SHL Quote of the Week (Week 10)

“Whenever I need a good reason to drink, I look at the standings.”

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”

Bellmore’s Prank Backfires, Leads to Injury

Washington Galaxy C Harvey Bellmore is well known around the SHL as a prankster.  Virtually everyone who’s crossed path with Bellmore has a story about him, whether it’s his fascination with joy buzzers or the time he crashed a team Faith Day celebration to sermonize about his love of alcohol.  This week, one of his pranks backfired on him, and wound up causing himself to miss multiple games with injury.

Harvey Bellmore

The Galaxy were on the road this week, and they held a morning skate on Wednesday in Grand Rapids.  In the middle of the practice session, Bellmore stopped by the bench to get a drink of water.  Out of the corner of his eye, he saw teammate Bruce Hogaboom skating by, so he stuck out his stick to try and trip the rugged defenseman.  Hogaboom stumbled, then lurched right into Bellmore and caused the center to flip over the boards.  Putting out his hand to break his fall, Bellmore sliced his right thumb open against the latch on the bench door.

Hogaboom, not realizing that Bellmore was hurt, flung his glove at his teammate and loudly (but cheerfully) cursed him out.  When Bellmore didn’t get up, Hogaboom and other Washington players came to his aid.

When Bellmore finally stood up, he said, “Guys, I think I’ve got a problem.”  Blood was pouring from his thumb and dripping on the ice and down his sweater.  Even then, his teammates weren’t convinced that Bellmore wasn’t trying to prank them.

“My first thought,” said LW Charlie Brooks, “was that he’d gotten one of those fake blood things they use in the movies, and he was trying to trick us into thinking he was bleeding to death.  It’s the kind of thing he would do.”

They ultimately realized that he wasn’t joking, and helped him off the ice and to the trainer’s table.  Bellmore ultimately needed several stitches to close the gash in his thumb.

“I’ve punked a lot of guys in my career, but this is the first time I ever punked myself,” said Bellmore, holding up his bandaged thumb.  “I’ll never try to trip Boom Boom again.  That’s like throwing yourself in front of a Mack truck.  I’m probably lucky I didn’t break every bone in my body.”

Washington coach Peter James was not impressed with Bellmore’s stunt.  “I’ve aged about 10 years since I took this job, and at least 90% of that is because of Harvey Bellmore,” James grumbled to reporters.  “Who thinks it’s a good idea to deliberately trip your own teammate during practice?  Only Bellmore.  I’ve met kindergartners who were more mature than him.”

As punishment for the prank, James said Bellmore would be suspended for three games.  The center said that was fine with him, since “I can’t really grip my stick right now anyway.”

Bellmore Chosen as Finals MVP

Harvey Bellmore

In a move that few would have predicted before the series began, the SHL selected Anchorage Igloos C Harvey Bellmore as its 2018 Finals MVP.  Bellmore was acquired by the Igloos at the trading deadline, but he spent most of his time on the third line, where he contributed quietly.  But in a series that was defined by defense and balanced offensive contributions, Bellmore and the third line – nicknamed “The Circus Squad” for their off-kilter personality – came through when Anchorage needed them most.

“If you’d tried to tell me before this series started that Harvey Bellmore was going to be MVP,” said Igloos coach Sam Castor, “I probably would have had you locked up in an asylum, just to be safe.  But here we are!”

Bellmore finished the series with 5 points (3 goals and 2 assists), which tied him for the second-highest total on the team, behind only D Ted Keefe.  But it was in Game 7 where Bellmore really made his contribution to the series.  Twice in the second period, Bellmore scored goals that erased Quebec leads.  Then in the third period, he assisted Broni Zhlotkin on what proved to be the game-winning goal.

“We’ve always been a team that thrives on depth,” said C Jake Frost.  “We trust everybody, down to the last man.  Even when that’s Harvey.”

Along with the MVP award, Bellmore received a year’s supply of canned salmon and a Kia Stinger sports sedan.  “I love to drive fast, so I’m really excited about this car,” said the Igloos center.  “And salmon salad is supposed to be good for you, so yay!”

2018 SHL Finals – Game 7

ANCHORAGE IGLOOS 4, QUEBEC TIGRES 3

There were several points this season when it appeared that the Anchorage Igloos would fail in their quest for their second Vandy.  The team hovered around the .500 mark for much of the season.  Coach Sam Castor called his club out for a lack of effort at one point.  Even as late as the trading deadline, it wasn’t clear whether the Igloos would be able to hold on to a playoff spot.

Anchorage finished the season strong, however, and seemed prepared to rampage through the postseason.  They swept the Michigan Gray Wolves in the division playoff, then won three straight in the Finals to push the Quebec Tigres to the brink.  But in one final, cruel twist of fate, they proceeded to lose three straight to Quebec to even the series, leaving it up to a winner-take-all Game 7 at Centre Citadelle.

“I suppose we could have made it harder on ourselves,” said C Jake Frost, “but I’m not sure how.”

Fortunately, Anchorage was up to the challenge.  In a game for the ages, the Igloos rallied from behind twice with the help of some unlikely faces and squeezed out a 4-3 victory, becoming the first two-time SHL champion.

“We really went through hell to get here,” said Castor, “but that makes the victory so much sweeter.”

After being manhandled by the Tigres in Game 6, the Igloos needed to get their offense back on track in this contest.  They got off to a decent start in the first period, outshooting Quebec 11-8, but they couldn’t get one past goalie Riki Tiktuunen.  Worse yet, Castor sensed that some of his stars – particularly Frost and RW Nicklas Ericsson – were pressing a bit.

“We were definitely playing tight out there early,” said the Anchorage coach.  “I knew we needed to do something to shake things up.”

To top it all off, D Tony Citrone was penalized in the first couple minutes of the game for a slashing call that the Igloos considered highly questionable.  On the ensuing power play, Tigres RW Stephane Mirac deflected a knuckling puck just inside the post to give the home team a 1-0 lead that stood up through period’s end.

Heading into the second, Castor decided to take a gamble.  The Igloos coach decided to give more ice time to their bottom line of LW Waldo Miranda, C Harvey Bellmore, and RW Broni Zhlotkin.  That group earned themselves the nickname “The Circus Squad” both because of their penchant for practical jokes and their tendency to make on-ice mistakes.  Castor tends to limit their shifts for that reason, but he gambled that their goofy nature might be an advantage in a high-pressure game like this.

“I figured they were too dumb to get scared,” said the Igloos coach.

Castor’s hunch paid off in a big way.  Two and a half minutes into the second period, during an extended offensive shift, Bellmore drifted close to the net and redirected a shot from D Olaf Martinsson over Tiktuunen’s right pad to tie the score at 1.

The deadlock lasted less than a minute, however, as D Laurie Workman fired a slapshot that beat a screened Ty Worthington to put Quebec back in front.

Castor’s solution?  Put the Circus Squad right back out there.  And just 16 seconds after Workman’s tally, Bellmore went top-shelf on Tiktuunen to tie the score back up.  To celebrate his offensive explosion, Bellmore beat his chest and let out a Tarzan scream.

“Sometimes, you just need to send the nutcases out there,” said Castor.

Later on in the period, LW Jerry Koons got the top line on the board, finishing a breakaway by beating Tiktuunen on the glove side and giving the Igloos their first lead of the game.

“We couldn’t let the bottom line do all the work,” quipped Koons.

The Igloos weren’t quite out of the woods yet.  A minute and a half into the third period, Mirac fired a laser past Worthington for his second goal of the game, tying the score.  Once again, the Circus Squad came to the rescue.  Bellmore, trying for a hat trick, fired a shot that wound up in a scrum in front of the net.  The puck wound up bouncing to Miranda, who fed it over to Zhltokin.  The rugged winger wrestled free of his defender and slapped it home to put the Igloos ahead for good.

“If anyone predicted that Broni Zhlotkin was going to get the goal that won the Finals, I want to meet that guy,” said Castor.  “He and I are going down to the racetrack.”

Anchorage still had to weather a couple of late Quebec rushes, but Worthington was on duty and kept the Tigres from tying the score.  With about two minutes left in the game, Mirac skated behind the net and tried a wraparound shot, but Worthington got over in the nick of time and deflected it with his skate blade.

The postgame handshake line was far from the usual perfunctory routine.  Players on both side squeezed each other’s arms, thumped chests, and even hugged.  It was a gesture of mutual respect between a pair of worthy adversaries who expect to see each other again in a situation like this.

“Quebec gave us everything we could handle,” said Castor.  “Stephane and his team deserve a ton of credit.  We got the Vandy this time, but I’m sure they’ve got one ahead of them.”

For his part, Tigres coach Martin Delorme kept his focus on the future.  “We learned a lot of lessons here that will serve us well,” Delorme told reporters.  “We faced a great team and nearly beat them.  I cannot wait for next season.”

Continue reading “2018 SHL Finals – Game 7”

2018 SHL Finals – Game 5

QUEBEC TIGRES 4, ANCHORAGE IGLOOS 2

When the Anchorage Igloos won the first three games of this championship series, the pundits were all but ready to hand them the Vandy.  Maybe the Quebec Tigres would win one to avoid the embarrassment of a sweep, but that was all.  Surely, Quebec couldn’t win back-to-back games in the hostile confines of Arctic Circle Arena, much less the four straight they’d need to win the series.

But after today’s 4-2 win in Game 5, the Tigres now have the back-to-back road wins they needed.  And after they scored three goals in the third period to secure a come-from-behind win, the momentum is firmly in Quebec’s corner.  Mind you, they haven’t won yet.  They still need to win two more.  But after a game that seemed virtually tailor-made to sow doubt in the minds of the Igloos, a miracle comeback no longer seems like an impossibility.

“Seems like Anchorage might have been taking this win for granted,” said LW Stellan Fisker.  “But we never gave up on ourselves, and we aren’t going to.”

As for the Igloos, there was a definite undercurrent of unease in the locker room after the game.  “We definitely felt like this was one we could have had,” said C Jake Frost.

Similar to Game 4, the first couple of periods were a little on the slow side, as the Tigres used their defense to set the pace.  And just like Game 4, the visitors got on the board first, with RW Stephane Mirac getting on the board just 20 seconds in on a shot that banked in off the left post.  Unlike in Game 4, Anchorage struck back and re-took the lead.  RW Ben Summers tied it up on a power-play goal eight minutes in, and C Harvey Bellmore put the Igloos ahead with a redirect that found the upper left corner of the net with six minutes left in the period.

As the teams headed to the locker room after the first intermission with the Igloos up 2-1, the crowd seemed cheerful and confident of victory.  Forty more minutes, and their heroes would be circling the ice showing off their latest trophy.  Perhaps the boys in blue allowed themselves to entertain the same fantasies.

After a scoreless second period, the Igloos found themselves a mere 20 minutes away from the title.  The crowd’s cheering became more intense, and the fans began serenading some of the players by name.  “We might have gotten ahead of ourselves a bit,” admitted Frost.

Neither the Igloos nor their fans were ready for what happened in the third period, but it’s likely to be seared in their minds for a long time to come.  49 seconds into the period, Fisker fired a low line drive that deflected off of Anchorage goalie Ty Worthington‘s stick, bounced off his arm, and went into the net.  “That was a soft one,” admitted Worthington.  “I should have stopped it.”

After that, Tigres LW Walt Camernitz stole the show.  Quebec made a splash in the offseason by signing the ex-Washington winger to a five-year, $20 million deal.  Camernitz proved to be a worthwhile investment, jump-starting their moribund offense and turning the Tigres from a promising young club into a contender.  It was only fitting that he would provide the winning goals in the biggest game of their season so far.

At 7:15 into the third, during the tail end of a power play, Camernitz fired a severe-angle shot that somehow eluded Worthington and found the twice, giving Quebec its first lead of the period.  Just over three minutes later, C Mikhail Ilyushin fed him a pass in the left faceoff circle, and he thundered a slapper that Worthington never seemed to see to make it a 4-2 game.

“Walt is worth every penny we paid him,” said Tigres coach Martin Delorme.  “He has brought us scoring, defense, and leadership all in one package.”

The Tigres weren’t quite out of the woods yet.  They had to kill off an extended 5-on-3 situation in the latter half of the third; Frost nearly scored on the two-man advantage, but his shot rang off the post.  But that was as close as the Igloos would come to scoring.  By the time the final siren sounded, the crowd sat stunned and virtually silent, denied the celebration they were sure was coming.

Anchorage coach Sam Castor cautioned against panic.  “We still just have to win one of these in order to get the title,” the coach said.  “But we’ll need to play a sharper, more disciplined game than we saw out there tonight.  We’re close, but we haven’t won anything yet.  We need to remember that.”

Continue reading “2018 SHL Finals – Game 5”