2019 SHL Division Playoff – Game 3

Western Division Series (Anchorage wins, 3-0)

ANCHORAGE IGLOOS 3, SEATTLE SAILORS 1

When it comes to the SHL Western Division Series, the Anchorage Igloos can’t be beat.  Literally.  Last year, facing the heavily favored Michigan Gray Wolves, the Igloos dispatched them in a shocking three-game sweep.  This year, facing a Seattle Sailors team making its first postseason appearance and riding high on the emotion of their impending move to Portland, the Igloos once again didn’t drop a single game.  Today’s 3-1 victory in Game 3 completes another sweep, one that sends Anchorage to the SHL Finals for the third year in a row.

“We know how to play our best hockey at this time of year,” said Igloos C Jake Frost.  “We’ve been here before, so we know what it takes to win.  We don’t hesitate to step up our game, whether that’s pulling longer shifts or sacrificing our bodies to make plays.  It’s second nature to us, because we’ve been here before.”

As has been typical for this series, the game was fast-paced and filled with offense.  Both Anchorage’s Ty Worthington and Seattle’s Rocky Goldmire were under siege from the beginning, as the teams combined for 33 shots in the first period.  Both goalies were up to the task, though, and only one shot made it through: a bouncer from Igloos RW Ben Summers that deflected off the stick of a Sailors defender and into the net, giving Anchorage a 1-0 lead at the midway point of the period.

Seattle struck back early in the second, as C Marco Venezio finished an 3-on-1 rush by putting the biscuit into a wide-open net.  The crowd at Century 21 Arena roared its approval, and Igloos coach Sam Castor called time and admonished his team to tighten up on defense.

“I told my guys that there’s a difference between playing up-tempo and playing firewagon hockey,” said Castor after the game.  “I felt like we were trading chances with those guys, and we’re better than that.  I told them I didn’t want to see any more odd-man rushes.”

Heeding their coach’s instructions, Anchorage played a more disciplined game afterward, slowly suffocating Seattle’s chances.  The Igloos’ work in the third period was particularly masterful, as they repeatedly frustrated the Sailors’ zone entries while maintaining offensive pressure of their own.

“The third was just a clinic by our guys,” said Castor.  “It’s like we set up a brick wall at the blue line and wouldn’t let [the Sailors] in.”

The Igloos got the lead back just over four minutes into the final period.  C Nile Bernard picked the pocket of Sailors RW Elliott Pepper as he crossed through center ice.  Bernard then fired a perfect pass to LW Les Collins, who streaked past the Seattle defenders and beat Goldmire on the blocker side.

A couple minutes later, Sailors RW Vince Mango took a rare penalty for high-sticking on a failed lift check.  On the ensuing power play, C Jake Frost collected the puck in the slot and put it past Goldmire, giving Anchorage a bit of insurance.

Things got a bit hairy for the Igloos in the final minute of the game, as they took a pair of penalties in quick succession and the Sailors pulled Goldmire for a 6-on-3 advantage.  But the Igloos penalty kill and Worthington held strong, and the game ended with the lead intact.

The Igloos now await the winner of the Eastern playoff between Hamilton and Hershey.  “I think we feel pretty confident against either of those teams,” said Frost.  “They’re both strong teams, but neither one has the kind of experience we do.”

Sailors coach Harold Engellund expressed remorse at the sweep.  “I really hoped we could at least win one for our fans here at home,” said Engellund.  “Would have been a nice going-away present.  But those guys, they’ve just got so many ways to beat you.  I hope we can learn from the experience and come back stronger next year.”

 

W Final - Game 3, Anchorage @ Seattle, Century 21 Arena

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

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

Koons           LW     0   1   1   2   0   Argent          LW     0   0   0   0   0
Keefe           D      0   0   0   0   1   Lambert         D      0   0   0   0  -1
Frost           C      1   0   1   0   0   Beasley         C      0   0   0   0   0
Martinsson      D      0   0   0   0   1   Lidjya          D      0   0   0   0  -1
Ericsson        RW     0   1   1   2   0   Mango           RW     0   0   0   2   0
Collins         LW     1   0   1   0   2   Lane            LW     0   0   0   2   1
Bernard         C      0   2   2   0   2   Mortensen       D      0   0   0   2   0
Frederick       D      0   0   0   4   0   Derringer       C      0   0   0   0  -2
Summers         RW     1   0   1   2   2   Gatecliff       D      0   0   0   2   0
Miranda         LW     0   0   0   0  -1   Pepper          RW     0   0   0   0  -2
Citrone         D      0   0   0   2   0   Gaspard         LW     0   0   0   0  -2
Theroux         C      0   0   0   2  -1   Fairwood        D      0   0   0   6   0
Calligan        D      0   0   0   0   0   Venezio         C      1   0   1   2   1
Fleury          RW     0   0   0   0  -1   Durien          RW     0   1   1   0   1
Kerasov         D      0   1   1   0   0   Gallagher       D      0   1   1   0   0
----------------------------------------   ----------------------------------------
TOTALS                 3   5   8  14   1   TOTALS                 1   2   3  16  -1

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

 
Anchorage           SH    SV    G    Sv%
----------------------------------------
Worthington         40    39    1  0.975

Seattle             SH    SV    G    Sv%
----------------------------------------
Goldmire            38    35    3  0.921

 

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

GOALS:
09:55  ANC  Summers (Kerasov, Bernard)

PENALTIES:
02:31  ANC  Koons 2:00 (Roughing)
04:01  ANC  Frederick 2:00 (High-sticking)
05:53  SEA  Fairwood 2:00 (Hooking)
06:19  SEA  Venezio 2:00 (Diving)
12:05  SEA  Fairwood 2:00 (Unsportsmanlike Conduct)
12:15  SEA  Mortensen 2:00 (High-sticking)

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

GOALS:
01:48  SEA  Venezio (Durien, Gallagher)

PENALTIES:
02:16  SEA  Fairwood 2:00 (Slashing)
09:29  SEA  Lane 2:00 (Slashing)
10:46  ANC  Ericsson 2:00 (Tripping)

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

GOALS:
04:08  ANC  Collins (Bernard)
07:21  ANC  Frost PP (Koons, Ericsson)

PENALTIES:
01:35  ANC  Summers 2:00 (High-sticking)
04:14  ANC  Citrone 2:00 (Diving)
06:41  SEA  Mango 2:00 (High-sticking)
12:11  SEA  Gatecliff 2:00 (Tripping)
19:15  ANC  Frederick 2:00 (High-sticking)
19:22  ANC  Theroux 2:00 (Diving)


 
SHOTS
------
                   1   2   3   OT   F
Anchorage         14  10  14       38
Seattle           19  10  11       40

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

Anchorage        1 for 8
Seattle          0 for 7

 
INJURIES
--------

None

 

Eastern Division Series (Hamilton leads, 2-1)

HAMILTON PISTOLS 5, HERSHEY BLISS 0

Coming into the postseason, the Hamilton Pistols felt that they had a secret weapon: their rowdy home crowds.  The Gunpowder Armory is the league’s oldest arena by far, and Hamilton’s hockey-mad fans know how to rattle the rafters with their claps, stomps, and cheers.  During last year’s playoff against Quebec, the Pistols looked like a different team in front of their home crowd; they had an extra spark, some extra crowd-fueled energy.

“We’ve got good working-class fans here who love the game,” said coach Keith Shields.  “And when they’ve got a couple beers in ‘em and they’re feeling that playoff energy… well, they make a ton of noise, and it really fires our guys up.  We’ve got the best fans in the league, if you ask me.”

In today’s Game 3, the Armory was at full crazy, and the Pistols responded.  They blew past the shell-shocked Hershey Bliss, and moved themselves within a game of their first Finals appearance with a 5-0 shutout.

“[The Bliss] didn’t know what hit ‘em,” said Shields.  “As soon as they took the ice and heard our fans hollering their lungs out… you could see it in their eyes.  They didn’t know how to handle it.”

The roar in the building was deafening at opening puck drop.  It didn’t get any quieter when Bliss D Cedric Meloche was penalized for tripping just ten seconds into the game.  And when Pistols RW Kenny Patterson found the lower left corner of the net on the ensuing power play, it felt as though the old arena might just tumble to the ground.

“The bench was literally shaking,” said LW Steven Alexander.  “It was kind of like, ‘Holy [crap], is this an earthquake?’”

The crowd shouted hosannas to Patterson and jeers to the Bliss.  The hubbub had barely died down when Patterson scored again, this time on a sharp angle shot that Bliss goalie Brandon Colt couldn’t quite reach.

For Patterson, a veteran winger who was contemplating retirement before signing an extension with Hamilton last summer, the playoff atmosphere validated his decision to return.

“As a player, this is what you get up for,” said Patterson.  “The energy in the building was just through the roof, and we definitely fed off of that.”

The Bliss managed to keep the Pistols off the board for the rest of the period, and the crowd’s buzz dimmed a bit as the scoreless second period unfolded.  Late in the period, though, Hershey D Bruce Minnik made the fateful decision to pick a fight with Hamilton D Clayton “Crusher” Risch.  Minnik said later that he was trying to fire up his team.  He may have done that, but the fight also woke up the crowd, which got back to full boil in the final minute of the period when Bliss LW Russ Nahorniak was sent to the penalty box for hooking.

At the start of the third, Hershey found themselves in a 5-on-3 situation when D Steve Cargill was sent off for cross-checking.  The Bliss managed to kill of the penalty, but they couldn’t get the puck out of their end, and RW Claude Lafayette made the exhausted visitors pay with a redirection of a Vitaly Dyomin slap shot that beat Colt.

“We knew we’d won at that point, and so did they,” said Lafayette.

The Pistols gave their fans plenty to cheer in the remainder of the period: goals from LW Magnus Gunnarson and D Albie Glasco, and a rousing fight between D Hercules Mulligan and Cargill.  But as the minutes wound down, the crowd had a different goal in mind.  For the last ten minutes, chants of “Over in four!  Over in four!” echoed through the old area.

Alexander is on board with the fans’ desire.  “We want to get this done, right here, and celebrate with our fans on home ice,” he said.  “They’ve come this far with us, and they deserve it.”

 

E Final - Game 3, Hershey @ Hamilton, Gunpowder Armory

                   1   2   3   OT   F
Hershey            0   0   0        0
Hamilton           2   0   3        5

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

Milton          D      0   0   0   4   0   Alexander       LW     0   1   1   0   2
Valentine       C      0   0   0   0  -2   Smyth           D      0   2   2   0   2
Baldwin         D      0   0   0   0  -2   Frye            C      0   1   1   0   2
Hart            RW     0   0   0   0  -2   Risch           D      0   0   0   7   0
Nahorniak       LW     0   0   0   2  -2   Lafayette       RW     1   1   2   0   2
Meloche         D      0   0   0   2  -2   Gunnarson       LW     1   0   1   0   1
Kirkpatrick     C      0   0   0   0  -1   Mulligan        D      0   0   0   5   0
Montrechere     RW     0   0   0   0  -1   Glasco          D      1   1   2   0   2
Danielsen       LW     0   0   0   0  -1   Patterson       RW     2   0   2   0   1
Aubin           D      0   0   0   0  -2   Campbell        LW     0   0   0   0   1
Daniels         RW     0   0   0   0  -1   Dyomin          D      0   1   1   0   2
Minnik          D      0   0   0   5  -2   Marais          C      0   1   1   0   1
Ketterman       C      0   0   0   0  -1   Hampton         D      0   1   1   0   2
Swindonburg     LW     0   0   0   0  -1   Estabrook       F      0   0   0   2   1
Cargill         D      0   0   0   7   0   Costello        C      0   1   1   0   1
----------------------------------------   ----------------------------------------
TOTALS                 0   0   0  20  -4   TOTALS                 5  10  15  14   4

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

 
Hershey             SH    SV    G    Sv%
----------------------------------------
Colt                30    25    5  0.833

Hamilton            SH    SV    G    Sv%
----------------------------------------
Koskinen            23    23    0  1.000

 

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

GOALS:
01:19  HAM  Patterson PP (Smyth, Glasco)
06:55  HAM  Patterson (Smyth, Costello)

PENALTIES:
00:10  HSY  Meloche 2:00 (Tripping)
18:01  HAM  Estabrook 2:00 (Roughing)
18:48  HSY  Milton 4:00 (Spearing)

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

GOALS:
None


PENALTIES:
15:03  HAM  Risch 5:00 (Fighting)
15:03  HSY  Minnik 5:00 (Fighting)
19:18  HSY  Nahorniak 2:00 (Hooking)

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

GOALS:
02:51  HAM  Lafayette (Dyomin, Alexander)
09:47  HAM  Gunnarson (Hampton, Marais)
15:14  HAM  Glasco (Lafayette, Frye)

PENALTIES:
00:01  HSY  Cargill 2:00 (Cross-checking)
10:48  HAM  Risch 2:00 (Hooking)
14:12  HAM  Mulligan 5:00 (Fighting)
14:12  HSY  Cargill 5:00 (Fighting)


 
SHOTS
------
                   1   2   3   OT   F
Hershey            9   5   9       23
Hamilton          15   7   8       30

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

Hershey          0 for 2
Hamilton         1 for 4

 
INJURIES
--------

None

Sailors Outlast Smoke in Crazy 8-7 Win

As the regular season winds to a close, it’s looking increasingly likely that the Seattle Sailors will make the postseason for the first time in their existence (and, ironically, in their last season in Seattle).  It also looks increasingly likely that the Kansas City Smoke will finish with the league’s worst record, which means that they’ll get the top pick in the draft.

On paper, Sunday’s game was a mismatch.  But anything can happen in a single game, and the contest turned out to be a wild see-saw affair, culminating in a frenzied third period in which the teams combined to score seven goals.  In the end, Seattle emerged with a razor-thin 8-7 victory that allowed them to hold onto first place in the West for another day.

“This was like playing shinny as a kid,” said Sailors LW Rod “Money” Argent.  “Just firewagon action back and forth, all offense.  It was crazy.”

The game started with a bang, as Argent fired a shot that beat Kansas City netminder Gus Parrish just 26 seconds into the contest.  Smoke RW Tyler Cloude answered a couple minutes with a low shot that went five-hole on Sailors goalie Rocky Goldmire.  Just over five minutes after that, Seattle RW Vince Mango tucked a slapper just under the crossbar to give his team a 2-1 edge, which it maintained for the rest of the period.

In the first minute of the second period, C Darien Picard got Kansas City back even by beating Goldmire on a breakaway.  After that, though, Seattle went on a run, aided by some bad Smoke penalties.  First, C Mike Rivera went to the box for elbowing.  Kansas City killed off the penalty, but couldn’t get the puck out of their own end, allowing RW Rodney McElvern to tip a shot home and put the Sailors back in front.  A minute after McElvern’s goal, D T.K. O’Neill hit Argent in the mouth with his stick, drawing blood and earning a double minor.  Mango made the Smoke pay, hitting pay dirt on a shot from the right faceoff circle.  A couple minutes later, RW Zachary Merula took a cheap slashing penalty in the offensive zone.  This time, it took only 36 seconds for Mango to overwhelm the exhausted KC penalty kill, scoring again to complete his hat trick.  It was now a 5-2 Seattle lead, and it seemed like the rout was on.

The plucky Smoke refused to give up, however.  With 49 seconds left in the second stanza, LW Veikko Sikanen gathered up a rebound and stuffed it home, closing the gap to two.  Then in the first couple of minutes of the third, Rivera and Merula made up for their penalties by scoring just 14 seconds apart, tying the game and stunning the crowd at Century 21 Arena.

“We couldn’t believe that it was a game again,” said Mango.  “We were sure we’d put them away, but they came back on us.”

Seattle answered back just 24 seconds after Merula’s score, as C Napoleon Beasley beat Parrish on the short side to give the Sailors the lead again.  But KC wasn’t ready to give up.  LW Tadeusz Adamczyk scored to tie it yet again, and exactly a minute later, Cloude found the back of the net to give Kansas City its first lead of the game.

“[The Smoke] were like the Black Knight in Monty Python; we cut their limbs off and they just kept coming,” said Mango.  “’It’s just a flesh wound!’”

Fortunately for the Sailors, they had one more good push left, which they deployed in the final five minutes of the game.  C Marco Venezio got behind the defense and scored on a breakway to tie it up one more time.  A mere twelve seconds later, RW Elliott Pepper stormed down the ice on an odd-man rush and scored what provide to be the winning goal.  A pair of late penalties erased whatever chance Kansas City had for a comeback.

Harold Engellund

Sailors coach Harold Engellund praised his team for its resilience.  “One of the things I appreciate about this team is the way they can take a punch and keep going,” said Engellund.  “[The Smoke] didn’t make this one easy on us, but we hung in there and got the W.  That says something about the competitive character around here.”

Critics of the Sailors often argue that their lackluster defense will prevent them from succeeding in the playoffs, and giving up seven goals to the league’s worst team certainly argues in that direction.  Engellund, however, brushed off those concerns: “The bottom line is that we did what it took to win.  Maybe it wasn’t pretty, but so what?  You don’t get points for style, just for winning.”

Sailors Surrender Six in Third, Miss Sole Division Lead

The Seattle Sailors had a golden opportunity to seize the lead in the tumultuous Western division on Saturday.  With the Michigan Gray Wolves and Anchorage Igloos both suffering losses, the Sailors only needed a win over the struggling Washington Galaxy to claim sole possession of first place.

Through the game’s first two periods, Seattle appeared to be on a glide path to victory, claiming a 6-1 lead.  But then came a nightmarish third period in which the Sailors collapsed, lost their lead, and had to settle for a tie and a share of the lead with Michigan.  It felt like a golden opportunity wasted for the team in green.

“A game like this, it’s just a total shot in the gut,” said Sailors LW Rod Argent.  “It’s just devastating.”

When the puck dropped for the start of the third period, the Sailors were appropriately confident.  They’d rocked Galaxy netminder Darrell Bondurant for a half-dozen goals already.  The primary question seemed to be whether they’d keep pushing to run up a signature win, or if they’d ease up and focus on grinding the clock.

Just 30 seconds into the period, Seattle RW Elliott Pepper was sent to the penalty box for elbowing.  Eight seconds into the ensuing power play, Galaxy winger Jefferson McNeely fired home a slapper on the short side.  No big deal; it was still a 6-2 game.

Three minutes later, though, Galaxy LW Casey Thurman scored on an odd-man rush to make it 6-3.  A bit of a nervous rumble passed through the crowd; was Washington going to make this a game?  Sailors star Vince Mango quickly calmed the fans’ nerves, marching down the ice from the following faceoff and beat Bondurant top shelf to make it 7-3.  Back to cruising time again.

But the plucky Galaxy refused to give up, and they slowly chipped away at Seattle’s lead.  At just past the seven-minute mark, C Harvey Bellmore deflected a shot over the blocker of Sailors goalie “Jersey Mike” Ross to cut the deficit back to three.  Then just before the mid-point of the period, Sailors D Woody Fairwood coughed up the puck in the neutral zone.  Washington stormed down the ice, and C Tucker Barnhill – centering a line of SHL rookies – tucked it home between Ross’s legs.  Suddenly it was a 7-5 game, and the crowd became deeply uneasy.  So did the Sailors bench.

“We’d already taken the W in our heads, and suddenly it was a game again,” said Sailors C Napoleon Beasley.  “We knew we had to respond.”

Sailors coach Harold Engellund called time out to calm his anxious team, but he appeared not to make any major strategic changes.  He did not remove Ross from the game, and he largely appeared to settle on playing defensive hockey and grinding the clock.

However, defensive hockey has never been Seattle’s strong suit.  And a couple minutes later, a failed clear by Mango turned into another Washington opportunity, and McNeely snuck one just inside the right post to make it a 7-6 contest.

The Sailors then made a belated bid to turn it back on and add to their lead, but couldn’t find the switch.  And with three minutes left in the game, the Galaxy’s rookie third line struck again.  Newly acquired RW Mickey Simpson went bar-down to tie it up and sink Century 21 Arena into a shell-shocked funk.

After the game, Engellund took a somewhat philosophical tack.  “Is this an embarrassing one?  Heck yes,” the coach said in his postgame press conference.  “If we miss the playoffs by a point, are we going to look back and regret this?  You bet.  But we can’t let ourselves dwell on this.  We’ve got to keep moving forward and play like we know how.”

Mango, meanwhile, seemed to shrug it off.  “This was one of those crazy fluke games, you know?” the Sailors star said.  “Like an asteroid strike.  It’s one in a million.  But it doesn’t wipe out all the great wins we’ve had this year.  Just forget it and go to the next one.”

Can the Sailors forget this loss, or will the memory haunt them?  Whether they can make their first-ever playoff trip in their last season in Seattle may depend on the answer.

Continue reading “Sailors Surrender Six in Third, Miss Sole Division Lead”

Sailors’ Mango to Star in Reality TV Show

Seattle Sailors star Vince Mango has never conformed to the expectations of a typical hockey player.  He hails from South Florida, not Canada or the American rust belt.  He flouts old-school conventions with his theatrical goal celebrations, which one earned him a brutal retaliation from an angry opponent.  He freely admits that his real passion is food, not hockey.  He devotes almost as much time to curating his Instagram feed as he does to preparing for games.  In short, he’s a polarizing player; traditionalists think he’s a showboat who’s wasting his talent, while younger fans consider him a breath of fresh air.

Vince Mango

Mango’s latest announcement will only make him more controversial among SHL fans.  This week, he announced that he and his girlfriend are developing a reality television show, “Meet the Mangos,” which is expected to air this fall.

“My fans have been clamoring for a chance to know me better off the ice,” Mango explained during his press conference on Friday.  “Now, they’ll have a chance to peek into my home life, see how I live when I’m not at the rink.”

The stars of the show will be Mango and his girlfriend of 2 years, Linzee Gaines, an aspiring actress.  Most of the filming will take place at and around their bungalow in Los Angeles, where they live in the offseason.  Mango’s parents, now divorced, will also feature prominently in the show.  His father George is an advertising executive in New York.  His mother Bonnie Faluto is a yoga instructor who lives down the street from Mango in LA.

Given the Seattle star’s passion for cooking, it comes as no surprise that he plans to include a segment of each show in which he prepares a recipe that he loves.  “Food is such a big part of my life, and my show wouldn’t be complete without it,” Mango said.  “I want to introduce my fans to the dishes that I love and the stories of how I learned to make them.”

Mango said that he’d spoken with the Sailors and the league about filming himself in practices and at games for use in the show, but that the team turned him down.  “I can totally respect that,” Mango said.  “From a creative perspective, they kind of did us a favor.  Because everyone knows what I do on the ice.  This allows us to focus on the Vince you’d meet off the ice.”

Mango’s teammates were generally supportive of the idea.  “Congrats to Vince on making it happen,” said RW Elliott Pepper.  “It’s not, you know, something that I think I’d want to do myself; not my style.  But it’s something he clearly wants to do, and more power to him.”

Sailors coach Harold Engellund, on the other hand, was less enthusiastic.  “What am I supposed to say about it?  I’m a hockey coach, not a TV producer,” Engellund told reporters.  “He’s promised me that it won’t interfere with the team, and I’m going him hold him to that.  Beyond that, what Vince does off the ice is his business.  I have no comments.  If you have questions about the show, talk to his producer.”

2018 Western All-Star Roster

The roster for the Western Division in the 2018 SHL All-Star Game, which will be held at Michigan’s Cadillac Place, was announced today by coach Sam Castor.  The selections were as follows:

First Line

LW: Jerry Koons, AnchorageIt’s the second straight All-Star appearance for the Igloos winger, but it’s his first time being voted into the starting lineup.  In a reverse of last year’s results, Koons was voted in over Dakota’s “Flyin’ Ryan” Airston.  He had a breakout season in 2017, scoring 44 goals and 90 points and winning the MVP award.  He hasn’t been on that same pace this season, but he’s off to a solid point; his 35 points put him in the top 10 in the league.

D: Fritz Kronstein, MichiganThe Wolves remain the top defensive squad in the SHL, and their top defensive pairing was rewarded with their second straight starting appearance.  This season, Kronstein was the top-vote getter among all defensemen, a recognition of his emergence as a two-way force.  He leads the Wolves with 28 points (12 goals, 16 assists), and he is the leader among all blueliners in the league in plus-minus with a +24 rating.

C: Jake Frost, Anchorage.  For the second straight season, Frost was the runaway winner of the starting center spot for the West, garnering almost 60% of the votes at the position.  The tall center has been one of the SHL’s top scorers since his debut, and this season is no exception; his 22 goals are the fourth-highest total in the SHL.  “Having Koonsy and Frosty out there on the top line, that makes you feel good as a coach,” said Castor.  “With the kind of year we’re having, I wasn’t taking that for granted.”

D: “Mad Max” Madison, Michigan.  It wasn’t clear whether Madison was going to be able to make the game, as he has missed the last three weeks with a lower-body injury.  But he has declared that he’s “feeling great and ready to go,” and plans to make his return to the ice in front of his home crowd.  Madison’s numbers have taken a hit due to his injury, but he was off to a solid start before getting hurt, putting up 3 goals and 7 assists in the first 15 games of the season.

RW: Vince Mango, Seattle.  The Sailors sniper has proven to be a polarizing figure around the league, as his theatrical goal celebrations and loquaciousness with the press rub some traditionalist fans the wrong way.  But he’s attracted enough fans to squeak out a narrow victory in fan voting, garnering a few thousand more votes than Michigan’s Gordon Lunsford and Anchorage’s Nicklas Ericsson.  Mango is known for his scoring, and he has 16 tallies on the season, which places him among the Top 10 in the league.  Mango described the results as a “changing of the guard.”

 

Second Line

LW: Troy Chamberlain, SaskatchewanThe Shockers winger makes his second straight All-Star appearance.  Chamberlain continues to be the driving force behind Saskatchewan’s offense, leading the team in both goals (with 13) and points (29).  But he’s also not just a force on offense; he’s known around the league as a diligent and capable two-way player.  Although the Shockers have slipped back in the playoff race recently, Chamberlain’s play has been a key to their push to contend.

D: Wyatt Barnes, Saskatchewan. For the second season in a row, Chamberlain and Barnes represent the Shockers’ only All-Star representatives.  Barnes continues to emerge as one of the SHL’s top blueline talents.  His 21 assists are the most among Saskatchewan players, and he’s also managed to light the lamp four times.  In addition, he’s a rugged and hard-hitting defender who’s been nicknamed “Stonewall” by his teammates due to his ability to deny opposing skaters entry into the offensive zone.  He’s even in plus-minus rating this season, one of only three Saskatchewan players not in the negative.

C: Lars Karlsson, Dakota.  Karlsson is one of two Jackalopes players appearing in this year’s All-Star Game, although it’s hard to know how much longer he will remain in a Dakota uniform.  Karlsson’s contract is up at the end of the season, and he figures to be one of the most sought-after rentals, as the rebuilding ‘Lopes seem unlikely to resign him.  The veteran center has done a good job blocking out the distractions and is putting up a fine season, leading the team in both goals (15) and points (31).

D: Ted Keefe, Anchorage. The top two defensive pairings for the West look the same this year as last, as Castor turned to his veteran puck-moving stalwart to fill out the second pair.  Keefe turns 33 this season, but is playing like a man a decade younger.  He’s got the best offensive numbers among the Igloos’ defensive corps, with 8 goals and 19 assists on the season.  He’s a hard-checking defenseman who likes to scrap, and he’s one of the league’s best at steals and forcing turnovers as well.

RW: Nicklas Ericsson, Anchorage. As mentioned above, Ericsson narrowly missed being voted into a starting slot on the Western squad, and Castor had no hesitation about picking his own player to complete the second line. Despite having what for him is a bit of a down season (7 goals, 20 assists), Ericsson continues to be regarded as one of the league’s elite passers.  “He could fit a puck through the eye of a needle if he had to,” said Castor.

 

Third Line

LW: Pascal Royal, Kansas CityThe SHL requires that every team be represented on the All-Star teams, and Royal is the Smoke’s lone representative.  The 27-year-old winger has had something of a career resurgence in KC, and he leads the team in points (31) and assists (19).  The All-Star Game is something of a showcase for Royal, who seems a likely possibility to be moved at the trading deadline.

D: Matt Cherner, Dakota.  Cherner makes his first-ever All-Star appearance.  Like his Jackalopes teammate Karlsson, he’s likely to attract attention from teams around the trading deadline, although given that his contract doesn’t expire until 2020, he’s less likely to be moved.  Cherner is one of the league’s best offensive-minded defensemen, and he’s putting up a strong season, scoring 7 goals and 23 assists to date.

CWarren Marlow, Michigan. Marlow was not originally chosen as an All-Star last season, but he wound up going as a replacement after teammate Hunter Bailes suffered an injury in the days before the game.  He is the only Wolves player selected by Castor… a fact that hasn’t gone unnoticed at Cadillac Place. Marlow has actually recorded more points than Bailes so far this season (27 to 26), although Bailes has scored more goals (18 to 13).  He also has the unusual distinction of being one of four regular starters in the SHL who has yet to record a penalty this season.

D: Dave Frederick, Anchorage. In a selection considered debatable by some, Castor tabbed the 31-year-old Frederick to make his All-Star debut in the West’s bottom pairing.  Wolves fans argued for the selection of Brooks Zabielski or Frank Mudrick over Frederick, while Sailors supporters protested that Doron Lidjya was unfairly snubbed.  In fairness to Frederick, he has some points in his favor: he’s second among Western defenders in plus-minus at +19, and he’s produced on offense, putting up 4 goals and 11 assists so far this season.

RW: Elliott Pepper, Seattle. The Sailors get their second representative in Pepper, who’s making his first All-Star appearance.  The winger got off to a strong start that earned him Player of the Week honors in the season’s first week.  He’s cooled off some since, but he remains one of the league’s better offensive performers, with 16 goals (tied with fellow All-Star Mango for the Seattle team lead) and 13 assists so far on the year.

 

Goaltenders

Dirk “The Bear” Lundquist, Michigan.  Although the SHL’s best-bearded goalie isn’t quite as dominant this season as he has been in years past, he still won the starting nod handily, according to the fan vote.  Lundquist’s numbers are certainly nothing to sneeze at, either: his 18 wins are tied for the league lead, while his 1.91 GAA is second-best and his .926 save percentage is good for third overall.

Ty Worthington, Anchorage. The Igloos netminder will be the Western backup once again this time around. Although Worthington got off to something of a slow start this season, he’s rebounded nicely in recent weeks, helping Anchorage firm up their hold on second place in the West.  Overall, his numbers remain quite respectable: 13-11-0, 2.41 GAA, .923 save percentage  — good enough to get the nod over Saskatchewan’s Zeke Zagurski.

West Wide Open

Looking at the Western Division standings about one-third of the way through the 2018 SHL season, one thing is clear: the Michigan Gray Wolves are the overwhelming favorites to win the division title.  They’re already 12 points clear of their nearest competitor and are outscoring their opponents by nearly a 2-to-1 ratio.  Goaltender Dirk “The Bear” Lundquist and the defense remain as stingy as ever; even a serious injury to top blueline “Mad Max” Madison has barely slowed the Wolves down.  Michigan seems well on its way to nailing down that top spot.

But there are two playoff spots in each division this season.  And if first place appears all but sewn up, second place is up for grabs.  No team is out of the running, and no team seems to have much of an edge at this stage.

“It’s just a wide-open brawl, is what it is,” said Saskatchewan Shockers D Wyatt Barnes.  “A total pig pile.  No one knows what’s going to happen.”

At the start of the season, the Anchorage Igloos were heavily favored to make it to the playoffs.  Indeed, they’ve held down second place for much of the year.  But the defending division champs haven’t been playing up to their usual standards; in fact, they’ve struggled to get much above the .500 mark, and they haven’t won more than two in a row since the first week of the season.  “We’ve really struggled to find our rhythm,” said Igloos coach Sam Castor.  “We show flashes of our true form, especially against tough opponents, but then we sleepwalk against lesser teams.  We’re going to get more consistent if we’re going to make the playoffs.”

This week’s games demonstrated Castor’s point.  Anchorage put up a huge statement win on Sunday, stomping mighty Michigan 5-0.  But they followed up that effort with a pair of embarrassing losses, falling 3-1 to Dakota and 7-5 to Kansas City.  “I know the feeling in the clubhouse is that we’re the superior team,” said the Anchorage coach, “but we’ve got to prove that on the ice.”

Two points behind Anchorage are the Saskatchewan Shockers, who look ready to shake their hapless reputation.  They had a shot to take over sole possession of second place on Friday, but dropped a 5-2 decision to the Igloos.  The key to the Shockers’ success this season has been their defense.  Coach Myron Beasley has made a point of tightening up his team’s play in its own end, and his efforts are paying dividends.  Saskatchewan is limiting opponents to 29.3 shots per game, the fourth-best total in the league.  The improved defense has been a blessing for goalie Zeke Zagurski, who has historically faced a barrage of enemy shots on a nightly basis.  This season, he’s lowered his GAA to 2.52 while stopping shots at a .919 clip.  Backup Shawn Stickel has been even better in limited action, compiling a stingy 1.33 GAA and .929 save percentage.

Unfortunately, the Shockers’ defensive efforts seem to be taking a toll on their offense.  Saskatchewan has averaged 32.8 shots per game, solidly in the middle of the pack, but they’ve only scored 53 goals, third-worst total in the league.  “We’re not putting ourselves in position to get top-quality shots,” said LW Troy Chamberlain.  “We’re not getting the net-front presence we need to create chaos.  We need some more of those greasy goals that a team like Michigan is so good at.”

Saskatchewan is one point up on the Seattle Sailors, who are the Shockers’ mirror image.  The Sailors have a potent attack, having scored 75 goals already this season, led by RWs Elliott Pepper (13 goals) and Vince Mango (11).  However, their fast tempo and aggressive approach has led to a vulnerability on defense.  Seattle has given up 82 goals, the highest total in the league.  Part of the issue is their tendency to allow odd-man rushes (they’re allowing 37 shots per game).  They’re not getting much help between the pipes, either.  The Sailors have rotated between Rocky Goldmire (6-7-0, 4.12 GAA, .893 save percentage) and “Jersey Mike” Ross (3-3-1, 4.00, .883); neither has done enough to nail down the starting job.

“We need to spend a little less time on the fun stuff and a little more on the lunch-pail, building-block stuff,” said Sailors coach Harold Engellund.

One point back of the Sailors are the Dakota Jackalopes, having a bit of a surprising season under new coach Flim Dahlgren.  The Jackalopes had a good deal of success during the inter-divison round last week, winning five in a row against the East.  They’ve come back to earth this week, dropping three of their last four.  But for a team that’s widely assumed to be in a rebuilding mode, Dakota has been surprisingly competitive.  They’re getting a boost from two of the only remaining veterans on the team: C Lars Karlsson (tied for the team lead with 11 goals) and D Matt Cherner (whose 19 assists).  Karlsson and Cherner are widely assumed to be top targets at the trading deadline; if the Jackalopes remain in contention, GM Paul Mindegaard may have some difficult decisions to make.

Even the expansion Kansas City Smoke are only seven points out of second place.  To be fair, their relative success to this point has been driven largely by an unsustainble shot-conversion percentage (they’re scoring on almost 14% of their shots, by far the highest rate in the league).  That said, they’re seeing strong seasons from LW Pascal Royal (12 goals, 28 points), C Mike Rivera (13 goals), and rookie Zachary Merula (8 goals, 18 points).  “We’re definitely not expecting a playoff spot this year,” said coach Randy Bergner.  “But I’m really liking what I’m seeing out of the boys so far.”

There’s plenty of time left in the season, and things could shake out in the coming weeks.  Anchorage could take control of the race; Dakota and Kansas City could fall off the pace; Saskatchewan or Seattle could get more balanced and go on a run.  But for the time being, the race remains a muddle.  “It’s up for grabs,” said Seattle’s Mango.  “Anybody could swoop in and take this.  This is a chance to show what we’re made of.”

SHL Player of the Week – Week 1

Elliott Pepper

The SHL selected Seattle Sailors RW Elliott Pepper as its Player of the Week.  Pepper was Seattle’s big offseason acquisition, picked up from rebuilding Dakota.  The big winger got off to a big start with his new club, notching 7 goals and 11 points in his first week.  Pepper currently leads the league in goals and is one behind C Calvin Frye of Hamilton for the league points lead.

He scored his first goal in a Sailors uniform on Sunday in a 5-1 win over Saskatchewan.  On Tuesday, he potted a pair to help Seattle sink his old club by a 5-4 margin.  Then on Friday, Pepper recorded a hat trick and added two wins in a wild 8-5 win over the Jackalopes.  Led by Pepper’s heroics, Seattle is off to a 4-1-0 start and a surprising second place in the West.

“As soon as I heard Elliott was available, I told our front office to go get him,” said Sailors coach Harold Engellund, who was Pepper’s boss in Dakota last year.  “He’s just a tremendous force: great shot, heads-up two-way player, a leader in the clubhouse.  For a young club like that, he’s exactly the kind of player we need.”