(Hamilton leads series, 3-1)
For the Anchorage Igloos, there was only one goal in today’s Game 4: don’t get swept. After the Hamilton Pistols won the first three games of the SHL Finals, the Igloos were on the brink of that ignominious end, and they were determined not to let that happen. Not in front of their own fans at Arctic Circle Arena. For a proud veteran team, the thought of such a humiliation was too much to bear. And they didn’t let it happen, scoring four times in the second period on the way to a 6-4 win.
“This is the statement we’ve been looking for all series,” said C Jake Frost.
When the puck dropped to open the second, the game was tied 1-1 and the outcome was far from certain. Igloos C Tom Hoffman, skating on the top line in a shake-up move by coach Sam Castor, won the faceoff and slid the puck to LW Jerry Koons. Koons raced up the ice and passed it back to Hoffman, who began to loop behind the net, only to fire it just before he crossed the goal line and put it in to give the Igloos the lead.
Five minutes later, RW Nicklas Ericsson got behind the Hamilton defense and received a perfect pass from D Sebastian Pomfret. Ericsson broke in alone on the net, dangled a bit, then went high to put the Igloos up by two.
“Nick is such a brilliant passer and facilitator that it’s easy to overlook his scoring talent,” said Castor. “Just a remarkable player.”
Unlike in previous games, Anchorage managed to keep the Pistols from seizing the momentum. When D Russ Klemmer scored to put Hamilton back within one less than a minute later, the Igloos kept the pressure on. It was Frost who crashed the net and collected the loose puck and jammed it in to restore Anchorage’s two-goal lead. When Pistols C Marco Venezio cut the deficit in half again, the Igloos needed just nine seconds for Koons to score on a slapshot from the slot.
Early in the third period, the Pistols threatened one more time when D Clayton Risch scored on a fluky looper of a shot that grazed the crossbar and went in. This time, Anchorage’s seldom-used third line pitched in, as RW Jean Pierre Fleury juked his defender with a beautiful toe drag and then fired a shot about Hamilton goalie Lasse Koskinen‘s glove for his second goal of the game.
Any hope for a Pistols comeback in the rest of the game was snuffed out by a parade of penalties. Hamilton went to the box three times in the third period, preventing them from establishing any sort of rhythm or sustained pressure. As the final horn sounded, the Igloos gathered in a knot and traded head bumps while the crowd cheered with relief.
So the Igloos managed to prevent the sweep. Their next goal: a win in Game 5 to keep Hamilton from celebrating on Anchorage’s ice. “I said yesterday that we’re taking these one at a time,” said Castor. “We got this one, and now we need to come out tomorrow and get the next one.”
The Pistols, meanwhile, remained confident that they will ultimately prevail. “We never expected a sweep,” said coach Keith Shields. “Anchorage is too good and talented a team to go down without a fight. But if we keep playing the way we’ve been playing, we’ll be in good shape.”