Pistols, Igloos Do It Again in Finals

The 2020 Vandenberg Cup Finals feature something that has never happened before in SHL history: a rematch.  The defending champion Hamilton Pistols will be trying to become the first SHL franchise to win back-to-back titles, and they’ll be doing it against the team they defeated last season, the Anchorage Igloos.

“The fact that we were able to win it by beating the team we modeled ourselves after, that was special,” said Pistols coach Keith Shields.  “And if we could repeat against them, it would be that much more special.”

Needless to say, the Igloos – who themselves won the Vandy in 2018 – are eager to wrestle the crown back from the spirited youngsters from Hamilton.

“The rest of the league’s been wanting to write our eulogy all year,” said Igloos C Jake Frost.  “Sorry to tell them, we’re not dead yet.  Portland found that out the hard way last round, and we’re ready to show these guys the same thing.”

It was far from a guarantee that these teams would meet again in this year’s Finals.  Both teams found themselves in a cap crunch after last season, and were forced to part with key contributors.  The Igloos let go of C Nile Bernard, RW Ben Summers, and D Dave Frederick, all of them veterans who were popular with teammates and fans alike.  The Pistols, meanwhile, turned loose C Eddie Costello, the deadline pickup who starred down the stretch.

But both teams also got key contributions from some of their new additions.  For Hamilton, C Marco Venezio and Summers – both of them signed on cheaper-than-expected deals – clicked beautifully on a revamped second line that provided a major offensive spark.  For Anchorage, C Tom Hoffman – a third-year player widely regarded as a draft bust – arrived in an offseason trade and resuscitated his career, finishing third on the team in points with 62 and skating frequent minutes on the top line.

“If Tommy hadn’t delivered for us the way he did,” said Igloos coach Sam Castor, “we wouldn’t be in the playoffs, period.”

The teams also finished the season with similar records; Hamilton’s was slightly better, finishing with 82 points vs. Anchorage’s 78.  Both teams are even down a second-line winger; the Pistols are without LW Magnus Gunnarson, while the Igloos are missing RW Waldo Miranda.

“It’s no surprise that we’re so similar,” said Pistols C Calvin Frye.  “It’s like looking in a mirror.  But this is our chance to get the upper hand.”

If the Pistols can indeed win back-to-back titles, they’ll establish themselves firmly as the SHL’s top team.  But if the Igloos can win their third title, and second in three years, they can stake their own claim once more.

“This is a real heavyweight matchup,” said Pistols LW Steven Alexander.  “But this is our chance at immortality, and we’re not throwing away our shot.”

Lombardi Accuses Night of “Going Home Early”

Biff Lombardi is likely to be a footnote in the history of the New York Night.  He was the assistant coach for three-plus seasons under Nick Foster, and he became the interim head coach when Foster was fired three weeks ago.  The Night have made it clear that they don’t plan to consider him for the permanent job.  Perhaps because he knows he’s a short-timer, Lombardi has felt free to speak his mind.  And this week, he criticized his team in no uncertain terms, calling their competitiveness and work ethic into question.

Biff Lombardi

Lombardi spoke to the press on Tuesday after a game at Neon Sky Center against New York’s rival, the Hamilton Pistols.  In that game, the Night blew a 3-1 lead and lost to the Pistols 4-3.  A reporter asked Lombardi why New York lost the game.  The interim coach replied, “That’s easy: we went home early.  We thought we had the game in the bag, so we let our foot off the gas, and we blew it.”

After a pause, Lombardi went on: “Of course, that shouldn’t be a surprise, since we’ve been going home early all season.  When times are good and the spotlight is on, this team knows how to shine.  But give ’em half a chance to sleepwalk, and they’ll take it every time.”

Pressed to elaborate, Lombardi referenced Foster’s firing.  “You know why Nick got the ax?” he said.  “Because he couldn’t make this team care enough to work hard.  I know you all thought the feuds Nick picked were ego, or to get his name in the paper.  But that wasn’t it; it was the only way he could get this team fired up.  You’d think that a team of well-paid professionals could find their own motivation, but you’d be wrong with this group.”

A reporter asked Lombardi if he was concerned his remarks would cause friction with the players.  The coach replied, “Who cares?  In a week and a half, I’ll be gone.  This might be my only chance to get them to take a hard look in the mirror.  I can tell you this: teams that win championships work harder than anyone else.  They work hard in practice and play hard as a team for the full 60, because that’s what it takes to win at this level.  This team might pile up stats and get endorsement deals, but they don’t know how to win a championship.  And until they get that, really get it, they never will.”

Unsurprisingly, most of the New York players didn’t take kindly to Lombardi’s critique.  “What has he ever won?” said RW Rick “The Stick” Nelson.  “I’m a legend in this league, one of the best scorers of all time.  What does he know?  He’s just bitter because he’s going to get fired.”

“It’s hard to put a lot of stock in that kind of talk from a guy with one foot out the door,” agreed C Brock Manning.  “Yeah, we’ve got some work to do.  But I’m not going to spend a lot of time worrying about what our soon-to-be-ex-interim coach thinks of us.”

Not everyone was so dismissive of Lombardi’s comments, however.  “Honestly, I think there was some truth in what he said,” noted D Dave Frederick.  “If we want to get serious about winning the Vandy, we ought to take some of that to heart.  And I think we will, once we’ve gotten past the disappointment of this year.”

As Lombardi said, he’ll likely be gone in a couple of weeks.  Will the Night dismiss his criticism as well?  They’ll have a long offseason to think about it.

2019 SHL Finals – Game 5

ANCHORAGE IGLOOS 2, HAMILTON PISTOLS 1

(Hamilton leads, 3-2)

After yesterday’s 3-2 loss, the Anchorage Igloos found themselves just one game away from defeat in the SHL Finals, facing a must-win Game 5 in enemy territory.  But the Igloos didn’t get to be two-time SHL champions without learning to overcome adversity.  So before the game, coach Sam Castor delivered a simple message to his players: “You can’t lose this one,” Castor said.  “So don’t.”

The Igloos heeded their coach’s words, seizing the lead early and hanging on for a 2-1 win over the Hamilton Pistols, keeping their Vandy hopes alive.

“We knew we weren’t going down without a fight,” said C Jake Frost.  “We’re too good a team to lose in five, so we weren’t about to let that happen.”

In Game 4, Anchorage allowed Hamilton to get out to a 3-0 lead before mounting a rally that wound up falling short.  With that in mind, the Igloos were determined to score first this time.  “If you get the first goal, especially if you get it early, you can dictate the terms of the game,” said D Ted Keefe.  “And that’s what we wanted to do.”

The boys in baby blue pulled that off a little over three minutes into the game when C Florian Theroux, who was scratched from Game 4 due to illness, deflected a shot from Keefe over the catching glove of Pistols goalie Lasse Koskinen.

“This was a happy day for me,” said Theroux.  “Yesterday, I was throwing up my guts.  Today, I was a hero.”

Anchorage may have struck first, but their advantage was short-lived.  Less than two minutes after taking the lead, the Igloos went a man down when D Dave Frederick received a minor for holding the stick.  On the ensuing power play, D Albie Glasco tied it up on a severe-angle shot that banked off the shoulder of Igloos goalie Ty Worthington.

“I was just trying to see if I could get a juicy rebound,” Glasco said.  “I didn’t think there was any chance it was going to go in.”

The Igloos were eager to retake the lead before the end of the first.  They did, but only by the skin of their teeth.  In the waning seconds of the periods, Anchorage carried the puck into the offensive zone.  It seemed to disappear in a mass of bodies in front of Hamilton’s net.  Finally, the puck wound up in the net, seemingly at the same time at the horn ending the period.  After review, it was determined that the puck crossed the line before the horn, giving Anchorage its sought-after lead.  The goal was credited to D Olaf Martinsson.

“Going into the locker room with the lead, that was huge,” said Frost.  “Our confidence was through the roof.”

In the second period, Anchorage borrowed a page from Hamilton’s Game 4 playbook, slowing the pace and bogging down the Pistols’ drives in the neutral zone.  It wasn’t the prettiest twenty minutes of hockey, but it was effective, as Hamilton couldn’t mount any serious scoring threats.  The Igloos missed a chance to add to their lead in the closing minutes of the period when Frost fired a shot that beat Koskinen but hit the right post.

Going into the third period, the Pistols were determined to break the Igloos’ press and turn up the pace.  “We weren’t going to let them rock us to sleep for forty minutes with a one-goal lead,” said D Raymond Smyth.

The Pistols succeeded in generating some offensive pressure with more aggressive breakouts and long passes designed to break the Anchorage neutral-zone trap.  But they ran into one big problem: Worthington.  The Anchorage goalie was at his best, his razor-sharp reflexes anticipating the Pistols’ every move.  He gobbled up one puck after another, snapping them out of the air with his glove or smothering them beneath his pads.

Hamilton’s best chance came in the middle of the period, when Igloos D Willy Calligan was sent off for slashing.  The Pistols got into their power-play setup, and LW Steven Alexander wound up for a slapshot.  Instead of shooting, he fired a pass to RW Claude Lafayette, catching Worthington out of position.  Lafayette shot at what he thought was a wide-open net… only for the Igloos netminder to come flying over and deflect the shot with his stick.

“I have no idea how he got over so fast,” said Lafayette.  “He must have a time machine.”

The Pistols had a couple more quality chances after that, but Worthington held his ground and preserved the win.  The series now shifts back to Arctic Circle Arena in Anchorage, where the champs need to win both games to defend their title. “We’ll have our fans and we have the experience,” said Frost.  “I like our chances.”

Alexander, for his part, seems unconcerned about the shift in venue.  “We already beat them once in their barn,” the feisty winger said.  “We can do it again.”

Continue reading “2019 SHL Finals – Game 5”

2019 SHL Division Playoff – Game 1

Western Division Series (Anchorage leads, 1-0)

ANCHORAGE IGLOOS 2, SEATTLE SAILORS 0

Seattle Sailors RW Vince Mango didn’t waste words when diagnosing his team’s loss to the Anchorage Igloos in Game 1 of the Western division series.

“It was the refs,” said Mango.  “We lost this game because of crappy officiating.”

What got Mango so hot and bothered?  Seattle had a couple of questionable calls against them in the opening minutes of the game, and Anchorage converted on the subsequent power plays, putting the Sailors in a hole they never dug out of in a 2-0 loss.

The first controversial call came during the opening puck drop.  Sailors D Hans Mortensen, jockeying for position with Igloos counterpart Dave Frederick, accidentally jabbed Frederick in the midsection.  Referee Scott Pritchard immediately sent Mortensen to the box with a double minor for spearing, a call that sparked outrage on the Seattle bench.

“There’s always bumping and jostling that goes on during faceoff,” said Mango.  “Sending a guy to the box on the opening faceoff, for incidental contact?  You’ve got to be kidding me.”

The early penalty allowed the Igloos to start the game on offense, and the Sailors struggled to clear the puck out of their end.  Igloos C Jake Frost ultimately fired a shot from the slot that found the upper-left corner of the net, putting Anchorage on top.

Just over a minute later, with the Sailors still fuming over the initial penalty, C Marco Venezio received a minor for elbowing LW Waldo Miranda.  Seattle players thought that the supposed infraction was weak at best, and that Miranda should have been called for embellishment instead.

“They went behind the net, and Marco barely grazed [Miranda], but [Miranda] snapped his head back and got the call,” said Mango.  “Completely ridiculous.”

Less than a minute into that power play, Igloos LW Jerry Koons fired a severe-angle shot that snuck between Seattle goalie Rocky Goldmire’s body and the post for another goal.

Seattle received two more minor penalties in the period, which they successfully killed off.  All in all, the Sailors spent much of the opening frame on the penalty kill, a key reason that they were outshot 16-7 in the period.  Although they weren’t penalized in either of the other two periods, they never managed to mount a successful pushback.  Anchorage goalie Ty Worthington easily turned aside all 28 shots he faced.

Coach Harold Engellund agreed with Mango that the calls played a role, but added that the Sailors deserved the blame for their defeat.

“Mentally, we just took ourselves out of the game,” said Engellund.  “We had a couple bad penalties against us early in the game and got in a hole, and we spent the rest of the night being mad at the refs instead of playing hockey.  When you’re in the playoffs, there’s no time to feel sorry for yourself.”

Igloos coach Sam Castor regarded the Sailors’ fury with amusement.  “As soon as I saw that [the Sailors] were spending their time arguing with the officials instead of trying to score, I put the W in my mental scorebook,” Castor said.  “Honestly, I hope they never get over it.”

“For what it’s worth, I thought the officiating was very fair,” the Igloos coach said with a sly grin.

 

W Final - Game 1, Seattle @ Anchorage, Arctic Circle Arena

                   1   2   3   OT   F
Seattle            0   0   0        0
Anchorage          2   0   0        2

 
Seattle                G   A PTS PIM +/-   Anchorage              G   A PTS PIM +/-

Argent          LW     0   0   0   0   0   Koons           LW     1   0   1   0   0
Lambert         D      0   0   0   0   0   Keefe           D      0   1   1   2   0
Beasley         C      0   0   0   0   0   Frost           C      1   0   1   0   0
Lidjya          D      0   0   0   0   0   Martinsson      D      0   0   0   0   0
Mango           RW     0   0   0   0   0   Ericsson        RW     0   2   2   0   0
Lane            LW     0   0   0   0   0   Collins         LW     0   0   0   0   0
Mortensen       D      0   0   0   4   0   Bernard         C      0   0   0   0   0
Derringer       C      0   0   0   0   0   Frederick       D      0   0   0   0   0
Gatecliff       D      0   0   0   2   0   Summers         RW     0   0   0   0   0
Pepper          RW     0   0   0   4   0   Miranda         LW     0   0   0   2   0
Gaspard         LW     0   0   0   0   0   Citrone         D      0   0   0   0   0
Venezio         C      0   0   0   2   0   Theroux         C      0   0   0   0   0
Snelling        D      0   0   0   0   0   Calligan        D      0   0   0   0   0
Durien          RW     0   0   0   0   0   Fleury          RW     0   0   0   0   0
Gallagher       D      0   0   0   0   0   Kerasov         D      0   1   1   0   0
----------------------------------------   ----------------------------------------
TOTALS                 0   0   0  12   0   TOTALS                 2   4   6   4   0

Scratches:
SEA:  Fairwood, Bacon, McElvern
ANC:  Pomfret (DL), Kennedy, Zhlotkin

 
Seattle             SH    SV    G    Sv%
----------------------------------------
Goldmire            36    34    2  0.944

Anchorage           SH    SV    G    Sv%
----------------------------------------
Worthington         28    28    0  1.000

 

First Period
------------

GOALS:
01:45  ANC  Frost PP (Ericsson, Kerasov)
04:15  ANC  Koons PP (Keefe, Ericsson)

PENALTIES:
00:00  SEA  Mortensen 4:00 (Spearing)
03:18  SEA  Venezio 2:00 (Elbowing)
13:08  SEA  Gatecliff 2:00 (Elbowing)
18:28  SEA  Pepper 4:00 (Spearing)

Second Period
-------------

GOALS:
None


PENALTIES:
11:40  ANC  Keefe 2:00 (Interference)
14:24  ANC  Miranda 2:00 (Diving)

Third Period
------------

GOALS:
None


PENALTIES:
None



 
SHOTS
------
                   1   2   3   OT   F
Seattle            7   9  12       28
Anchorage         16   9  11       36

 
POWER PLAYS
-----------

Seattle          0 for 2
Anchorage        2 for 4

 
INJURIES
--------

None

 

Eastern Division Playoff (Hershey leads, 1-0)

HERSHEY BLISS 3, HAMILTON PISTOLS 1

Coming into the Eastern playoff against the Hamilton Pistols, Hershey Bliss C Justin Valentine predicted that the series would go the distance, noting that the teams were very evenly matched.  “The key to winning this series is going to be taking one game at a time,” Valentine said.

The Bliss took their first step forward in today’s Game 1, making the most of their opportunities and withstanding a late Hamilton charge to secure a 3-1 win in front of a sellout crowd at Chocolate Center.

“I thought we did a great job today,” said Valentine.  “We didn’t get too fancy, we just played good, straight-ahead hockey and didn’t screw anything up.  Seems simple, but in the playoffs, nothing is.”

The Bliss came out strong in the first period, outshooting the Pistols 15-8.  Hamilton goalie Lasse Koskinen was sharp, turning aside most of Hershey’s blasts.  He was pierced once in the first, though, when LW Gabriel Swindonburg crashed the net and made a slap-pass to D Reese Milton, who jammed it home just inside the left post.

Early in the second period, Hershey took advantage of a rare Hamilton miscue to double their lead.  D Albie Glasco collected the puck in the defensive end, and fired a headman pass to center ice to start a breakout.  Swindonburg anticipated the pass and picked it off, starting an odd-man rush that RW Noah Daniels finished by beating a sprawling Koskinen up high.

But Hamilton hung tough, and when Bliss C Vance Ketterman was sent off for high-sticking in the closing minutes of the second, Pistols LW Steven Alexander scored on the ensuing power play to cut the deficit in half.

The Pistols turned up the intensity in the third, and Hershey found themselves in a tough spot midway through the period when they took a pair of penalties just 29 seconds apart.  During the 5-on-3, C Calvin Frye nearly scored the game-tying goal, but his shot pinged off the crossbar.  The Bliss fought off the penalty kill, and a couple minutes later, Ketterman added a little insurance with a wrap-around shot that got past Koskinen.

Despite the loss, Pistols coach Keith Shields remained upbeat.  “We had nothing to be ashamed of in the way we played today,” Shields said.  “We basically played dead-even, but a couple of the breaks went their way.  If they’d gone our way, we probably get the win.  I know my guys will be playing hungry tomorrow, but if we keep playing as well as we did today, we should be good.”

 

E Final - Game 1, Hamilton @ Hershey, Chocolate Center

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

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

Alexander       LW     1   0   1   0   0   Milton          D      1   0   1   0   1
Smyth           D      0   0   0   0  -1   Valentine       C      0   0   0   0   0
Frye            C      0   1   1   0   0   Baldwin         D      0   0   0   0   1
Risch           D      0   0   0   0  -1   Hart            RW     0   0   0   0   0
Lafayette       RW     0   1   1   0   0   Nahorniak       LW     0   0   0   0   0
Gunnarson       LW     0   0   0   2  -1   Meloche         D      0   0   0   0   1
Mulligan        D      0   0   0   0  -1   Kirkpatrick     C      0   1   1   2   2
Glasco          D      0   0   0   0  -1   Montrechere     RW     0   0   0   0   1
Patterson       RW     0   0   0   0  -2   Danielsen       LW     0   1   1   2   1
Campbell        LW     0   0   0   0  -2   Aubin           D      0   0   0   0   1
Dyomin          D      0   0   0   0  -1   Kulkarov        D      0   1   1   0   1
Marais          C      0   0   0   0  -1   Daniels         RW     1   0   1   2   2
Hampton         D      0   0   0   0  -1   Ketterman       C      1   0   1   4   1
Estabrook       F      0   0   0   0  -1   Swindonburg     LW     0   2   2   0   2
Costello        C      0   0   0   0  -2   Cargill         D      0   1   1   0   1
----------------------------------------   ----------------------------------------
TOTALS                 1   2   3   2  -3   TOTALS                 3   6   9  10   3

Scratches:
HAM:  Constantine, Baker (DL), Klemmer
HSY:  Minnik, Chappelle, Lapointe, Sweet (DL)

 
Hamilton            SH    SV    G    Sv%
----------------------------------------
Koskinen            32    29    3  0.906

Hershey             SH    SV    G    Sv%
----------------------------------------
Colt                30    29    1  0.967

 

First Period
------------

GOALS:
10:24  HSY  Milton (Swindonburg, Cargill)

PENALTIES:
16:50  HAM  Gunnarson 2:00 (Holding the Stick)

Second Period
-------------

GOALS:
01:18  HSY  Daniels (Kirkpatrick, Swindonburg)
17:40  HAM  Alexander PP (Frye, Lafayette)

PENALTIES:
05:46  HSY  Kirkpatrick 2:00 (Interference)
17:14  HSY  Ketterman 4:00 (High-sticking)

Third Period
------------

GOALS:
14:50  HSY  Ketterman (Kulkarov, Danielsen)

PENALTIES:
10:21  HSY  Daniels 2:00 (Slashing)
10:50  HSY  Danielsen 2:00 (Tripping)


 
SHOTS
------
                   1   2   3   OT   F
Hamilton           8  10  12       30
Hershey           15   8   9       32

 
POWER PLAYS
-----------

Hamilton         1 for 4
Hershey          0 for 1

 
INJURIES
--------

None