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”

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CHL Update: Theroux Finds Fan Love in Maine

When the Quebec Tigres acquired Phil Miller at the trading deadline to be their third-line center, it spelled trouble for Florian Theroux.  The journeyman has traditionally been popular with the fans, but his marginal on-ice contributions and goofy personality have often frustrated coaches.  Quebec boss Martin Delorme was no exception; he nicknamed Theroux “Coo Coo” on the rare, exasperated occasions when he spoke about the player.

Florian Theroux

As such, it came as little surprise when Theroux was banished to the Maine Moose, Quebec’s CHL affiliate, to make room for Miller.  “I knew as soon as the trade was made, my bags should be packed,” said Theroux.

The story does have a bit of a surprising ending, however: Theroux has sparkled with the Moose, and the fans have embraced him even more than the fans in Quebec did.  He already has a fan club, and some female Moose backers have even proposed marriage.

“I think maybe I should run for mayor,” he quipped before Saturday’s game against Colorado Springs.  “I have never been this much loved.”

The key to Theroux’s popularity was displaying even more of the goofy personality for which he is known.  Although Theroux is a famously superstitious player, he did his best to keep that in check around the serious-minded Delorme.  “I knew [Delorme] already thought I was crazy,” Theroux said.  “And I knew I was not good enough that he would not get rid of me if I was too crazy.”

But in the minors, Theroux decided to let all of his quirks run free.  For instance, when the Moose come onto the ice at the start of each period, Theroux always enters last and skates in the opposite direction of his teammates.  He tapes his stick with alternating white and red strips of tape, like a candy cane.  During warm-up shooting drills, he performs an elaborate ritual of rhythmic stick taps.  On the bench, Theroux knocks back Diet Pepsi instead of Gatorade, making sure to finish one can per period and always picking up the can with his right hand.

Perhaps most notable of all, before the teams line up for the opening puck drop, Theroux kneels down and kisses the logo at center ice.  It was this ritual that first garnered the attention of teammates and fans.  “The first time he went down to the ice, we thought he’d pulled something,” said D Hampus Olsson.  “But then we saw him kiss the Moose, and the fans all started cheering.  It was weird.”

Quickly, the fans began embracing Theroux’s superstitions.  (The fact that he’s been highly productive with Maine, with 15 points in as many games, likely helped.)  They handed him Diet Pepsis as he came down the tunnel.  They clapped in time with his pre-game stick taps.  They held up signs with slogan such as “Kiss Me Like I’m Center Ice.”

The forward revealed that since he arrived in Maine, he has received numerous date requests and even marriage proposals both in person and on social media.  “I am amazed by these women lining up for me,” said Theroux, who is single.  “It is wonderful and strange.  I guess crazy is sexy now.”

This newfound adulation represents a double-edged sword for Theroux, whose contract is up at the end of the season.  While he clearly loves life in Maine, it’s likely that he’ll want to look for an SHL job next season.  He’s a capable enough player to land a job almost anywhere, and a starting spot on some teams.  Given that, this love affair seems likely to be brief.

But neither Theroux nor Moose fans appear worried about that.  Rather, the minor-league town and the goofy forward with the crazy habits are just happy that they’ve found each other.

Quebec Player Looks for Luck

Quebec SmallThe Quebec Tigres were one of the SHL’s surprise success stories in the first week, tied for the lead in the East.  Since then, though, it’s been a downhill slide.  The Tigres have lost 12 of 16 games since a 3-0-1 start, including the last nine in a row.  They’ve now caught their expansion brethren in Seattle for the league’s worst record.

Unsurprisingly, the Tigres are eager to find a way to snap their losing skid.  Third-line C Florian Theroux has come up with an unorthodox approach, which he revealed after Quebec’s loss to Washington on Friday.

florian-theroux-que
Florian Theroux

During a postgame interview, Theroux told reporters, “Soon our losing will be over.  I will show you why.”  He then reached underneath his jersey and pulled out a necklace on which he had hung a number of lucky charms, including a rabbit’s foot, a laminated four-leaf clover, a miniature horseshoe, a golden ladybug, a penny, and a silver number 7.

“With all this luck, how can we not win?” Theroux said with a smile.

The center revealed that he has been superstitious for his entire life, a trait he inherited from his mother.  “When I was a child, I remember my mother always looking for lucky pennies on the street,” Theroux said.  “If we were walking along and we saw a black cat, she would turn us around and walk the other way.  And if my brothers or I had ever broken a mirror, it would have been the end of us.

“When I was older, I asked, ‘Maman, do these things really bring good luck?’  She looked at me and said, ‘I have raised you five boys and I did not kill any of you, so yes, it must be lucky.’  So I have always believed.”

Informed of Theroux’s necklace, Quebec coach Martin Delorme snickered.  “I am not sure that a necklace is going to bring us more goals,” said Delorme.  “But Florian has played well, and if he thinks this is going to help, why not?  It certainly cannot harm us.”

Not all of Theroux’s teammates were as diplomatic as their coach.  “Theroux is a coo-coo bird,” said D Andy Ruger when told about the necklace.  “It’s one goofy thing after another with that guy.  Someday they’re going to have to beam him back to his home planet.”

Theroux brushed off Ruger’s criticism.  “I know that not everyone believes,” said Theroux.  “But I have been lucky all my life, and I know it works for me.”

Theroux’s charms weren’t enough to help the Tigres on Friday, though, as Washington scored a couple late goals to secure a 4-2 win.

Rapids, Pistols Trade Third-Liners

Dakota RapidsHamilton PistolsThe SHL trading deadline this week passed fairly quietly, with no blockbusters.  There were only two deadline deals this time around.

The first deal, struck approximately two hours before the deadline, involved the Dakota Rapids and the Hamilton Pistols.  The Rapids shipped C Jens Bunyakin and F Diego Garcia to the Pistols in exchange for C Florian Theroux, F Jacques Bacon, and a 3rd-round pick.

Jens Bunyakin
Jens Bunyakin
Diego Garcia
Diego Garcia

For the Pistols, seeking a little offensive pop on their lower lines, Bunyakin (10 goals, 23 points) was just what the doctor ordered.

“We’ve been interested in Jens ever since the beginning,” said Hamilton GM Marcel LaClaire.  “I feel like he was born to play for us.  He’s a strong two-way player, and he can create his own shot or make a great pass to set up an opportunity.”

Florian Theroux
Florian Theroux
Jacques Bacon
Jacques Bacon

Meanwhile, the Rapids had depth at the center position (also featuring Harvey Bellmore and Lars Karlsson), and pounced on the opportunity to collect an extra pick.  “We know that it’s a pretty long shot for us to make the playoffs, so we were looking for a chance to stockpile some assets,” said Dakota GM Paul Mindegaard.  “We feel good about how this deal sets us up for the future.”

In Theroux (3 goals, 18 points), the Rapids acquired a player with a reputation for passing and speed.  Dakota also took the opportunity to offload Garcia, who lost his starting spot to Vonnie McLearen early in the season and had been disgruntled ever since.  He appeared in only 7 games for Dakota, collecting only an assist in that time.  Bacon (6 games, no points) played a similarly bit part for Hamilton.