Pistols, Bliss Get Goal-Happy in Roller Coaster Third Period

The Hamilton Pistols and Hershey Bliss are battling for supremacy in the East, and they both possess an offensive explosiveness that makes them dangerous.  Hamilton is one of the highest-scoring teams in the league; Hershey doesn’t typically generate quite the same volume of scoring, but their “Love Line” of LW Lance Sweet, C Justin Valentine, and RW Christopher Hart is as potent as any line in the league.

When the Pistols and Bliss squared off on Tuesday at Chocolate Center, they showed just how explosive they can be, combining for seven goals in a dynamite third period that turned a seemingly sleepy game into a roller coaster of an evening.

“I don’t know just what happened there in the third,” said Valentine.  “But it seemed like somebody flipped the fun switch.”

After the first forty minutes, there were no signs of the frenzy to come.  Hamilton led 1-0, with an early second-period tally by RW Ben Summers the lone goal to that point.  Pistols netminder Lasse Koskinen had looked fairly sharp, turning aside all 27 Bliss shots, but he was unaware of what awaited him in the third.

The Bliss went a man to the good in the opening seconds of the third, as Summers went to the sin bin for interference.  Hershey’s power play made the Pistols pay, as Sweet converted on a shot from the slot that sailed over Koskinen’s right shoulder and under the crossbar.  The tally brought the home crowd back to life as Sweet hip-checked the glass before bounding into the arms of his teammates.

“Up to that point, it had felt impossible to get one past Lasse,” said Valentine.  “So Lance’s goal definitely opened the dam for what came later.”

First, though, the home team had to endure a stiff pushback from the visiting Pistols.  Hamilton grabbed control of the game over the next several minutes, and they made that control count.  Their little-heralded bottom line got things going in a big way over the next few minutes.

LW Jamie Campbell, C J.C. Marais, and RW Kenny Patterson worked an extended shift in the Hershey zone, pinching off the boards and thwarting the Bliss attempted to flip the puck back to center ice.  They’d been in the zone for over a minute when Patterson crashed the net, then fired it back to D Clayton Risch at the blue line.  Risch threaded a perfect pass to Marais, who was streaking toward the net and beat Hershey goalie Christien Adamsson on the short side to retake the lead.

Less than a minute later, Marais returned the favor, putting the puck right on the blade of Risch in the high slot.  Risch fired the puck over the glove of a screened Adamsson and into the upper-right corner of the net to take a two-goal advantage.

“One of the things I love about our team is that we can roll all three lines and feel totally comfortable,” said Pistols coach Keith Shields.  “We don’t burn out our top-line guys, and everybody stays sharp and engaged.”

The Pistols’ pressure eased a bit after that, but the Bliss couldn’t mount a sustained counterattack.  And when LW Steven Alexander buried a slapshot from the faceoff circle to make it 4-1, the arena fell into a despondent silence.

Hershey, though, wasn’t about to concede anything.  After they killed off an interference penalty to Hart at mid-period, they tilted the ice in a big way and bombarded Koskinen with shots.  They launched 16 shots over the final eight minutes of regulation, and even Koskinen couldn’t stop them all.

The Bliss began their comeback with seven minutes left in the game, as D Jean-Luc Aubin picked off a lazy Pistols pass and fed fellow blueliner Reese Milton, who fired a blast that deflected of a Hamilton stick and between Koskinen’s pads.  The fluky goal got the crowd back to life, and Milton amped up the energy by swinging his stick over his head like a helicopter.

“I just thought it would be a cool thing to try,” said Milton.

A couple minutes later, Valentine picked up a rebound and found Hart, who stuffed it just inside the right post to make it a 4-3 game.

The final five minutes of regulation were a thrill ride; the fans stood and screamed while Hershey maintained intense pressure and kept up the barrage on the Hamilton net.  Koskinen kept stopping the shots, though, and it looked as though the visitors would escape with a narrow win.

Finally, with 16 seconds remaining, Valentine skated behind the net and lifted a backhand shot over a sprawling Koskinen to tie the game.  Valentine’s teammates mobbed him in front of the crease as the fans somehow shouted even louder.

It seemed inevitable that the Bliss would complete the rally and win in overtime.  But the Pistols used the break between periods to take a breath and gather themselves, and then came out an won it in the extra session on another Summers goal.  The win moved Hamilton six points ahead of Hershey in the East.

“There were some wild swings in this one, but it was a nice statement win for us,” said Shields.  “I think we’re showing that we’re the team to beat, but there’s still plenty of season left.  We have to stay on our toes if we’re going to get back to the postseason.  Fortunately, no one in here is taking anything for granted.”

Continue reading “Pistols, Bliss Get Goal-Happy in Roller Coaster Third Period”

Change of the Guard Seems Imminent in SHL’s Last Week

Going into the final week of the 2017 SHL season, neither division race is terribly close, unlike the last couple of seasons.  Barring a seismic shift in the coming week, we aren’t going to see anything as dramatic as the 2016’s Hershey-Washington last-game showdown for the division.  Nonetheless, even if things unfold as expected, the results will still have their share of surprises.  As it stands, neither of last year’s Finals opponents will make a return trip this season.

In the West, the Michigan Gray Wolves head into the season’s final week trailing the Anchorage Igloos by 6 points.  The Wolves and Igloos have been the division powers since the league’s inception, so it’s no surprise that they will finish one-two yet again.  But the Wolves have been unable to make up the ground they lost when top scorers Hunter Bailes and Warren Marlow went down with injuries in midseason.  “We’ve fought hard all year, and I know we’re going to keep battling to the end,” said Wolves RW Gordon Lunsford.  “But we’re in a difficult spot right now.”

Michigan’s best chance to narrow the gap came on Wednesday, when they faced the Igloos at Arctic Circle Arena.  The game was a true heavyweight clash, as the Wolves stifled Anchorage’s league-best offense, with the Igloos responding in kind.  After two scoreless periods, Michigan actually drew first blood seven minutes into the third, when Lunsford dented the twine on a hard slapshot between Anchorage goalie Ty Worthington‘s legs.  “That got us fired up,” said Lunsford.  “We thought this was the goal that was going to set us on a run to take the division.”

But with just over a minute left in the game, the Igloos tied the game on a fluky goal by D Sebastian Pomfret, who flicked a rebound that bounced off the back of Michigan netminder Dirk Lundquist back and into the goal.  That sent the game to overtime, where Wolves C Wesley Knight committed a tough holding-the-stick penalty.  15 seconds into the power play, Igloos LW Les Collins beat Lundquist stick-side to seal a 2-1 win.

“That was a back-breaker,” admitted Lunsford.  “To go from thinking you’re on the road to the division to feeling like you’re on the brink of elimination… it’s a kick in the gut, no question.”

As surprising as the West race has been, things have been even more shocking in the East.  The Washington Galaxy have won the division in each of the last two seasons and established themselves as the class of the division.  When they caught fire out of the All-Star Break, winning 10 in a row and snatching first place away from the Hershey Bliss, it looked like they were set up to run to yet another title.  It hasn’t unfolded that way, though, as the Bliss have grabbed the lead right back over the last couple of weeks.

And while Hershey has played well, the race in the East has been a story of Washington collapse.  The Galaxy have dropped 11 of 15 over the last three weeks, and they head into the final week of the season 8 points back of the Bliss.  For a team with a reputation for stepping it up in the second half, their dismal performance has been completely unexpected.  “We can’t figure it out,” said LW Casey Thurman.  “We know we can do better than this, but it’s kind of like we’re stepping on the gas and there’s nothing there.”

Certainly, the Galaxy’s using scoring punch has been absent during their recent skid.  They’ve fallen from sixth in the league in goals scored to second-to-last, ahead of only Quebec.  Several of their stars, including Thurman (2 goals in the last 15 games), C Eddie Costello (3 goals), RW Jefferson McNeely (3 goals), and C J.C. Marais (2 goals), have been in slumps.  But the offense hasn’t been the only culprit.  The normally stout defense, which allowed fewer than two and a half goals per game over the first two-thirds of the season, has allowed over three per game during their slide.  Backup goalie Ron Mason has lost his last five starts.  Their special units have flatlined over the last three weeks, with their power play dropping from a league-leading 24.1% success rate to a middle-of-the-pack 19.6%, and their penalty kill going from 82.9% efficiency to 78.8%.  “It’s like it’s all falling apart at once,” said Costello.

For the Bliss, who have heard over and over that they’re too soft, too sloppy, or too star-dependent to beat the Galaxy, the turnabout has been pretty sweet.  “We’ve taken a lot of crap over the years about how we can never win the big one, or how Washington’s got our number,” said Bliss C Justin Valentine.  “We’ve never bought into that story, but we knew we were were going to keep hearing it until we proved it.”  On Saturday, Hershey came into Constellation Center and walloped Washington 5-1.  “That one definitely felt good,” said Valentine.  “To be able to go into their building and shut them down like that… it gave us confidence that this isn’t going to be like the other years.  It’s a new era for us.”

VP Draws Protests, Boos at Galaxy Game

The worlds of politics and hockey had another awkward intersection this week, courtesy of Donald Trump.  In 2015, back when Trump was still considered a fringe candidate, the Washington Galaxy mocked him by having fans shoot pucks at a caricature of his face, a stunt for which the team later apologized.  Now that Trump has stunned the world by becoming president, the Galaxy invited him to drop the puck for their Opening Day game against the Hamilton Pistols.

Trump declined the invitation, but the Vice President agreed to do the honors in his place.  But a seemingly harmless ceremonial ritual turned into the latest example of the partisan divide in America, as his appearance was met with protests and boos.

Prior to the game, a group of approximately 50 anti-Trump protesters demonstrated outside of Constellation Center, leading chants and holding signs with slogans like “Dump Trump,” “Impeach Trump,” and “Hail to the Thief.”  Many fans walking into the arena flashed thumbs-up and expressed agreement with the protesters, although a couple of them stopped to argue.  The arguments grew heated at times, but did not turn physical.

When it was time for the puck drop, the VP emerged onto the ice wearing a Galaxy jersey and waving to the crowd.  As soon as his name was announced, the boos began to swell, drowning out the handful of cheers.  By the time he arrived at center ice along with Galaxy C J.C. Marais and Pistols D Russ Klemmer, the booing was so loud as to be nearly deafening.  Public address announcer Rob Crane urged the fans to show respect, which only made them boo louder.   The VP dropped the puck, then briefly waved again and hurried off the ice as quickly as he could.

He also visited both locker rooms before the game.  “We had a chance to talk a little bit,” said Galaxy D Bill Corbett.  “He’s a really nice guy and a real sports fan.”  Asked about the booing, Corbett said, “I mean, they’ve got the First Amendment rights, so they can do it.  But it’s a real shame, because he doesn’t deserve it.”

Rodney Reagle

Washington coach Rodney Reagle declined to discuss the incident, joking that “they’ve got 100,000 volts of electricity wired right through this chair, and if I say anything political, they’re gonna turn on the juice and I’m a goner.  So I’m just gonna keep my mouth shut.”

Sources close to the Galaxy say that star winger Jefferson McNeely was supposed to take the opening puck drop, but that he declined to do so either out of a personal antipathy to the administration or out of fear that he would be shot.  McNeely refused to confirm or deny the rumor, but said that “I’m glad to see our fans express themselves.”

For his part, the VP professed not to be upset about the booing.  “I love freedom, and this is what freedom is about,” he said.  “I don’t object to our citizens expressing their views.  I very much appreciated the fans who had the courage to show their support.”

Washington, Hershey Title Fight Goes Down to Last Day

Washington SmallHershey SmallGoing into the last week of the season, the East’s defending champion, the Washington Galaxy, trailed the Hershey Bliss by two points.  But with the two teams scheduled to meet on the last day of the season, Galaxy coach Rodney Reagle made a prediction.  “Just you watch,” Reagle said to reporters during Saturday’s game.  “It’s all going to come down to that game, and we’re both going to be tied.  One game for all the marbles.  Because that’s exactly the sick sense of humor the hockey gods have.”

As it turns out, Reagle’s prediction was exactly right.  When the Bliss and Galaxy faced off at Constellation Center on Friday, they had identical 33-23-3 records. Just as Reagle had foreseen, the winner of the game would win the division.

As it turned out, Washington defended its division crown with a dramatic come-from-behind 5-3 win that left the home crowd ecstatic and the visiting Bliss heartbroken.

“Couldn’t have asked for a more thrilling finish, eh?” said Reagle with a grin.

The Galaxy came into the season finale riding a six-game winning streak.  The Bliss were nearly as hot, having won six of their last seven, the only loss a 3-1 decision to eventual Western champ Michigan on Tuesday.

Both teams were confident heading into the deciding game.  “We feel like we’ve got the edge,” said Bliss C Justin Valentine, anchor of the team’s high-powered Love Line.  “Our offense is clicking, and Jesse [Clarkson] has really sealed up the net for us.  We’re ready to take this.”

Countered Galaxy RW Jefferson McNeely, “This game is ours.  We’re peaking at the right time, and we’re playing at home in front of our awesome fans.  We always come up big in big moments, and this is about as big as they get.”

The first period was a raucous, high-tempo affair, with the crowd at full volume.  Both teams came out of the period with some good news.  The Galaxy were able to contain the Love Line, denying the high-scoring trio any good looks at the net.  On the other hand, Hershey got offense from an unexpected source, as third-line C Henry Constantine slipped a pair of power-play goals past Washington netminder Roger Orion, quieting the crowd and giving the visitors a 2-0 edge after the first period.

In the second period, the pace slowed a bit as the nervous energy of the first frame ebbed.  Washington got on the board as D Rusty Anderson banged in a slapper from the blue line a little more than 6 minutes in, but that was the only tally of the period, and the Galaxy found themselves trailing 2-1 with only one period left to save their season.

Before the third, Reagle tried an unorthodox approach to motivate his men.  The coach is well-known for his penchant for dressing in costume and making screwball jokes, but he played it straight.  “You know who you are and you know what you need to do,” Reagle told his players.  “Stop, take a breath, and remember: you got this.”

Unfortunately for the home team, Hershey struck again five minutes into the third period, as LW Russ Nahorniak tipped one in from the goal mouth to make it 3-1.  “That was the real gut check for us,” said Galaxy C Eddie Costello.  “We looked up and down the bench and said, ‘All right, are we gonna roll over and give up, or are we going to get back in this?'”

Washington got their second wind and came out determined to catch up.  Less than two minutes after Nahorniak’s goal, Galaxy LW Walt Camernitz struck back on a three-on-two breakaway on a power play, going top shelf to make it 3-2.  But it was the latter half of the third period that really turned into a nightmare for Hershey.

With seven and a half minutes left in the game, Galaxy D Bill Corbett fired a low liner from the blue line.  The puck took a couple of strange bounces and eluded Clarkson for a curious tying goal.  Four minutes later, the Bliss surrendered another odd-man rush, with C J.C. Marais deking past a helpless Clarkson and putting the home team ahead for the first time.  The arena seemed to shake to its foundations as the crowd roared while a stunned Hershey squad tried to get itself back together.  But with a minute and a half left, the Galaxy got some much-needed insurance, with D Kevin Buchanan banking one home off the left post to make it 5-3, which was the ultimate final score.

After the game, the Bliss were left shell-shocked, having surrendered four unanswered goals to blow a seemingly solid lead.  There was a lot about this game that was tough for Hershey to swallow.  The Love Line was held without a single point in the game.  Bliss coach “Chocolate Chip” Barber suggested that the trio was exhausted by a long season.  “They’ve carried so much of the load for us for so long,” mused Barber.  “I just think there wasn’t enough left in the tank.”  And Clarkson, Hershey’s big deadline pickup, wilted in the clutch when his team needed him most.  Clarkson was not available for comment after the game.

Barber summed things up for his team by saying, “To come this far this year and then have a game like this, it’s like biting into a nice Fifth Avenue bar and finding a big rock in the middle.”

In the Washington locker room, the mood was entirely different.  Reagle blasted “Joy to the World” from his office as the players danced and sprayed each other with beer.  “Man, what a crazy ending!” shouted Costello.  “Last year was easier, but this was way more fun.”

The Galaxy also extended praise to their defeated foe.  “Big tip of the lid to Hershey,” said McNeely.  “They gave us a real run, and with a couple of bounces, this could easily have gone their way.  They’re a hell of a team, and I expect them to come back strong next year.”

As for the Finals matchup with Western champion Michigan?  “Bring it on,” said McNeely.  “We can handle anything they want to throw at us.  We’re ready.”

Washington Surges in East

Washington SmallLast season, the Washington Galaxy led the East virtually wire-to-wire, maintaining a steady single-digit lead for almost the entire season.  This season was different, as the Hamilton Pistols and Quebec Tigres got off to surprisingly strong starts and the division remains tightly bunched in the early weeks.  Over the last couple of weeks, though, the Galaxy have quietly kicked things into gear, going on a tear and opening up a double-digit advantage over their stumbling competitors.  As the league hits midseason, Washington appears well-positioned for a return trip to the playoffs.

“That whole team should wear ninja outfits,” said New York Night C Brock Manning, whose team trails the Galaxy by 11 points.  “They rarely look dominating, they don’t have a bunch of big-name stars… but damned if you don’t look up and see them pulling away every time.  I don’t know how they do it.”

How do they do it?  With a surprisingly potent and balanced offense, combined with a sturdy defense and solid goaltending.  To the surprise of many observers, Washington is second in the league in goals with 104.  The Galaxy’s top scorer is RW Jefferson McNeely, who has rebounded in a big way from a down year in 2015 to establish himself as a star.  McNeely’s 18 goals and 36 points puts him in the top 10 in the league in both categories.  McNeely’s emergence has taken considerable pressure off of linemate Casey Thurman, who was the team’s leading scorer in ’15 but got off to a slow start this year.

“I’m really glad to see Jefferson having a strong season,” said teammate Eddie Costello.  “He’s an electric personality, and the fans are really getting to see that now that he’s breaking out.  The people in DC are going to love this guy.”

But McNeely is far from the only quality scorer in the Galaxy’s lineup.  Thurman (10 goals, 25 points) has been gaining steam during Washington’s recent run.  Costello has done a great job setting up McNeely and Thurman, but is also a scoring threat in his own right (12 goals, 36 points).  Washington has strong scorers on its second and third lines as well, including LW Walt Camernitz (15 goals, 29 points), RW Sindri Pentti (11 goals, 17 points), and C J.C. Marais (25 points)

“That’s what makes us so dangerous,” said Camernitz.  “We pack a punch on all three lines, and we can score at any time.  Some other teams, you contain their one or two big guys and you can shut them down.  We’re not like that.”

Washington is no slouch in its own end, either.  The Galaxy’s defensive prowess was a key reason they were able to push the heavily favored Anchorage Igloos to 7 games in last season’s SHL Finals, and if anything, they’re stronger this year.  Defenseman Bruce “Boom Boom” Hogaboom is the team’s chief enforcer, and his willingness to scrap is legendary around the league.  But Washington is well stocked with solid two-way threat on the blue line.  Top pairing Leonard Wright and Kevin Buchanan are strong playmakers at both ends, and second pairing Rusty Anderson and Grant Warriner provide a bit of a heavier, more defense-oriented look.  The team also has several rugged wingers, most notably the hard-checking Pentti.

“A lot of teams in this league are imbalanced toward offense or defense,” said Buchanan.  “We pride ourselves on being balanced.  We can bang with the big boys, but we also have the speed and scoring ability to keep up with the faster clubs.”

Backstopping the defense is netminder Roger Orion, who has provided steady and drama-free prowess in the crease since the beginning.  “Other goalies have flashier reps and bigger names,” said Costello.  “But we’re happy to go to war with Roger any time.  We know he’s going to take care of business back there.”

Overseeing the whole circus is the league’s most colorful coach, Rodney Reagle.  A former goalie who was nicknamed “Reagle the Eagle” in his playing days, he’s done nothing to disprove the adage that goaltenders are a strange breed.  Players, though, say that his offbeat style keeps the cluhbhouse loose even in tense moments.

“Coach, well… what can you say?” said Costello.  “He’s one of a kind.  And by that I mean he’s hard-core nuts.  But we love that.”

Reagle keeps up a seemingly never-ending stream of pranks and jokes.  Recently, in reaction to the “creepy clowns” stories circulating on the Internet, he had the visiting locker room at Constellation Center decorated with pictures of clowns.

“I’ve been in there,” said Reagle, “and afterward I had to curl up in the fetal position for a half hour.  It’s totally going to unnerve our opponents.  Think of it as psychological warfare.”

While creepy clowns may or may not be essential to Washington’s recent success, critics argue that the Galaxy are simply cleaning up against a weak division.  As of this writing, none of the other teams in the East have an above-.500 record.  The West, meanwhile, has a pair of powerhouses in the Igloos and the Michigan Gray Wolves.  Even if Washington cruises back to the Finals, won’t they simply be crushed by whoever emerges from the West?

Reagle pointed out that people said the same thing last year, and the Galaxy nearly won the title.  “If everyone wants to overlook us and say that we’re weak because our division is struggling, go ahead,” said the coach.  “We’ll be happy to prove them wrong again.”

2015 SHL Finals – Game 6

Anchorage SmallWashington SmallANCHORAGE IGLOOS 5, WASHINGTON GALAXY 3

The SHL Finals are going the distance.  With their backs against the wall in a must-win Game 6, the Anchorage Igloos ran up the score early against the Washington Galaxy and went on to a 5-3 win, setting the stage for a winner-take-all Game 7 for tomorrow at Arctic Circle Arena.

“Today, we showed that we had the backbone of a champion,” said Igloos coach Sam Castor.  “We were aggressive and hard-nosed, and we let our superior talent shine through.  Washington’s played a great series, and they’ve pushed us to the limit.  But today’s game shows that we’re ready to respond.”

The first period of this game was highly reminiscent of Game 3.  Just as in that game, Anchorage dominated the action early on and built a 3-0 lead.  LW Jerry Koons was a man possessed for the Igloos, scoring the first two goals and driving the pace of play.

“We haven’t come this far and worked this hard all season to come up short now,” said Koons.  “I wasn’t about to let us roll over and die.”

About halfway through the first stanza, Anchorage D Olaf Martinsson forced a turnover in his own end and flipped the puck to Koons, who started a two-man breakaway with RW Nicklas Ericsson.  Koons finished with a beautiful deke before poking it between the legs of Galaxy goalie Roger Orion.

Three minutes later, the Igloos were on the power play when Koons banged home a rebound at the goal mouth off a shot from C Jake Frost to make it 2-0.  “Orion made a great save on that play,” said Castor, “but Jerry didn’t give up on the play and made sure we found the back of the net.  That’s the kind of greasy goal you need in the playoffs.”

When LW Misha Petronov tipped in another rebound to make it 3-0, the arena was rocking and the crowd was taunting Orion, who had faced only 8 shots to that point.  Galaxy coach Rodney Reagle called timeout and spoke to his netminder, but did not pull Orion from the game.

“Roger’s the guy who got us here,” said Reagle.  “If you pull a guy in that situation, you’re telegraphing that you’ve got no confidence, and I’m not about to do that at this point of the season.”

Unlike in Game 3, though, the Galaxy didn’t wait until the second period to get back in the game.  Immediately following Petronov’s goal, Washington C Drustan Zarkovich won the ensuing faceoff and started a march up the ice that led to a goal by RW Sindri Pentti, getting the Galaxy on the board.  And in the waning seconds of the first, C J.C. Marais buried a shot from the right faceoff circle to make it 3-2.

“We were right back in it!” said Washington LW Casey Thurman.  “We went into the locker room feeling great.”

The Igloos clearly learned their lesson from Game 3, however, and never let the Galaxy tie the game.  Early in the second period, Anchorage C Nile Bernard flipped a puck over a sprawling Orion and into the upper right corner of the net to put the Igloos ahead 4-2.

“I hadn’t been planning to shoot,” said Bernard, “but [Orion] overcommitted to the left side and left me with a wide open net.  I felt like I had to put it in.”

Washington did not go quietly, though.  After Igloos D Ted Keefe was sent off for slashing with 6 minutes left in the second frame, Marais flicked a wrister in off the top crossbar to get the Galaxy back within one.

That 4-3 score held up through the rest of the second period and much of the third.  Finally, with less than 5 minutes left in the game, the Igloos got an insurance goal in a most bizarre manner.  Orion turned aside a shot from RW Sven Danielsen but failed to corral the rebound.  The puck slid out to the blue line, and Keefe fired it back toward the goal.  The puck ticked off fellow D Dave Frederick’s stick and popped high in the air.  When it came down, the puck bounced off Orion’s back and into the net.

“That was just a strange play all the way around,” said Reagle.  “I think everybody sort of lost it up in the air, and then the way it came down and got in before Roger could react… it’s almost like the puck had a mind of its own, you know?”

Reagle rebuffed calls for replacing Orion in net for Game 7.  “That’s just silly,” said the Galaxy coach.  “Roger’s gotten us this far, and he’s my guy all the way.  He had a bit of a rough game today, but I’m confident he’ll be strong for us tomorrow.”

With the series tied and the deciding game at home, the Igloos are confident.  “The Vandy is within our grasp now,” said Castor.  “There’s been a lot of talk about momentum in this series, but you can forget about that now.  It’s one game for all the marbles, let the best team win.  I like our chances.”

Continue reading “2015 SHL Finals – Game 6”

2015 SHL Finals – Game 4

Washington SmallAnchorage SmallWASHINGTON GALAXY 4, ANCHORAGE IGLOOS 2

Do you believe in momentum?  The Washington Galaxy certainly do.  After rallying back from a 3-0 deficit against the Anchorage Igloos in Game 3 to tie it up before falling 4-3, the Galaxy looked strong today and roared to a 4-2 win that knotted the series at 2 games apiece.

“Are you believing in us yet?” said Galaxy LW Casey Thurman.  “Believe it.  Everything’s moving in our direction.  If Anchorage isn’t scared yet, they should be.”

Both teams came out somewhat sluggish in this game, as the Igloos seemed a bit back on their heels after the Galaxy’s stirring comeback in Game 3, while Washington seemed weary from a physical game.  “I think the jet lag from the trip from Alaska really hit us,” said Igloos C Jake Frost.  “I felt like I could have fallen asleep on my skates.”

Both teams struggled to fight through the fog for most of the first period, before Galaxy C J.C. Marais went 5-hole on Igloos netminder Ty Worthington in the waning minutes of the period to give Washington a 1-0 edge.

Just over a minute into the second period, RW Nori Takoyaki took advantage of a crisp pass from Marais and doubled the Galaxy’s advantage with a sharp-angle shot that fooled Worthington. “I don’t even know if he saw me over there,” said Takoyaki.  “To be honest, he seemed to be reacting a little slowly out there.”

After Takoyaki’s goal, Anchorage coach Sam Castor called timeout and reamed out his team for their uninspired play.  “They were sleepwalking out there, and I told them it had to stop,” said the Igloos boss.  “We can’t give games away in the championship.”

The team responded to Castor’s castigation, and stepped up their intensity.  Before the second period was over, the Igloos had tied the game on a slapshot from LW Les Collins and a power-play tip-in by LW Jerry Koons six minutes later.

Collins has emerged as something of a secret weapon for the Igloos in the Finals.  Although he scored only 9 goals in the regular season, this was his third playoff tally.  “Les is built for the playoffs,” said Frost.  “He’s not afraid to get dirty, dig in the corners or block shots, and he doesn’t shy from the postseason spotlight.”

Just as the Galaxy had done in the previous game, the Igloos were hoping to seize the momentum back with their stirring comeback.  Washington didn’t let the Igloos rally shake them, though.  Three and a half minutes into the third, Galaxy D Teddy Morrison poked a shot underneath Worthington’s right pad to take the lead.  Halfway through the period, C Drustan Zarkovich collected a pass from D Bill Corbett and added some insurance with a blast from the blue line that bounced off Worthington’s glove and into the net.

Galaxy G Roger Orion stoned a flurry of late Anchorage chances – recording 35 saves in all – and the Galaxy secured the win and evened the series.

“So, everybody still think we’re dead meat against these guys?” said Washington C Eddie Costello.  “I’ve had a chance to see [the Igloos] up close for four games now, and they’re not as scary as I thought.  We’re hanging with them, and I think it’s even money right now who wins it.  The next game is key.”

Continue reading “2015 SHL Finals – Game 4”