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.”

2020 SHL Playoff – Game 1

Western Division Playoff (Anchorage leads, 1-0)

ANCHORAGE IGLOOS 2, PORTLAND BLUEBACKS 0

The Portland Bluebacks came into today’s game at Willamette River Arena prepared to notch their first-ever postseason victory.  They were fired up but not overamped.  They had a sellout crowd of screaming fans behind them.  They flew up and down the ice, fired crisp tape-to-tape passes, and bombarded the Anchorage Igloos‘ net with 41 shots.  In short, they did everything they needed to win.

They just weren’t counting on Ty Worthington.  The Igloos goalie was a buzz saw, turning aside all 41 Portland shots.  Thanks to Worthington’s brilliance, Anchorage managed to steal one on the road, claiming a 2-0 win.

“He just sealed it up,” said Bluebacks D Woody Fairwood, who unloaded 10 shots on Worthington to no avail.  “He was never out of position, and he wasn’t leaving any daylight. He just had the net on lock.”

Worthington has five seasons worth of playoff experience; at this point in his career, the bright lights don’t raise his heart rate.  “I was able to block out the noise and just focus,” he told reporters.  “I was seeing the puck really well, and muscle memory took over from there.:

Igloos coach Sam Castor praised Worthington, but he also credited the team’s defense for denying the Bluebacks good looks at the net.  They were particularly effective at containing Portland’s top line of LW Alphonse Gaspard, C Eddie Costello, and RW Vince Mango, limiting them to just six shot.  “Sure, [the Bluebacks] took a lot of shots, but they weren’t top-quality shots,” said Castor.  “They were firing from the outside and severe angles a lot, and they weren’t getting second looks.  It wasn’t always pretty, but it was effective.”

With Worthington standing on his head, the Igloos didn’t need much offense.  C Jake Frost scored the winning goal for Anchorage just over three minutes into the game, catching the Bluebacks in a poor line change and finishing a breakway by firing the puck over the right shoulder of Portland netminder Jesse Clarkson.  They added a bit of insurance early in the second, when Bluebacks C Cliff Derringer was whistled for a controversial offsides to nullify a potential odd-man rush.  A frustrated Derringer whacked the puck into the stands, earning a minor for unsportsmanlike conduct.  On the ensuing power play, D Sebastian Pomfret cycled down from the blue line and fired a slapper that Clarkson couldn’t corral.

After the game, Derringer took responsibility for the loss.  “I have no idea what I was thinking,” he said.  “I just lost my head out there, and you can’t do that on this stage.”

In spite of their strong season, Portland now finds itself facing a must-win situation in Game 2.  Coach Harold Engellund believes his team is up to the challenge.  “We got knocked down today,” said Engellund.  “But I know we’re going to get off the mat and come back swinging.  They can’t shut us out every time.”

 

W Final - Gm 1, Anchorage @ Portland, Willamette River Arena

                   1   2   3   OT   F
Anchorage          1   1   0        2
Portland           0   0   0        0

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

Keefe           D      0   0   1   1   2   4  +1   Costello        C      3   0   0   0   0   0  -1
Ericsson        RW     1   0   2   2   1   0  +1   Mango           RW     1   0   0   0   0   2  -1
Koons           LW     2   0   1   1   0   0  +1   Fairwood        D     10   0   0   0   0   2  -1
Frost           C      4   1   0   1   2   0  +1   Lidjya          D      0   0   0   0   0   0  -1
Pomfret         D      6   1   0   1   2   2  +1   Gaspard         LW     2   0   0   0   0   0  -1
Kerasov         D      2   0   0   0   1   0   0   Argent          LW     1   0   0   0   2   5   0
Hoffman         C      3   0   0   0   1   0   0   Lambert         D      4   0   0   0   4   0   0
Collins         LW     1   0   0   0   0   5   0   Beasley         C      5   0   0   0   1   0   0
Citrone         D      4   0   0   0   4   2   0   Pepper          RW     1   0   0   0   0   0   0
Zhlotkin        F      1   0   0   0   0   0   0   Gallagher       D      3   0   0   0   1   0   0
Martinsson      D      2   0   0   0   1   0   0   Gatecliff       D      4   0   0   0   1   0   0
Adamczyk        LW     1   0   0   0   0   0   0   Durien          RW     1   0   0   0   0   0   0
Calligan        D      3   0   0   0   2   0   0   Mortensen       D      0   0   0   0   1   0   0
Bunyakin        C      1   0   0   0   0   0   0   Derringer       C      4   0   0   0   1   6   0
Fleury          RW     3   0   0   0   1   0   0   McElvern        F      2   0   0   0   0   0   0
------------------------------------------------   ------------------------------------------------
TOTALS                34   2   4   6  17  13   1   TOTALS                41   0   0   0  11  15  -1

Coach: Sam Castor                                  Coach: Harold Engellund                         

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

 
Anchorage           SH    SV    G    Sv%
----------------------------------------
Worthington         41    41    0  1.000

Portland            SH    SV    G    Sv%
----------------------------------------
Clarkson            34    32    2  0.941

 

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

GOALS:
03:19  ANC  Frost (Ericsson, Koons)

PENALTIES:
09:06  POR  Derringer 4:00 (Spearing)
14:25  POR  Argent 5:00 (Fighting)
14:25  ANC  Collins 5:00 (Fighting)

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

GOALS:
02:47  ANC  Pomfret PP (Keefe, Ericsson)

PENALTIES:
02:28  POR  Derringer 2:00 (Unsportsmanlike Conduct)
04:54  POR  Fairwood 2:00 (High-sticking)
08:09  ANC  Citrone 2:00 (Slashing)

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

GOALS:
None


PENALTIES:
02:11  ANC  Pomfret 2:00 (Tripping)
06:59  POR  Mango 2:00 (Holding the Stick)
09:30  ANC  Keefe 2:00 (High-sticking)
18:00  ANC  Keefe 2:00 (Elbowing)


 
SHOTS
------
                   1   2   3   OT   F
Anchorage          8  12  14       34
Portland          19  10  12       41

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

Anchorage        1 for 4
Portland         0 for 4

 
INJURIES
--------

None

 

Eastern Division Playoff (Hamilton leads, 1-0)

HAMILTON PISTOLS 3, HERSHEY BLISS 2

After the first period of today’s series-opening game, Hamilton Pistols coach Keith Shields knew he needed to reset his team.  Within the first six minutes, the visiting Hershey Bliss had built a 2-0 lead on a pair of power-play goals.  Those power plays had come courtesy of two ill-advised penalties by D Burt “Hacksaw” Hampton, who earned a seat on the best for the rest of the period.  The Pistols reacted to the early deficit by turning frantic, firing a flurry of shots that Bliss goalie Christien Adamsson easily stopped.

“I could tell our hearts were beating a little fast,” said Shields.  “We needed to slow down a bit.”

So Shields reminded his team of who they are.  “You’re the defending champions,” he said to his players.  “You’re mighty warriors.  You’re behind, but you’re not out of it by a long shot.  You’ve faced bigger deficits than this.  Take a breath and relax.  You’ve got this.”

He turned to Hampton and said, “I’m letting you out of jail.  But we need you on the ice, so go forth and sin so more.”

The Pistols took their coach’s words to heart.  They went out and rallied, notching a come-from-behind 3-2 win that marked their first step toward defending their title.

“This was a big statement win for us,” said Pistols RW Claude Lafayette.  “It showed that if somebody else wants the Vandy, they’re going to have to come take it from us.”

Hamilton got a break just seven seconds into the second period, when Bliss D Steve Cargill was penalized for high-sticking on a failed lift check.  On the power play that followed, the Pistols whipped the puck around with aplomb until it wound up on the stick of LW Steven Alexander, who fired one of his trademark slapshots to the short side to cut the deficit in half.  The crowd at Gunpowder Armory, which had been unusually quiet, roared back to life after Alexander’s tally.

The scored remained 2-1 through the rest of the second, but the momentum was shifting, and both teams felt it.

“When that crowd got going, that seemed to settle [the Pistols] down,” said Hershey C Justin Valentine.  “They lost that nervous energy and started playing with more confidence.  And then they started tilting the ice.”

Just over six minutes into the third period, the Pistols set up on an extended shift in the offensive zone.  The puck came to Alexander, who wound up for a booming slapper… only instead of shooting, he fired a pass to Hampton, who was breaking toward the net.  The hulking defenseman finished with a surprisingly light touch, flipping the puck over Alexander’s blocker to tie it up.  It was a tremendous relief for Hampton, who toned for his earlier blunders.

“When coach let me out of the doghouse, I wanted to show him that he was right to trust me,” Hampton said after the game.  “Scoring isn’t really my game, but I was glad for the chance to lift the team up.”

A couple minutes after that, LW Jamie Campbell – who struggled for much of the season – earned his shot at redemption.  Campbell is skating on the second line due to Magnus Gunnarson‘s injury, and when that line set up in the Hershey end, the Bliss defenders ignored Campbell to focus on C Marco Venezio and RW Ben Summers.  Seeing the opportunity, Venezio found Campbell, who had a clear lane to a wide-open net.  He didn’t miss, tucking it under the crossbar to put the Pistols in front.

“I had a feeling the game was going to find me,” said Campbell.  “And I knew if it did, I wanted to be ready.”

As exciting as the win was for the Pistols, it came at a cost.  Rookie D Elvis Bodett left the game in the third period after taking an awkward check up high and he did not return.  The team announced that he will miss the rest of the series.

Meanwhile, the visiting locker room was quiet after the deflating loss.  But Hershey will need to readjust quickly if they’re going to bounce back in Game 2.

“We need to be more aggressive with the lead next time,” said coach Chip Barber.  “That’s the defending champs over there, and if you give them a chance to get back into a game, they’re going to take it.  When we get ahead next time, we need to finish them off.”

 

E Final - Gm 1, Hershey @ Hamilton, Gunpowder Armory

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

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

Milton          D      1   0   1   1   1   0   0   Lafayette       RW     0   0   2   2   0   0  +1
Sweet           LW     3   0   0   0   1   0  -1   Frye            C      4   0   1   1   0   2  +1
Hart            RW     1   0   0   0   0   2  -1   Alexander       LW     3   1   1   2   0   0  +1
Aubin           D      2   0   0   0   2   0   0   Mulligan        D      2   0   0   0   2   0   0
Valentine       C      4   1   0   1   3   0  -1   Risch           D      3   0   0   0   3   0   0
Kirkpatrick     C      2   1   0   1   0   0  -1   Smyth           D      1   0   0   0   5   0  +1
Cargill         D      6   0   1   1   0   4  -1   Summers         RW     2   0   1   1   0   0  +1
Meloche         D      0   0   0   0   0   0  -1   Bodett          D      4   0   0   0   0   2  +1
Swindonburg     LW     1   0   0   0   0   2  -1   Venezio         C      1   0   1   1   0   0  +1
Montrechere     RW     1   0   0   0   1   0  -1   Campbell        LW     7   1   0   1   1   0  +1
Ketterman       C      1   0   0   0   0   0   0   Hampton         D      5   1   0   1   2   4  +1
Daniels         RW     2   0   1   1   1   4   0   Marais          C      2   0   0   0   0   0   0
Nahorniak       LW     2   0   1   1   2   0   0   Glasco          D      1   0   0   0   0   0  +1
Minnik          D      2   0   0   0   1   0  -1   Patterson       RW     2   0   0   0   1   0   0
Kulkarov        D      0   0   0   0   3   0  -1   Jennings        F      2   0   0   0   2   0   0
------------------------------------------------   ------------------------------------------------
TOTALS                28   2   4   6  15  12  -2   TOTALS                39   3   6   9  16   8   2

Coach: Chip Barber                                 Coach: Keith Shields                            

Scratches:
HSY:  Kilborn, Snelling, Lapointe
HAM:  Klemmer, Pedersen, Winston (INJ), Gunnarson (DL)

 
Hershey             SH    SV    G    Sv%
----------------------------------------
Adamsson            39    36    3  0.923

Hamilton            SH    SV    G    Sv%
----------------------------------------
Koskinen            28    26    2  0.929

 

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

GOALS:
01:51  HSY  Kirkpatrick PP (Nahorniak, Daniels)
05:54  HSY  Valentine PP (Cargill, Milton)

PENALTIES:
01:06  HAM  Hampton 2:00 (Interference)
05:02  HAM  Hampton 2:00 (Cross-checking)
13:38  HSY  Daniels 2:00 (Unsportsmanlike Conduct)

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

GOALS:
00:41  HAM  Alexander PP (Frye, Lafayette)

PENALTIES:
00:07  HSY  Cargill 2:00 (High-sticking)
02:02  HAM  Bodett 2:00 (High-sticking)
13:56  HSY  Cargill 2:00 (High-sticking)
15:15  HSY  Hart 2:00 (Holding the Stick)
16:43  HSY  Swindonburg 2:00 (Cross-checking)

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

GOALS:
06:32  HAM  Hampton (Alexander, Lafayette)
08:33  HAM  Campbell (Venezio, Summers)

PENALTIES:
00:44  HSY  Daniels 2:00 (High-sticking)
02:00  HAM  Frye 2:00 (Clipping)


 
SHOTS
------
                   1   2   3   OT   F
Hershey            9   8  11       28
Hamilton          18  10  11       39

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

Hershey          2 for 4
Hamilton         1 for 6

 
INJURIES
--------

Elvis Bodett (HAM) -- Upper-body  7 games

Bluebacks Seek First Finals Trip Against Igloos in West Playoff

Last season, the Seattle Sailors made the postseason for the first time.  It was a landmark moment not just for the franchise, but for the players, most of whom had never been to the playoffs before.  So what was the experience like?

Vince Mango

“Honestly, I have no idea,” said RW Vince Mango.  “It was over before I really knew what was happening.”

Yes, the Sailors’ postseason was practically over as soon as it began.  They were rudely dismissed in a three-game sweep in which they were outscored 10-2.  They never led at any point in the series.  And the team that sent them packing?  The Anchorage Igloos.

This year, a number of things have changed.  For one, the Sailors relocated, and are now known as the Portland Bluebacks.  They added a couple of top-notch contributors in C Eddie Costello and G Jesse Clarkson.  They’ve improved on both ends of the ice; they led the league in points and finished fourth in goals-against average.  Their reward?  Another trip to the playoffs… against the same team that swept them last season.

“I’m looking forward to it,” said Mango.  “If you want to be the best, you got to beat the best.  I’m looking forward to a little sweet revenge.”

On paper, the matchup looks like a blowout in favor of Portland.  The Bluebacks finished the season 10 points ahead of the Igloos.  They took the division lead in the third week of the season and never looked back.  They were better on offense and in net.  And they’re headed into the matchup with a fully healthy roster, while Anchorage is missing a key offensive cog, RW Waldo Miranda, who was injured on the last day of the regular season.

But as the Igloos would be happy to tell you, games aren’t played on paper.  And they’ve got a few points in their favor as well.  For one thing, they’ve got experience on their side.  Anchorage has been in the playoffs every year except one (2016), and they’ve got two Vandys to their name.  For another thing, they’re coming into the playoffs on a tear, having won 12 of their last 14 games.  Portland, meanwhile, enters the postseason having gone 2-4-1 in their last seven games (although they’d long since locked up the division title by then).

But perhaps the biggest reason for the Igloos’ confidence is that they remember 2018.  That year, they faced the rival Michigan Gray Wolves in the playoffs.  The Wolves had cruised to the division title, leading wire-to-wire, while the Igloos had underperformed for much of the year before getting hot down the stretch to secure a spot.  That matchup was considered even more lopsided than this one; Michigan finished 14 points ahead of Anchorage.  But the Igloos proceeded to dispatch the heavily-favored Wolves in a stunning sweep, and went on to win their second title.

Jake Frost

“We’ve definitely seen this movie before,” said Igloos C Jake Frost.  “We liked the ending pretty well last time, and we’re looking forward to the sequel.”

“Everybody’s rushing to crown [the Bluebacks],” added LW Jerry Koons.  “But we’re the ones who have been here before, been through the wars and come out on top.  Don’t get me wrong, they’re a really talented team, but the playoffs are a whole different level of pressure.”

But Bluebacks coach Harold Engellund said that he’s not going to let his team get overconfident.  He’s made a point of showing them plenty of footage of last year’s sweep.

“I know they’re getting tired of looking at it,” said Engellund.  “But I tell them that the best way to get rid of those memories is to go out and make better ones.”

That’s exactly what his team will try to do.  But in order to find their happy ending, the Bluebacks will need to find a way past the team that’s seen it all before.

Bluebacks Release Fight Song Video for Playoff Run

The Portland Bluebacks are having a great season in their new city.  After relocating from Seattle in the offseason, the Bluebacks have been excellent from the season’s beginning, have compiled the league’s best record, and are on the verge of clinching a playoff berth with a dozen games left in the season.  They’re wildly popular in their new city, having sold out every game so far at Willamette River Arena.

Vince Mango

All in all, it’s been a storybook season so far.  So what’s missing, other than the Vandy?  According to RW Vince Mango, the other missing piece is… a team fight song.

According to Mango, he was inspired by coming across a YouTube video of the 1985 Chicago Bears doing the “Super Bowl Shuffle.” He did a little research, and was fascinated to discover that they recorded the video in December, before the regular season was over.  “So they basically, like, called their shot,” said Mango.  “They were so confident that they were like: ‘Yo, we’re going to sing about winning the Super Bowl before the playoffs even start.’  That’s pretty [awesome].”

Mango then fell down a YouTube rabbit hole, and discovered that a lot of sports teams – including NHL clubs – recorded videos with the players singing (or lip-syncing) songs celebrating the team.  “Apparently, it was kind of a thing back in the ’80s,” Mango noted.  “It was kind of corny, I guess, but also kind of cool.”

This gave Mango the idea: why not have the Bluebacks do a similar video?  “It was a fun old-school thing to do,” said Mango.  “And I was sure the fans would totally eat it up.”

Since Mango stars in a reality television show, “Meet the Mangos,” he has connections in the TV and music industries.  He worked with a songwriter friend of his to craft a fight song called “Catch the Bluebacks Fever.”  (Originally, in the spirit of the Super Bowl Shuffle, Mango wanted t owrite a song about winning the Vandy, but his superstitious teammates refused to participate.)  The song includes lyrics like “We’re cool, we’re hot, we’re breakin’ the ice/Bluebacks hockey is really nice/We shoot, we score, we’re winnin’ the game/We’re the Portland Bluebacks, better learn our name!”

And he had his production crew come and record the team dancing and lip-syncing to the song.  The team appeared wearing their jerseys over jeans, in the spirit of the ’80s videos.  The team released the video on its YouTube channel on Monday, and as expected, it proved to be a hit with the fans. When the team returns from its current road trip, they plan to start playing the video on the Jumbotron before games.

The players reported that they enjoyed making the video.  “It was kind of a chance to let loose and have a good time,” said C Eddie Costello.  “And Vince was smart enough to make sure there was alcohol on the set.  That helped make sure that everyone would loosen up a bit and have fun.  Some guys maybe had a bit too much fun, but that’s okay.”

Perhaps surprisingly, the breakout star of the video was not Mango, but LW Alphonse Gaspard.  According to Costello, Gaspard was one of the heavier consumers of the on-set alcohol, and he clearly enjoyed himself while making the video.  The winger appears in a couple extended shots in the video – one in which he performed an air-guitar solo, and another in which he did a Mick Jagger-esque duck walk – both of which have already been turned into GIFs by the fans.

“I don’t really remember it at all,” said Gaspard.  “But at least I kept my clothes on.”

Time will tell if “Catch the Bluebacks Fever” becomes a lasting success or is remembered as a one-hit wonder.  But at least for now, it provided a welcome bit of levity for a team on a championship quest and the fan base that loves them.

If there’s one person associated with the Bluebacks who didn’t like the video, however, it’s coach Harold Engellund.  “I’m old enough to remember when these types of videos came out originally, and honestly, they were all embarrassing,” said Engellund.  “But if something embarrassing goes away long enough, young folks start to think it’s cool again.  That’s basically how fashion works, so I guess it works for this too.”