As the final seconds ticked away in the deciding Game 6 of the 2019 SHL Finals, the Anchorage Igloos hung their heads. Playing in front of their home fans at Arctic Circle Arena, the Igloos had allowed four third-period goals to turn a 3-1 lead into a 5-3 defeat at the hands of the Hamilton Pistols. It had been a tense, close series, with all the previous games decided by one goal and two of them going to overtime. But the series was ending with a clunker, a shocking embarrassment for the defending champions.
In the locker room after the game, the Igloos sat quietly and contemplated an uncertain future. Ten of the twenty players on Anchorage’s roster are pending free agents, and salary-cap constraints mean that several of them won’t be back. The roster is likely to look a lot different next season.
“This definitely isn’t the ending we wanted,” said C Jake Frost. “Especially knowing that this is the last ride for some of our guys, that’s tough.”
LW Les Collins, one of those free-agents-to-be, shared Frost’s sense of disappointment. “There’s a definite sense of unfinished business here,” Collins said. “Ending like this, it’s shocking. But I want to come back and help us get back on top next season.”
Some of the Igloos acknowledged that the balance of power was shifting within the league. For years, Anchorage and the Michigan Gray Wolves were the unquestioned class of the SHL. Recently, though, the Igloos and Wolves have been challenged within their division by the Seattle Sailors (who made the playoffs for the first time this season) and Saskatchewan Shockers, as well as by the Pistols and other teams in the rising East.
“For so long, we’ve been the favorites,” said LW Jerry Koons. “But now, there are other teams just as good as us. We can’t take it for granted anymore that we’ll be the best. The Pistols are a really good, really tough club. I don’t think this is the last time we’ll be facing them in the Finals.”
Coach Sam Castor struggled to reckon with his team’s collapse in Game 6. “This series was so close for so much of the way,” Castor said. “A couple bounces here or there and it’s a totally different conversation. But for us to fall apart like that in a must-win game, especially on home ice… that’s not like us at all. But Hamilton won this series, no question about it. They deserve to be the champions. For us, we’ll have to go back to the drawing board.”
Asked whether the team had lost its hunger for victory after its previous wins, Castor demurred. “I don’t think that’s true at all,” said Castor. “I didn’t see anyone here resting on their laurels. We came up against a very good team, and they came through when it counted.”
While some of the Igloos struggled with the outcome and contemplating the next chapter, co-owner Leslie Mills took a philosophical approach. “We gave it our all, and that’s all that you can ask,” she said.