW Jean Pierre Fleury juked his defender with a beautiful toe drag and then fired a shot about Hamilton goalie Lasse Koskinen‘s glove for his second goal of the game.

Any hope for a Pistols comeback in the rest of the game was snuffed out by a parade of penalties.  Hamilton went to the box three times in the third period, preventing them from establishing any sort of rhythm or sustained pressure.  As the final horn sounded, the Igloos gathered in a knot and traded head bumps while the crowd cheered with relief.

So the Igloos managed to prevent the sweep.  Their next goal: a win in Game 5 to keep Hamilton from celebrating on Anchorage’s ice.  “I said yesterday that we’re taking these one at a time,” said Castor.  “We got this one, and now we need to come out tomorrow and get the next one.”

The Pistols, meanwhile, remained confident that they will ultimately prevail.  “We never expected a sweep,” said coach Keith Shields.  “Anchorage is too good and talented a team to go down without a fight.  But if we keep playing the way we’ve been playing, we’ll be in good shape.”

Continue reading “2020 SHL Finals – Game 4”

2020 SHL Playoff – Game 3

Western Division Playoff (Anchorage leads, 2-1)


After suffering two embarrassing losses at home to open this Western final, the Portland Bluebacks had one goal for Game 3.  As RW Vince Mango put it succinctly: “We damn well better win.  We can’t get swept again.”

Mango and the Bluebacks made good on that goal.  They walked into Arctic Circle Arena and not only defeated the Anchorage Igloos, they did it convincingly, by a score of 8-4.  It was a statement win for a team that desperately needed to make a statement, to prove that they could match up with the Igloos in the postseason.

“That was the game we’ve been looking for the last two years,” said Mango.  “That was the dominating performance I knew we had in us.”

The win itself was enough of a statement, but the Bluebacks also flexed their roster depth: Each of their goals was scored by a different player. “That was a really nice touch, I thought,” said coach Harold Engellund.  “People tend to think our team is all about Vince and Eddie [Costello], but there’s so much more to us.”

In fairness, the Igloos put up more of a fight than the final score would indicate.  In spite of the fact that Portland built a 3-0 lead in the first half of the opening period, Anchorage declined to give in.  When Bluebacks D Benny Lambert was penalized for holding the stick, Igloos D Sebastian Pomfret scored on the ensuing power play to break the shutout.  Portland regained their three-goal edge just 20 seconds later on a tip-in by LW Rod “Money” Argent, but then Anchorage struck back again when LW Les Collins caught Portland goalie Jesse Clarkson out of position and buried it in the upper-left corner of the net.  And when C Jens Bunyakin scored 11 seconds into the second period, Anchorage pulled within one goal and the crowd started coming to life.

At that point, Mango called his teammates together to deliver a brief but pointed message.  “Hey, we need this,” Mango shouted.  “Let’s go out and break them.”

And that’s exactly what Portland did.  First, they broke loose on an odd-man rush, which Costello finished by going five-hole on Ty Worthington.  Next, less than a minute later D Woody Fairwood pinched along the board to thwart an attempted Anchorage clear, then passed to fellow blueliner Doron Lidjya, who banked it in off the right post.  Then just over a minute later, RW Philippe Durien stuffed home a wraparound before Worthington could seal off the post.  Suddenly it was 7-3, the crowd was silenced, and Worthington was off to the bench having stopped just 8 of 15 shots, replaced by backup Curt Freeze.

The rest of the game was a formality, with the teams trading goals, but the Igloos weren’t happy with a couple of Portland’s third-period actions.  Durien earned an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for taunting the Igloos bench, a performance that involved several obscenities as well as the grabbing of his groin.  Later in the period, in response to some chirping from Anchorage directed at Mango, LW Alphonse Gaspard fired a water bottle in the direction of the home bench, also earning an unsportsmanlike penalty.

“It’s really interesting to me that they hadn’t even won one game yet, and they were already running their mouths,” said LW Jerry Koons.  “Apparently they didn’t think they could let their play do the talking.  You’d better believe that we’re going to make a mental note of that.”

Coach Sam Castor echoed Koons’ sentiments.  “I don’t think we have to worry about finding any motivation for the next game,” he said.  “The Bluebacks were nice enough to take care of that for us.  I really appreciate that.”

W Final - Gm 3, Portland @ Anchorage, Arctic Circle Arena

                   1   2   3   OT   F
Portland           4   3   1        8
Anchorage          2   1   1        4

Portland              SH   G   A PTS BLK PIM +/-   Anchorage             SH   G   A PTS BLK PIM +/-

Costello        C      5   1   0   1   1   0  +2   Keefe           D      0   0   1   1   2   2  -4
Mango           RW     3   1   1   2   0   0  +2   Ericsson        RW     2   1   0   1   0   0  -2
Fairwood        D      1   0   3   3   3   0  +4   Koons           LW     2   0   1   1   0   0  -2
Lidjya          D      1   1   2   3   1   0  +4   Frost           C      5   0   1   1   0   0  -2
Gaspard         LW     1   0   1   1   2   2  +2   Pomfret         D      3   1   0   1   2   0  -4
Argent          LW     1   1   0   1   0   0  +2   Kerasov         D      0   0   1   1   2   0   0
Lambert         D      1   0   3   3   3   2   0   Hoffman         C      1   0   1   1   0   0  -2
Beasley         C      5   1   1   2   1   0  +2   Collins         LW     2   1   0   1   1   0  -2
Pepper          RW     3   1   2   3   0   0  +2   Citrone         D      2   0   0   0   0   2   0
Gallagher       D      1   0   0   0   1   0   0   Zhlotkin        F      5   0   0   0   1   0  -2
Gatecliff       D      2   0   0   0   2   0  +1   Martinsson      D      1   0   0   0   0   0  -1
Durien          RW     3   1   1   2   0   2  +1   Adamczyk        LW     2   0   0   0   0   0  -1
Mortensen       D      0   0   0   0   2   4  +1   Calligan        D      4   0   0   0   1   2  -1
Derringer       C      1   1   1   2   0   2  +1   Bunyakin        C      3   1   0   1   0   0  -1
Bannon          LW     1   0   0   0   2   0  +1   Fleury          RW     3   0   1   1   2   2  -1
------------------------------------------------   ------------------------------------------------
TOTALS                29   8  15  23  18  12   5   TOTALS                35   4   6  10  11   8  -5

Coach: Harold Engellund                            Coach: Sam Castor                               

POR:  McElvern, Hexton, Gauss
ANC:  Kennedy, Dyomin, LaNeige, Miranda (DL)

Portland            SH    SV    G    Sv%
Clarkson            35    31    4  0.886

Anchorage           SH    SV    G    Sv%
Worthington         15     8    7  0.533
Freeze              14    13    1  0.929


First Period

05:16  POR  Derringer (Fairwood, Durien)
08:21  POR  Pepper (Lidjya, Fairwood)
10:41  POR  Beasley (Pepper, Lambert)
15:02  ANC  Pomfret PP (Koons, Keefe)
15:22  POR  Argent (Beasley, Pepper)
16:25  ANC  Collins (Hoffman)

00:11  POR  Mortensen 2:00 (Tripping)
01:06  ANC  Fleury 2:00 (Slashing)
13:43  POR  Lambert 2:00 (Holding the Stick)

Second Period

00:11  ANC  Bunyakin (Kerasov, Fleury)
01:56  POR  Costello (Mango, Gaspard)
02:54  POR  Lidjya (Fairwood)
04:09  POR  Durien (Derringer, Lambert)

04:39  ANC  Calligan 2:00 (Holding the Stick)
12:47  POR  Mortensen 2:00 (Unsportsmanlike Conduct)

Third Period

00:12  POR  Mango PP (Lambert, Lidjya)
09:58  ANC  Ericsson PP (Frost)

00:10  ANC  Citrone 2:00 (High-sticking)
03:32  POR  Durien 2:00 (Unsportsmanlike Conduct)
08:48  POR  Derringer 2:00 (Roughing)
12:21  POR  Gaspard 2:00 (Unsportsmanlike Conduct)
17:47  ANC  Keefe 2:00 (Delay of Game)

                   1   2   3   OT   F
Portland          11   9   9       29
Anchorage         17   8  10       35


Portland         1 for 4
Anchorage        2 for 6




Eastern Division Playoff (Hamilton leads, 2-1)


Justin Valentine is a natural-born leader.  The Hershey Bliss center has that combination of movie-star good looks, natural eloquence, and strong play that makes teammates naturally want to follow him.  And when his team faced a win-or-go-home Game 3 against the defending champion Hamilton Pistols, Valentine came up big, potting a pair of goals – including the game-winner – and contributing an assist to lead his team to a 4-3 win to stave off elimination in the Eastern final.

“Great players want the puck in big moments,” said Bliss coach Chip Barber.  “And Justin always wants the puck in those spots.  Like a good premium chocolate, he’s perfect for every occasion.”

Valentine’s first heroic moment came early in the second period.  Hershey found themselves trailing after the first, despite once again scoring the game’s first goal, a power-play tally by D Steve Cargill.  Tallies by Pistols D Raymond Smyth and LW Steven Alexander quickly put the Bliss behind, and neither the Bliss bench nor the crowd at Chocolate Center wanted to risk a multi-goal deficit.  So when D Jean-Luc Aubin found Valentine in the slot, the center wasted no time going top shelf to tie things up.

“[The Igloos] were beating me up pretty good in front of the crease,” Valentine said, “but I was determined to strike pay dirt there.”

A couple minutes into the third, Valentine threw an impressive check on Pistols C Calvin Frye to relieve him of the puck.  After corraling the biscuit, Valentine through a head-man pass to D Cedric Meloche, who found LW Lance Sweet cutting to the net.  Sweet went glove-side to out Hershey back on top.

“Everybody thinks of Justin as a scorer, but he doesn’t get enough credit for his D,” said Sweet.  “Frye’s a pretty big rig, and that was a big-boy check that Justin put on him.”

Hershey’s bliss was short-lived, as Pistols D Clayton Risch tied things up less than two minutes later.  But Valentine bided his time, waiting for an opportunity to strike again.  When Hamilton RW Claude Lafayette was sent off from cross-checking with less than nine minutes remaining, the captain had his chance.  Hershey was in its standard umbrella formation, with Valentine stationed low near the left post.  Sensing a seam in the Hamilton penalty kill, Valentine signaled Sweet to switch just as Cargill unloaded from the point.  Crossing in front of the net, Valentine was able to redirect into the top left corner of the net as Sweet screened Pistols goalie Lasse Koskinen.  That tip proved to be the winning goal.

“I knew the team needed me to deliver today,” said Valentine.  “Now we just need two more like that.”

Hamilton coach Keith Shields graciously acknowledged Hershey’s strong play, while maintaining confidence in the outcome of the series.  “We figured [the Bliss] would have a game like this in them,” Shields noted.  “They’re too good a team to go down quietly.  But we’ve got two more shots to close this out, and we’re going to do it.”

E Final - Gm 3, Hamilton @ Hershey, Chocolate Center

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

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

Lafayette       RW     2   0   0   0   1   2  -1   Milton          D      3   0   1   1   1   2   0
Frye            C      4   0   1   1   2   0  -1   Sweet           LW     5   1   2   3   0   0  +1
Alexander       LW     5   1   0   1   2   0  -1   Hart            RW     2   0   1   1   1   0  +1
Mulligan        D      0   0   1   1   2   0   0   Aubin           D      2   0   1   1   3   0   0
Risch           D      5   1   0   1   1   0   0   Valentine       C      8   2   1   3   0   0  +1
Smyth           D      2   1   1   2   0   2  +1   Kirkpatrick     C      4   0   0   0   0   0  -1
Summers         RW     1   0   0   0   0   0  +1   Cargill         D      2   1   1   2   0   0  -1
Venezio         C      5   0   1   1   0   0  +1   Meloche         D      3   0   1   1   1   0  -1
Campbell        LW     3   0   1   1   0   2  +1   Swindonburg     LW     2   0   0   0   1   0  -1
Hampton         D      3   0   0   0   0   2   0   Montrechere     RW     1   0   0   0   1   0  -1
Marais          C      4   0   0   0   0   0  +1   Ketterman       C      1   0   0   0   1   0  -1
Glasco          D      2   0   0   0   2   0  +1   Daniels         RW     5   0   0   0   0   0  -1
Patterson       RW     1   0   0   0   0   0  +1   Nahorniak       LW     5   0   0   0   0   0  -1
Jennings        F      1   0   1   1   0   0  +1   Minnik          D      2   0   0   0   1   0   0
Klemmer         D      0   0   0   0   0   0   0   Snelling        D      1   0   0   0   5   2   0
------------------------------------------------   ------------------------------------------------
TOTALS                38   3   6   9  10   8   1   TOTALS                46   4   8  12  15   4  -1

Coach: Keith Shields                               Coach: Chip Barber                              

HAM:  Bodett (INJ), Pedersen, Winston (INJ), Gunnarson (DL)
HSY:  Kulkarov, Kilborn, Lapointe

Hamilton            SH    SV    G    Sv%
Koskinen            46    42    4  0.913

Hershey             SH    SV    G    Sv%
Adamsson            38    35    3  0.921


First Period

01:35  HSY  Cargill PP (Sweet, Milton)
02:16  HAM  Smyth (Venezio, Campbell)
05:15  HAM  Alexander (Frye, Smyth)

00:57  HAM  Smyth 2:00 (Hooking)

Second Period

01:03  HSY  Valentine (Aubin, Sweet)

02:44  HSY  Milton 2:00 (Slashing)

Third Period

02:21  HSY  Sweet (Meloche, Valentine)
03:45  HAM  Risch (Mulligan, Jennings)
11:25  HSY  Valentine PP (Cargill, Hart)

05:07  HSY  Snelling 2:00 (Diving)
11:06  HAM  Lafayette 2:00 (Cross-checking)
11:40  HAM  Hampton 2:00 (Tripping)
19:33  HAM  Campbell 2:00 (High-sticking)

                   1   2   3   OT   F
Hamilton          15  11  12       38
Hershey           12  15  19       46


Hamilton         0 for 2
Hershey          2 for 4



2020 SHL Eastern All-Star Roster

The roster for the 2020 Eastern Division All-Stars, as announced by coach Keith Shields, was as follows:

First Line:

LW: Steven Alexander, Hamilton.  Last year, the voting in the East was dominated by fans of the Pistols and New York Night, the latter of which hosted the game.  Without the draw of hosting and with the Night’s lackluster record this year, votes from the New York metro area dipped considerably, while backers of defending champion Hamilton came out in force to support their heroes.  Alexander was the league’s top vote-getter, earning his fourth straight trip to the game and his third appearance in the starting lineup.  Although the feisty winger’s numbers are not quite up to his career norms, he is tied for the league lead in goals with 21.

D: Clayton “Crusher” Risch, Hamilton.  Backed by the voting power of the Greater Toronto Area, Risch was the top vote-getter among Eastern defenseman, making his second All-Star appearance and his first start.  The 24-year-old is on track for a career season; he’s already scored more goals in the first half (8) than he ever has in an entire year.  He isn’t just an offensive force, either; he continues to deliver strong play in his own end.  His 73 blocks is the second-most among Eastern players.

C: Justin Valentine, Hershey.  In something of an upset, Valentine managed to hold off Hamilton’s Calvin Frye to make his first All-Star start since 2017.  Valentine is the leading man in Hershey’s famous “Love Line,” and he’s producing in line with his top season.  He’s currently in third place in goals with 20 and tied for third in points with 42.  He’s also among the top ten in plus-minus at +14, a distinction he shares with his fellow Love Liners.

D: Matt Cherner, Boston.  In another upset, Cherner surged into second place, ahead of Hershey’s Reese Milton and New York’s Dominic Sanchez, who have been the East’s starting defensemen in each previous All-Star Game.  Cherner reportedly benefited from a strong crossover vote, as fans from his previous teams in Dakota and Quebec cast ballots for him in significant numbers.  It’s his second All-Star appearance, and his debut representing the East; he showed up on the West’s roster back in 2018.  Like his fellow top-pairing blueliner Risch, Cherner has 8 goals and 28 points so far this season.

RW: Claude Lafayette, Hamilton.  The Pistols’ rabid voting base lifted Lafayette to his first ever All-Star start (and only his second overall start), appearing alongside his longtime teammate and friend Alexander.  Lafayette won his spot by less than 5,000 votes over Hershey’s Christopher Hart and New York’s Rick Nelson.  Lafayette is one of the league’s elite passers, and it’s no surprise that he leads the SHL in assists with 35.  His 42 points overall ties him with Valentine for the league’s third-highest total.


Second Line:

LW: Lance Sweet, Hershey.  Shields mentioned during the lineup announcement that he has a great deal of respect for the Bliss, Hamilton’s fiercest rival.  His admiration came through in his picks, as he tapped three Bliss players (in addition to starter Valentine) to the lineup.  It’s the second All-Star selection for Sweet, who also appeared in the SHL’s inaugural midseason contest in 2017.  Sweet is a highly deserving choice; he leads the league in points with 44, and is in the top 10 in both goals (16) and assists (28).

D: Raymond Smyth, Hamilton.  Shields’ respect for Hershey was topped only by his affection for his own squad; the coach selected four players from his Vandy-winning, division-leading Pistols.  The veteran Smyth, though, is no homer pick; his 30 points are tied for the highest total among SHL defensemen, and his 26 assists are tied for fifth in the league overall.  He also leads the league in plus-minus rating with +17.  It’s Smyth’s third trip to the All-Star Game, making a reappearance in the lineup after a one-year absence.

C: Calvin Frye, Hamilton.  After Frye was beaten out by Valentine for the starting center spot, there was no doubt that Shields was going to tab his star for a spot.  Frye is only of only four Eastern players to have appeared in every All-Star contest to date.  Frye is tied with his teammate Alexander for the league lead in goals with 21, and his 43 points is the second highest total in the SHL.  “I’ll bet this is the last time for a long time that Calvin isn’t the starter,” said Shields.  “If he keeps producing the way he has been, he’s going to make it impossible for the fans to ignore.  He’s just a special, special player.”

D: Hercules Mulligan, Hamilton. It’s the third straight All-Star appearance for the 22-year-old Mulligan and the third appearance for a Hamilton defenseman in this lineup.  It’s the first time since 2017 that a single team landed a trio of blueliners on the roster; Michigan was the last team to accomplish the feat. The hard-hitting Mulligan brings an extra edge of the Eastern roster; his 68 blocks is sixth in the SHL and second on the Pistols to his linemate Risch.

RW: Christopher Hart, Hershey.  Hart joins his linemates Sweet and Valentine on the East roster.  Surprisingly, Hart is the only one of the trio who has appeared in every All-Star contest, though he has never started.  Like his fellow Love Liners, Hart is in the top ten in the league in points (39), assists (26), and plus-minus (+14).  “Last year, I had to carry the Love Line banner all by myself at the game,” said Hart.  “This time, I’ll be there with both my brothers, and that’s the way it ought to be.”


Third Line:

LW: Magnus Gunnarson, Hamilton.  At a loaded position, Shields tapping his own player again generated some controversy around the league.  Many felt that New York’s Chase Winchester or Boston’s Casey Thurman would be a more fitting choice.  But Gunnarson is having a strong season in his own right.  He has produced 32 points (13 goals, 19 assists) at the halfway point.  And when Alexander missed several games with an injury in the first half, Gunnarson stepped in and kept the Pistols from missing a beat.  It all adds up to an All-Star debut for the 24-year-old winger.

D: Reese Milton, Hershey.  It’s the first time that Milton won’t be starting in an All-Star Game, but the Bliss blueliner keeps his string of appearances alive.  Milton’s offensive numbers (8 goals, 17 assists) are a tick below his career norms, but he remains as defensively strong as ever; his 77 blocks are the most in the East, and he maintains a solid +8 rating.

C: Alain Beauchesne, Boston.  The 22-year-old Beauchesne receives his second straight All-Star nod; his selection marks the first time that the Badgers have had more than one honoree.  This was another somewhat controversial choice: Night fans argued that Brock Manning should have gotten the call, while DC fans clamored for Harvey Bellmore.   But Shields went with the youngster, who leads Boston with 32 points (13 goals, 19 assists).

D: Richard McKinley, Quebec.  The 21-year-old blueliner is the Tigres’ lone representative this year, and he makes his debut in the All-Star game.  Quebec is suffering through considerable offensive struggles this season, but McKinley is a relatively bright spot, having recorded 17 points (5 goals, 12 assists).  He also is tied for the team lead in blocks with 65.

RW: Jefferson McNeely, Washington.  Like the Tigres, the Galaxy have only one All-Star representative.  This season, the honors go to McNeely, who will make his third appearance in the game.  He is second on the Washington roster in goals (with 11) and points (with 27).  “Honestly, I would have given it to Harvey,” said McNeely.  “But it they want me to go again, sure, I’ll go.”



Lasse Koskinen, Hamilton.  In a season when many of the East’s traditional top goalies are having down seasons, Koskinen’s solid performance and Hamilton’s strong voting base combined to earn the Pistols netminder his third straight All-Star trip and his second start.  Koskinen struggled in the opening weeks of the season, but he has improved as the season has gone along.  His 15 wins are second-most in the SHL; that achievement appears to have overshadowed his somewhat-subpar 3.14 GAA and .915 save percentage.

“Jersey Mike” Ross, New York.  With Shields in charge of choosing the East’s roster, is it a surprise that Ross is the lone Night player to make the All-Star squad?  Perhaps, perhaps not.  But the veteran goaltender, who is another first-time All-Star, has had a surprisingly strong season.  Believe it or not, Ross has the highest save percentage (.923) among starting goalies in the East.  After planned starter Sherman Carter imploded, Ross stepped in as the primary starter and has helped keep the Night afloat in the playoff race.