(Series tied, 2-2)
Hamilton Pistols coach Keith Shields is a happy soul, a devout Christian whose naturally upbeat personality shines in every press conference. He rarely if ever flashes anger, on the bench or with the media. But after his team lost Game 4 of the SHL Finals to the Anchorage Igloos in overtime on what he felt was an unreasonable penalty, he seemed… well, not quite angry, but not his usual jovial self.
“That’s a really tough way to lose,” said Shields of the penalty assessed to Pistols D Burt Hampton at the start of OT. “This was such a great, evenly matched game. A game like that, you hope the players can decide it. For it to come down to a whistle, one that’s not part of live action… that’s not right.”
The Pistols players were freer with their anger than their coach. “The refs decided this one,” said LW Steven Alexander in one of his few printable postgame remarks.
The whistle occurred as the players were lining up for the opening puck drop of the extra session. Hampton, lined up against Igloos D Thor Dalmgaard, was jostling aggressively for position. Both teams had been engaged in fierce tussles on faceoffs throughout the game, with Hampton one of the worst offenders. Referee Dean Rodgers paused the puck drop twice and warned Hampton to ease up. When the defenseman wrestled Dalmgaard to the ground on the third attempted drop, Rodgers had enough and sent Hampton off.
The ensuing power play lasted just seven seconds, as Igloos C Jake Frost received a pass from RW Nicklas Ericsson right in front of the net and fired a wrister past Hamilton goalie Lasse Koskinen to end it.
Even Igloos coach Sam Castor seemed surprised by the penalty. “Normally in OT, the refs swallow their whistles, and you basically have to maim someone to get a call,” said Castor. “But I absolutely thought it was the right call. Hampton was mugging our guys on faceoffs all night, and it was about time he got called on it.”
The SHL did not make Rodgers or any of the other officials available for comment after the game.
The penalty flap brought an unfortunate end to what had been a tense and exciting game. In many ways, it was the mirror image of Game 3. This time, it was the Pistols who drove much of the play, outshooting Anchorage 44-31. (They were especially dominant in the last two periods of regulations, winning the shot battle 32-17 over that stretch.) But Igloos goalie Ty Worthington was fantastic, keeping the pucks out of the net. He didn’t make as many dramatic-looking save as Koskinen did in yesterday’s contest, but he stood firm in the net and calmly swallowed up one Hamilton bid after another.
“That’s a perfect example of what a great goalie Ty is,” said Castor. “He’s such a competitor that he’s always looking for opportunities to raise his game. So when Koskinen stood on his head and stole a win for them yesterday, Ty looked at that and said, ‘Hey, I can do that too.’ And that’s what he did.”
Worthington was so strong in net that for much of the game, it looked like he would fashion a shutout, allowing LW Les Collins’ first-period power-play strike to stand up as the winning goal. But the Pistols’ third-line, surprisingly, managed to get one past him in the middle of the third period. During an extended offensive-zone shift, D Albie Glasco fed it to C Hilliard Macy just above the goal line. Macy wasted no time firing the severe-angle shot, and the puck deflected off Worthington’s shoulder and in before he could seal the post.
“That was a heartbreaker, because I really wanted the shutout,” said Worthington. “It was a great shot, but it was one I could have stopped. I was just a hair slow getting over, and it cost me.”
The Igloos’ win ties the series and sets up a pivotal Game 5 tomorrow at Arctic Circle Arena. Whatever the ultimate outcome, both sides agree that it’s been a thrilling series so far.
“It’s been a really evenly matched series so far, and either team could win it,” said Shields. “The fans are really getting their money’s worth. I really hope there won’t be any more controversial calls, because this Finals should be remembered for what happens on the ice.”