2020 SHL Finals – Game 4

ANCHORAGE IGLOOS 6, HAMILTON PISTOLS 4

(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.”

Continue reading “2020 SHL Finals – Game 4”

2020 SHL Finals – Game 3

HAMILTON PISTOLS 3, ANCHORAGE IGLOOS 2

(Hamilton leads series, 3-0)

Facing a must-win Game 3, the Anchorage Igloos improved in a number of critical ways over the first two games.  With the home crowd at Arctic Circle Arena behind them, they managed to slow down the Hamilton Pistols at least a bit, and prevented them from shooting at will.  Goalie Ty Worthington upped his game after a couple of rocky starts.  The Igloos power play, which had come up dry in the first two games, finally struck pay dirt – twice, even.  But even with all those improvements, the Igloos still came up short, as the Pistols came from behind to claim a 3-2 win and move to the brink of claiming their second straight title.

“We felt like we did everything we needed to do in order to win,” said Igloos C Jake Frost.  “But we didn’t win.  That’s pretty frustrating.”

Today’s game didn’t unfold at the same full-tilt pace at the last two, but the Igloos didn’t take long to take the lead.  Pistols C Marco Venezio wound up in the penalty box for elbowing just 28 seconds into the game, and RW Jean Pierre Fleury scored on the ensuing power play.  Better still, the Igloos were able to make that goal stand up – and keep Hamilton off the board for the rest of the first period and much of the second.  Unfortunately, they were unable to add to their lead despite numerous opportunities.

“The first half of the game, we were getting the better end of the play,” said Anchorage coach Sam Castor.  “But we really should have been up 2-0 or 3-0 at that point, not 1-0.  We were taking the first shot instead of the best shot on too many occasions.”

As a result, when Pistols C Calvin Frye redirected a shot into the upper right corner of the net, that wound up tying the score and deflating the crowd.  Hamilton coach Keith Shields felt that Frye’s goal was critical to Hamilton’s eventual victory.

“Before that point, we’d had some great shots, but it seemed like we weren’t ever going to get anything through,” said Shields.  “But then Cal scored, and that got things going for us.”

In the first minute of the third period, the Igloos got the fans back into the game, as D Tony Citrone fired it home to give Anchorage the lead back.  But a few short minutes later, Hamilton was able to shift the game’s momentum in their favor, this time for good.

Unsurprisingly, it was team leader Steven Alexander who was responsible for the Pistols’ tying goal.  It came on an extended shift in the offensive zone, one that Alexander himself helped to extend by chasing down a loose puck just before it crossed the blue line.  After several tic-tac-toe passes, the puck wound back up on Alexander’s stick, and he ripped a slapshot so powerful that it seemed to go through Worthington and into the net.

“That was a textbook shift for us, and for Alex to end it with a goal was perfect,” said Shields.  “If you want to know what Pistols hockey at its best is all about, just watch that shift.”

It was not Alexander, however, who scored the winning goal.  Instead, it was LW Jamie Campbell, the young winger who struggled through a mediocre season but has come to life in the postseason skating on the second line.  On this play, Campbell parked himself in front of the Anchorage net and would not allow himself to be dislodged, despite vigorous hacking and whacking from a couple of Igloos.  He took Worthington’s eyes away on a shot from the point by D Burt Hampton, and so the netminder was helpless when Campbell tipped the shot just inside the post.

“I’m finally contributing the way I feel like I should,” said Campbell.  “It’s about time.”

The Igloos tried desperately to find the tying goal, firing 19 shots in the third period (and 45 for the game).  But they couldn’t get another one past Hamilton’s Lasse Koskinen.  Shields lavished praise on his goalie after the game.

“Koski’s definitely been under fire in this series,” said the coach, “and he’s come through clean every time.  He’s been Johnny on the spot for us every time.  Heck of a goalie!”

Meanwhile, Worthington and the Igloos sat at a quiet locker room and pondered the uncomfortable truth.  They’d played their best game of the series, and it still hadn’t been enough.  One more loss and their season will come to an end.

In spite of that, Anchorage remains confident of a comeback.  “We’ve got to win four in a row,” said Frost.  “We’ve done that plenty of times this year.  We can do it again.”

Castor, though, doesn’t want his team looking that far ahead.  “We just need to take it one game at a time,” the coach said.  “Let’s win tomorrow and go from there.”

Continue reading “2020 SHL Finals – Game 3”

2020 SHL Week 11 Transactions

  • On Monday, the Dakota Jackalopes activated C Tanner Brooks from the injured list.  Shortly before the All-Star break, Brooks suffered an upper-body injury.  Although the injury initially did not seem that serious, Brooks wound up missing over three weeks.  As the Jackalopes had an available roster spot, they did not need to make a compensating move to activate Brooks.
  • Also on Monday, the Hershey Bliss‘ CHL affiliate in Milwaukee placed LW Karl Gjovik on the injured list.  Gjovik exited in the first period of Sunday’s 3-1 win over Cleveland after being upended on a devastating check, and did not return.  He is expected to miss at least two weeks.  To replace Gjovik, Milwaukee signed F Jerry Cazenovia to a short-term contract.
  • On Wednesday, the Hamilton Pistols activated C Marco Venezio from the injured list.  The veteran center missed 10 games with a lower=body injury suffered just before the All-Star break.  In order to make room for Venezio, the Pistols reassigned C Hilliard Macy to their CHL affiliate in Oshawa, and released F Bobby Warner from Oshawa.
  • Wednesday was the trading deadline. The following trades were consummated at the deadline:
    • The Michigan Gray Wolves traded RW Gordon Lunsford to the Boston Badgers for RW Rory Socarra. (More details here.) After the trade, Boston demoted RW Felix Delorme to their CHL affiliate in Hartford, and recalled F Jacques Bacon from Hartford.
    • The Gray Wolves traded LW Misha Petronov, F Cary Estabrook, and D Brandon Arrowood to the New York Night for LW Flynn Danner, F Henry Constantine, and D Anson Brank.  (More details here.) After the trade, Michigan demoted LW Fendrick Scanlan to their CHL affiliate in Cleveland, and New York promoted RW Harris Wondolowski from their affiliate in Utah.
    • The Dakota Jackalopes traded D Victor Addison to Boston in exchange for D Jackson Creed.  After the trade, the Badgers demoted D Bjorn Tollefson to their minor-league affiliate in Hartford.
    • Michigan traded C Warren Marlow to the Quebec Tigres in exchange for C Phil Miller, LW Carl Bleyer, and a 1st-round draft pick. (More details here.) After the trade, the Gray Wolves released F Caleb Moulton.  The Tigres demoted C Dwight Flynn to their CHL affiliate in Halifax, and signed F Tim Daisey to a minor-league deal.
  • On Saturday, the Anchorage Igloos recalled RW Jean Pierre Fleury from their CHL affiliate in Minnesota. The Igloos demoted Fleury to Minnesota during the All-Star break, and he played brilliantly there, recording 19 points in 12 games, including the CHL’s first-ever five-goal game.  To make room for Fleury, the Igloos reassigned RW Lionel LaNeige to Minnesota.

CHL Update: Minnesota’s Fleury Sets Record With Five-Goal Game

Jean Pierre Fleury didn’t expect to be playing with the Minnesota Freeze this season.  Last season, Fleury made the Freeze’s parent club, the Anchorage Igloos, out of training camp and remained with the team all season.  Fleury assumed he was with the Igloos to stay after nailing down a spot on the third line.  But after putting up dismal numbers in the first half of the season – recording just 2 points – the Igloos ran out of patience and sent him back to the Freeze as a wake-up call.

“Even though I knew I was not playing well, this was shocking to me,” said Fleury. “I believed I would always be in the majors.”

Jean Pierre Fleury

Shocking though it may have been, Fleury definitely got the message.  He has played like a man possessed since arriving back in Minnesota.  In his 12 games with the Freeze, the winger scored 14 goals and notched 5 assists.  That flurry of brilliance was highlighted by his performance on Thursday, when he became the first player in CHL history to score 5 goals in a game.

“When JP arrived, the first thing I told him was ‘I hope you play well enough that I never see you again,'” said Freeze coach Petr Kokrda.  “He clearly didn’t need me to tell him twice.”

Fleury’s record-setting performance occurred in a 7-1 rout of the Idaho Spuds.  Perhaps even more impressive than the five goals themselves was the fact that he took barely more than a period to score them.

Minnesota went on the power play in the game’s opening minute when Spuds D Jay Brewster was called for elbowing.  Fleury got his first goal on that power play, redirected a shot from D Laszlo Cierny past Idaho goalie Kelvin White.  About three minutes later, Freeze D Brian Coldivar picked off a pass in the neutral zone and fed Fleury, who beat White on the short side for his second tally.  Just over a minu, who te after that, Minnesota C Tanner Everest won a faceoff in the offensive zone and flipped it to Fleury, who tucked it under the crossbar.  The game was just five and a half minutes old and Fleury already had a hat trick, stunning the crowd at Idaho’s Treasure Valley Arena.

D Richard Huckenchuk broke Fleury’s string of goals around the halfway mark of the period, scoring from the top of the faceoff circle to make it 4-0.  But the Minnesota winger struck again before the period was over, firing a shot from the slot that deflected off White’s left pad and trickled into the net.

The Spuds yanked White in favor of backup Xavier St. Pierre after the first period.  A little more than a minute into the second period, Fleury greeted St. Pierre by finishing an odd-man rush with a shot that beat St. Pierre on the glove side for his record-setting fifth tally of the night.

As amazing as it was, Fleury probably could have scored even more goals had not Kokrda not severely limited the minutes of his top line for the rest of the game, in order to give them a rest and spare Idaho further embarrassment.

“If JP had been playing his usual minutes, I really think he could have scored seven or eight, as crazy as that sounds,” said Kokrda after the game.  “He was that locked in, and playing at that high a level.”

For his part, Fleury reacted modestly to his record-breaking performance.  “I could not expect this at all,” he told reporters.  “I am as surprised as everyone else.”

At week’s end, Fleury earned the reward he sought: he was promoted back to the Igloos.  “JP did everything we could have asked him to do and more,” said Anchorage GM Will Thorndike.  “If he can bring that same energy with him that he showed in Minnesota, he’ll be a huge asset to us as we make our playoff push.  We’re not going to expect 5 goals in a game, though.”