SHL Division Playoff – Game 2

Eastern Division Series

QUEBEC TIGRES 2, HAMILTON PISTOLS 1

The Quebec Tigres are taking an unconventional route to success.  In Game 1, the Hamilton Pistols outshot them by a 2-to-1 margin, but Quebec still pulled out a 2-1 win in overtime thanks to the heroics of goalie Riki Tiktuunen.  In Game 2, the Tigres managed to reduce the Pistols’ volume of shots, although Quebec was still outshot.  With Tiktuunen turning in another strong game, the Tigres were able to come from behind and claim a 2-1 win that gives them a 2-0 lead in the series.

“I think all of our postseason paychecks should go to Riki,” said Quebec C Mikhail Ilyushin.  “He has been our star in this series.”

Of the 27 shots Hamilton aimed at Tiktuunen in this game, the Finnish netminder turned aside 26 of them.  The only one that eluded him occurred in the first minute of the game, when the Tigres failed to clear Pistols D Clayton “Crusher” Risch from in front of the net, and he redirected a shot from C Edz Zalmanis underneath the crossbar.

“Riki never had a shot at that one,” said Tigres coach Martin Delorme.  “Even Superman cannot stop what he cannot see.”

Faced with their first deficit of the series, the Tigres went to work trying to even the score.  But Quebec’s attempts to rally were stymied by a rash of penalties.  They spent a significant chunk of the first period killing off penalties to LW Walt Camernitz and D Laurie Workman.  Then in the second period, Tigres C Drustan Zarkovich was sent to the penalty box three separate times.

“I spent so much time in the sin bin, I thought maybe I should bring my toothbrush,” said Zarkovich.

In between penalty kills, D Richard McKinley managed to tie the game for Quebec by going five-hole on Pistols netminder Lasse Koskinen.  It was one of only six shots for the Tigres in the second period.  “Between the penalties and all, it felt like we were trying to climb out of a pit of quicksand,” said Camernitz.

Just over three and a half minutes into the third period, Camernitz fired a laser that seemed to go through Koskinen and into the net, giving Quebec the lead.  “I thought I was going to look down and find a hole in my jersey,” said Koskinen.

After Camernitz’s tally, the Tigres turned up their defense for the rest of the period, holding the Pistols to eight shots, all of which Tiktuunen turned aside.

Delorme praised his team’s effort, although he criticized them for taking too many penalties.  “We looked much more like ourselves today,” the Quebec coach said.  “As long as we can avoid taking careless calls, we will be in good shape.”

Pistols coach Keith Shields remained upbeat, although his team is now only one loss away from elimination.  “The whole mojo of this series is going to shift when we’re back in our place,” Shields told reporters.  “We’ve got to solve Tiktuunen, but I’m confident we can do that when we’ve got our crowd behind us.”

 

E Final - Game 2, Hamilton @ Quebec, Centre Citadelle

                   1   2   3   OT   F
Hamilton           1   0   0        1
Quebec             0   1   1        2

 
Hamilton               G   A PTS PIM +/-   Quebec                 G   A PTS PIM +/-

Alexander       LW     0   0   0   0  -1   Camernitz       LW     1   0   1   2   1
Smyth           D      0   1   1   0   0   Workman         D      0   0   0   2   0
Frye            C      0   0   0   0  -1   Zarkovich       C      0   0   0   6   0
Risch           D      1   0   1   0   0   McKinley        D      1   0   1   0   0
Lafayette       RW     0   0   0   0  -1   Mirac           RW     0   1   1   0   1
Gunnarson       LW     0   0   0   0   0   Fisker          LW     0   0   0   0   0
Mulligan        D      0   0   0   5  -1   Ilyushin        C      0   0   0   0   1
Constantine     C      0   0   0   0   0   Jones           D      0   1   1   0   1
Werner          D      0   0   0   0  -1   Robinson        RW     0   0   0   0   0
Patterson       RW     0   0   0   0   0   MacDiarmid      LW     0   1   1   0   0
Campbell        LW     0   0   0   2   0   Pugliese        D      0   0   0   0   0
Glasco          D      0   0   0   0   0   Kalashnikov     D      0   0   0   4   0
Zalmanis        C      0   1   1   0   0   Pentti          RW     0   0   0   5   0
Soforenko       LW     0   0   0   0   0   Miller          C      0   0   0   0   0
Dyomin          D      0   0   0   0   0   Wesson          D      0   0   0   0   1
----------------------------------------   ----------------------------------------
TOTALS                 1   2   3   7  -1   TOTALS                 2   3   5  19   1

Scratches:
HAM:  Kratz, Jennings, Rodney
QUE:  Shovshenkov, Zhzhynov, Kane

 
Hamilton            SH    SV    G    Sv%
----------------------------------------
Koskinen            21    19    2  0.905

Quebec              SH    SV    G    Sv%
----------------------------------------
Tiktuunen           27    26    1  0.963

 

First Period
------------

GOALS:
00:59  HAM  Risch (Zalmanis, Smyth)

PENALTIES:
04:34  QUE  Camernitz 2:00 (Diving)
08:10  QUE  Workman 2:00 (Tripping)

Second Period
-------------

GOALS:
02:51  QUE  McKinley (MacDiarmid)

PENALTIES:
00:08  QUE  Zarkovich 2:00 (Delay of Game)
03:40  QUE  Zarkovich 2:00 (Roughing)
16:58  QUE  Zarkovich 2:00 (Unsportsmanlike Conduct)

Third Period
------------

GOALS:
03:43  QUE  Camernitz (Jones, Mirac)

PENALTIES:
06:23  QUE  Pentti 5:00 (Fighting)
06:23  HAM  Mulligan 5:00 (Fighting)
12:32  HAM  Campbell 2:00 (Delay of Game)
13:02  QUE  Kalashnikov 2:00 (Roughing)
19:13  QUE  Kalashnikov 2:00 (Holding the Stick)


 
SHOTS
------
                   1   2   3   OT   F
Hamilton          12   7   8       27
Quebec             7   6   8       21

 
POWER PLAYS
-----------

Hamilton         0 for 7
Quebec           0 for 1

 
INJURIES
--------

None

Western Division Series

ANCHORAGE IGLOOS 4, MICHIGAN GRAY WOLVES 2

Anchorage Igloos coach Sam Castor is always quick to point to his team’s depth as its greatest strength.  “Guys like Frosty and Koonsy and Ty [Worthington] get all the headlines,” Castor says, “but lots of teams have stars.  But even if your stars match up with ours, we’re still going to beat you because our second and third lines, and our bottom-pair D, is better than yours.  No other team can match up with us all the way down.”

In Game 2, the Igloos showed the truth of Castor’s statement.  Thanks to the exceptional performance of their third line and the ability to push the pace of the game, Anchorage once again stunned the Michigan Gray Wolves in their building, winning 4-2 to take a 2-0 lead in this best-of-five series.

“It’s the triumph of the scrubs,” said Igloos C Harvey Bellmore.  “We may not get a ton of ice time, but we’re making the most of it.”

Anchorage’s third line – which consists of Bellmore, LW Waldo Miranda, and RW Ben Summers – has been the difference maker so far in this series.  They’ve put up a +5 rating, and they’ve forced Wolves coach Ron Wright to use his top lines heavily in an effort to stop the bleeding.

Michigan got the early edge in this game, as Igloos LW Jerry Koons was whistled for diving within the first minute, and Wolves LW Todd Douglas cashed in on the ensuing power play for a 1-0 Michigan lead.  With the crowd at Cadillac Place in full roar, Castor decided to take a page from his Game 1 playbook and turn the contest into a track meet.  In order to do that, he turned to heavy minutes for his speedy bottom line.

“They can’t trap us if they can’t catch us,” Castor said.

Michigan initially withstood the onslaught – with the help of several Anchorage penalties – but the Igloos broke through before the end of the first period.  Just after killing off a 5-on-3 situation, D Olaf Martinsson blasted home the game-tying shot with the third line on the ice.  Six minutes later, Summers finished off an odd-man rush by slipping one between Dirk Lundquist’s pads for his third goal of the series.  After Wolves D Brooks Zabielski was called for holding the stick late in the first, Koons tipped on in on the power play to make it 3-1.  At period’s end, the arena was as silent as a library.

“They ambushed us and took us right out of the game,” admitted Wolves C Warren Marlow.  “We let the game get away from us.”

In the second period, D Fritz Kronstein scored on another power play to get the Wolves within a goal and stir up the crowd a bit.  But that was as close as they would get, and Bellmore fired one home just inside the post early in the third period to all but seal the game.  Whatever hope Michigan had of rallying in the closing minutes died after D “Mad Max” Madison and C Phoenix Cage both took penalties that Wright said were “just out of frustration.”

The Wolves, who finished with the SHL’s best record by a comfortable margin, find themselves in a most unexpected position.  If they’re going to avoid a humiliating sweep, they’ll need to win Game 3 on enemy ice.  If they’re going to advance to the Finals, they’ll need to reel off three straight wins, including two in Anchorage.

“We’ve dug ourselves into a deep hole,” said Wright.  “Obviously, it’s hurt us that [C Hunter] Bailes is out, but that’s an excuse.  We’ve let Anchorage dictate the game to us, and it’s burned us twice.  Now we need to go win the next three.  We’re capable of doing that, but we’re going to have to get control of the game if we’re going to do it.”

W Final - Game 2, Anchorage @ Michigan, Cadillac Place

                   1   2   3   OT   F
Anchorage          3   0   1        4
Michigan           1   1   0        2

 
Anchorage              G   A PTS PIM +/-   Michigan               G   A PTS PIM +/-

Koons           LW     1   0   1   4   0   Douglas         LW     1   1   2   0   0
Keefe           D      0   1   1   0   1   Kronstein       D      1   1   2   2  -1
Frost           C      0   1   1   0   0   Madison         D      0   1   1   4  -1
Martinsson      D      1   0   1   4   2   Lunsford        RW     0   0   0   0   0
Ericsson        RW     0   0   0   0   0   Beruschko       LW     0   0   0   0   0
Collins         LW     0   0   0   0   0   Mudrick         D      0   0   0   0  -2
Pomfret         D      0   0   0   0   1   Marlow          C      0   1   1   0   0
Bernard         C      0   0   0   0   0   Zabielski       D      0   0   0   2  -2
Frederick       D      0   1   1   0   2   Poulin          RW     0   0   0   0   0
Montrechere     RW     0   0   0   0   0   Davenport       LW     0   0   0   0  -3
Miranda         LW     0   3   3   0   3   Bergdorf        D      0   0   0   0   0
Citrone         D      0   0   0   0   0   Knight          C      0   0   0   0   0
Calligan        D      0   0   0   6   0   Tollefson       D      0   0   0   0   0
Summers         RW     1   1   2   0   3   Denison         RW     0   0   0   0  -3
Bellmore        C      1   1   2   0   3   Cage            C      0   0   0   2  -3
----------------------------------------   ----------------------------------------
TOTALS                 4   8  12  14   3   TOTALS                 2   4   6  10  -3

Scratches:
ANC:  Zhlotkin, Druzek, Trammell
MIC:  Bailes (inj), Berlinger, Bullock, Eberlein

 
Anchorage           SH    SV    G    Sv%
----------------------------------------
Worthington         23    21    2  0.913

Michigan            SH    SV    G    Sv%
----------------------------------------
Lundquist           39    35    4  0.897

 

First Period
------------

GOALS:
00:42  MIC  Douglas PP (Marlow, Kronstein)
10:45  ANC  Martinsson (Frederick, Miranda)
16:50  ANC  Summers (Bellmore, Miranda)
18:52  ANC  Koons PP (Frost, Keefe)

PENALTIES:
00:32  ANC  Koons 2:00 (Diving)
01:43  ANC  Calligan 2:00 (Roughing)
07:33  MIC  Kronstein 2:00 (Tripping)
08:09  ANC  Martinsson 2:00 (Unsportsmanlike Conduct)
08:29  ANC  Koons 2:00 (Roughing)
17:19  MIC  Zabielski 2:00 (Holding the Stick)

Second Period
-------------

GOALS:
13:24  MIC  Kronstein PP (Douglas, Madison)

PENALTIES:
09:57  ANC  Calligan 4:00 (Unsportsmanlike Conduct)
19:54  ANC  Martinsson 2:00 (Diving)

Third Period
------------

GOALS:
01:59  ANC  Bellmore (Summers, Miranda)

PENALTIES:
17:01  MIC  Madison 4:00 (Elbowing)
19:50  MIC  Cage 2:00 (Interference)


 
SHOTS
------
                   1   2   3   OT   F
Anchorage         18  10  11       39
Michigan          11   6   6       23

 
POWER PLAYS
-----------

Anchorage        1 for 4
Michigan         2 for 6

 
INJURIES
--------

None
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Announcer’s Joke Sparks Fish Incident in Michigan

The Anchorage Igloos have faced a lot of obstacles this season as they’ve attempted to defend their division title.  They’ve struggled to put together lengthy winning streaks.  They’ve lagged far behind their rivals, the Michigan Gray Wolves, in the standings.  Lately, as they’ve tried to nail down a playoff spot, they’ve been hit by a rash of injuries.

On Saturday, the Igloos came in to Cadillac Place to face the Wolves.  They expected a challenging game against their rivals, but they also had to contend with an unexpected challenge: a hail of rotting fish showered down on their bench.

“You figure you’ll have to dodge some tough checks in a game, and maybe a beer sometimes,” said Igloos LW Jerry Koons.  “You’re not really expecting to have to dodge fish.”

Michigan Gray Wolves color commentator Blackie Sprowl.
Blackie Sprowl

The whole thing was triggered by an offhand comment on the Wolves’ radio broadcast during last week’s 13-0 thrashing of Seattle.  In the third period, color commentator Blackie Sprowl was trying to find something to talk about, since the game was completely out of hand.  He wound up launching into a comic monologue about the challenges of the commentator’s life.

“You know, this job is harder than the fans might think,” Sprowl said to play-by-play man Philip Shelton.  “It’s not all free food and fast women, you know.  We got to fly to Anchorage.”

“Yeah, that’s always a tough trip,” said Shelton.

“You go on a 30-hour flight, then you land in this snow-encrusted outpost in the middle of nowhere.  There’s more moose than people, and the whole place smells like rotting fish.  Then you’ve got to take another 30-hour flight back to civilization.  These are the kind of hardships that we put up with for you, fans.”

“Okay, Anchorage isn’t quite that bad,” Shelton interjected.

“Sure it is,” retorted Sprowl.  “Whole place smells like rotten fish.  You know, the next time the Igloos come here, we should put some rotten fish in their dressing room, just so they feel at home.”

“Rotten fish in the dressing room.  Okay,” said Shelton incredulously.  “Sorry, folks, this is what 10-0 does to you.”

“I think it’s great,” said Sprowl.  “They’ll smell those rotten fish and say, ‘Hey, smells like home in here.'”

Ordinarily, that would have been the end of it.  But when Anchorage arrived for Saturday’s game, a group of jokesters showed up with some day-old trout, and during breaks in the action, they began flinging it at the visiting bench.

The first salvo missed the mark, but the second hit Igloos D Ted Keefe flush on the front of his jersey.  The blueliner stared quizzically at the offending fish, then tossed it aside as the fans cheered.  As trout continued to rain down, though, the Igloos’ mood changed from confusion to frustration.  A couple players started checking the fish back at the fans, while others complained to the ushers.  Before long, the section behind the Anchorage bench was chanting “Fish! Fish! Fish!”

Eventually, the PA announcer warned the fans that “anyone throwing fish or other objects at the benches will be ejected.”  The fans booed, but the chucking of sea creatures came to a halt.

The Igloos wound up winning the game, 3-2.  During coach Sam Castor‘s postgame press conference, the first remark out of the coach’s mouth was, “What the hell was with the fish?”  A local reporter explained the story, whereupon Castor rolled his eyes and said, “Listen, my suit costs more than the monthly paycheck of those clowns.  The Wolves can expect a bill from my tailor.”

Igloos C Nile Bernard said that the team took the fish-flinging in stride.  “In fact, we’re packing the fish up and bringing it back home for Petey,” said Bernard, referring to mascot Petey the Polar Bear.  “We’re not going to let that stuff go to waste.”

West Romps to Easy Victory in All-Star Game

Conventional wisdom around the SHL has long held that the West is the stronger of the two divisions.  The West has regularly produced the team with the best record every year, and have generally dominated inter-division play.  The conventional wisdom has been shifting lately, though. The Hershey Bliss won the Vandy in an upset last year.  The Hamilton Pistols are tied for the best record in the league.  And the East has gotten the better end of inter-division play this year, going 40-30-2 so far.  Are we witnessing a changing of the guard?

At the All-Star Game on Sunday night at Cadillac Place in Michigan, The West made a powerful statement that they’re still the division to beat.  They chased Pistols goalie Lasse Koskinen with five goals in the first period, and rolled along from there to a 9-2 rout.  It was a dominant performance that left the fans chanting “West Is Best!” for the last several minutes of the game.

“We’ve been hearing a lot of talk about how the East is catching up, or maybe they’re even the better division,” said Anchorage Igloos C Jake Frost, who scored a goal and had three assists.  “Well, this ought to cool off that talk for a while.”

The fabulous first period was a reflection of the division’s impressive depth, as each goal was scored by a player on a different team.  The game was only 22 seconds old when Dakota Jackalopes C Lars Karlsson went top-shelf to open the scoring.  Just over a minute later, Anchorage’s Jerry Koons redirected a shot from his Igloos teammate Frost to make it 2-0.  Eight minutes into the period, it was D Fritz Kronstein of the Michigan Gray Wolves who blasted a shot from the blue line that dented the twine before Koskinen could get his glove up.  Thirty seconds after that, Seattle Sailors RW Vince Mango took off on a breakaway and slipped a shot between Koskinen’s legs.  Finally, with just under five minutes remaining, Kansas City Smoke LW Pascal Royal fired a slapshot from the faceoff circle that found the back of the next, making it 5-0.

Koskinen, who was expected to play the first two periods, was yanked after the first.  After the game, Koskinen hinted that he might have partied a bit too hard before the game.  “My first All-Star Game,” said the Hamilton netminder.  “Lots of parties, lots of fun.  Maybe too much fun for me.”

The competitive portion of the game was essentially over after the opening period, and the East did what it could to salvage a few shreds of dignity.  Hershey Bliss RW Christopher Hart finally broke the shutout 5:43 into the second period, stuffing home a rebound past Michigan goalie Dirk “The Bear” Lundquist.  Lundquist made 36 saves over the first two periods, before leaving to a standing ovation.  Igloos netminder Ty Worthington turned aside 12 shots in the third, although Quebec Tigres D Laurie Workman managed to put one shot past him.

“I got to start The Bear and send in Ty for belief,” said West coach Sam Castor.  “Talk about a dynamic duo.”

There were a number of Western players who were deserving of MVP honors, but in the end the award went to Koons, the only player to score multiple goals in the game.  In addition to the award, Koons received a brand new Kia Stinger sports sedan.

“Picking the MVP from this game is like picking the best noodle of a spaghetti dinner,” said Koons.  “But hey, I got this cool car of it, so I’ll take it!”

Also during the game, the SHL announced the winner of its “For the Love of Hockey” fan video contest.  The winner was 27-year-old Sarah Fennelly of Anchorage.  Sarah’s video featured pictures or herself, her father, and her grandfather, all of whom grew up playing pond hockey in Alaska.  She then included footage of the three of them at an Igloos game, cheering on the home team.  “Hockey is our heritage and our common language,” Sarah said.  “We’re so different in so many ways, but hockey brings us together.”  All three generations of the Fenelly family were in attendance at the All-Star Game, and they received warm applause from the crowd.

“My grandfather hasn’t been in great health lately, and we weren’t sure if he would be able to come,” Sarah said.  “But he insisted.  He never misses a hockey game.”

 

2018 SHL All-Star Game, East All-Stars @ West All-Stars, Cadillac Place

                   1   2   3   OT   F
East All-Stars     0   1   1        2
West All-Stars     5   2   2        9

 
East All-Stars         G   A PTS PIM +/-   West All-Stars         G   A PTS PIM +/-

Thurman         LW     0   0   0   0  -2   Koons           LW     2   0   2   0   2
Milton          D      0   0   0   0  -4   Kronstein       D      1   3   4   0   4
Frye            C      0   0   0   0  -2   Frost           C      1   3   4   0   2
Sanchez         D      0   0   0   2  -4   Madison         D      0   3   3   0   4
McNeely         RW     0   0   0   0  -2   Mango           RW     1   1   2   0   2
Alexander       LW     0   1   1   0  -2   Chamberlain     LW     0   0   0   0   2
Smyth           D      0   0   0   0  -2   Barnes          D      0   4   4   0   2
Valentine       C      0   1   1   0  -2   Karlsson        C      1   0   1   0   2
Buchanan        D      0   0   0   0  -2   Keefe           D      0   0   0   0   2
Hart            RW     1   0   1   0  -2   Ericsson        RW     1   2   3   0   2
Darnholm        LW     0   1   1   0  -1   Royal           LW     1   1   2   0   1
Workman         D      1   0   1   2   1   Cherner         D      0   0   0   0  -1
Ilyushin        C      0   0   0   0  -1   Marlow          C      0   0   0   0   1
Mulligan        D      0   1   1   0   1   Frederick       D      0   0   0   0  -1
Mirac           RW     0   0   0   0  -1   Pepper          RW     1   1   2   2   1
----------------------------------------   ----------------------------------------
TOTALS                 2   4   6   4  -5   TOTALS                 9  18  27   2   5

Scratches:
EAS: None 
WAS: None 

 
East All-Stars      SH    SV    G    Sv%
----------------------------------------
Koskinen            20    15    5  0.750
Tiktuunen           27    23    4  0.852

West All-Stars      SH    SV    G    Sv%
----------------------------------------
Lundquist           37    36    1  0.973
Worthington         13    12    1  0.923

 

First Period
------------

GOALS:
00:22  WAS  Karlsson (Ericsson, Kronstein)
01:34  WAS  Koons (Frost, Madison)
07:58  WAS  Kronstein (Madison, Ericsson)
08:33  WAS  Mango (Barnes, Frost)
15:03  WAS  Royal (Pepper, Barnes)

PENALTIES:
03:07  WAS  Pepper 2:00 (Elbowing)

Second Period
-------------

GOALS:
01:44  WAS  Frost PP (Mango, Kronstein)
05:43  EAS  Hart (Alexander, Valentine)
17:29  WAS  Pepper (Barnes, Royal)

PENALTIES:
00:33  EAS  Workman 2:00 (Interference)


Third Period
------------

GOALS:
02:53  WAS  Koons PP (Frost, Barnes)
04:30  EAS  Workman (Mulligan, Darnholm)
05:01  WAS  Ericsson (Kronstein, Madison)

PENALTIES:
01:09  EAS  Sanchez 2:00 (Delay of Game)


 
SHOTS
------
                   1   2   3   OT   F
East All-Stars    25  12  13       50
West All-Stars    20  12  15       47

 
POWER PLAYS
-----------

East All-Stars   0 for 1
West All-Stars   2 for 2

 
INJURIES
--------

None

2018 Western All-Star Roster

The roster for the Western Division in the 2018 SHL All-Star Game, which will be held at Michigan’s Cadillac Place, was announced today by coach Sam Castor.  The selections were as follows:

First Line

LW: Jerry Koons, AnchorageIt’s the second straight All-Star appearance for the Igloos winger, but it’s his first time being voted into the starting lineup.  In a reverse of last year’s results, Koons was voted in over Dakota’s “Flyin’ Ryan” Airston.  He had a breakout season in 2017, scoring 44 goals and 90 points and winning the MVP award.  He hasn’t been on that same pace this season, but he’s off to a solid point; his 35 points put him in the top 10 in the league.

D: Fritz Kronstein, MichiganThe Wolves remain the top defensive squad in the SHL, and their top defensive pairing was rewarded with their second straight starting appearance.  This season, Kronstein was the top-vote getter among all defensemen, a recognition of his emergence as a two-way force.  He leads the Wolves with 28 points (12 goals, 16 assists), and he is the leader among all blueliners in the league in plus-minus with a +24 rating.

C: Jake Frost, Anchorage.  For the second straight season, Frost was the runaway winner of the starting center spot for the West, garnering almost 60% of the votes at the position.  The tall center has been one of the SHL’s top scorers since his debut, and this season is no exception; his 22 goals are the fourth-highest total in the SHL.  “Having Koonsy and Frosty out there on the top line, that makes you feel good as a coach,” said Castor.  “With the kind of year we’re having, I wasn’t taking that for granted.”

D: “Mad Max” Madison, Michigan.  It wasn’t clear whether Madison was going to be able to make the game, as he has missed the last three weeks with a lower-body injury.  But he has declared that he’s “feeling great and ready to go,” and plans to make his return to the ice in front of his home crowd.  Madison’s numbers have taken a hit due to his injury, but he was off to a solid start before getting hurt, putting up 3 goals and 7 assists in the first 15 games of the season.

RW: Vince Mango, Seattle.  The Sailors sniper has proven to be a polarizing figure around the league, as his theatrical goal celebrations and loquaciousness with the press rub some traditionalist fans the wrong way.  But he’s attracted enough fans to squeak out a narrow victory in fan voting, garnering a few thousand more votes than Michigan’s Gordon Lunsford and Anchorage’s Nicklas Ericsson.  Mango is known for his scoring, and he has 16 tallies on the season, which places him among the Top 10 in the league.  Mango described the results as a “changing of the guard.”

 

Second Line

LW: Troy Chamberlain, SaskatchewanThe Shockers winger makes his second straight All-Star appearance.  Chamberlain continues to be the driving force behind Saskatchewan’s offense, leading the team in both goals (with 13) and points (29).  But he’s also not just a force on offense; he’s known around the league as a diligent and capable two-way player.  Although the Shockers have slipped back in the playoff race recently, Chamberlain’s play has been a key to their push to contend.

D: Wyatt Barnes, Saskatchewan. For the second season in a row, Chamberlain and Barnes represent the Shockers’ only All-Star representatives.  Barnes continues to emerge as one of the SHL’s top blueline talents.  His 21 assists are the most among Saskatchewan players, and he’s also managed to light the lamp four times.  In addition, he’s a rugged and hard-hitting defender who’s been nicknamed “Stonewall” by his teammates due to his ability to deny opposing skaters entry into the offensive zone.  He’s even in plus-minus rating this season, one of only three Saskatchewan players not in the negative.

C: Lars Karlsson, Dakota.  Karlsson is one of two Jackalopes players appearing in this year’s All-Star Game, although it’s hard to know how much longer he will remain in a Dakota uniform.  Karlsson’s contract is up at the end of the season, and he figures to be one of the most sought-after rentals, as the rebuilding ‘Lopes seem unlikely to resign him.  The veteran center has done a good job blocking out the distractions and is putting up a fine season, leading the team in both goals (15) and points (31).

D: Ted Keefe, Anchorage. The top two defensive pairings for the West look the same this year as last, as Castor turned to his veteran puck-moving stalwart to fill out the second pair.  Keefe turns 33 this season, but is playing like a man a decade younger.  He’s got the best offensive numbers among the Igloos’ defensive corps, with 8 goals and 19 assists on the season.  He’s a hard-checking defenseman who likes to scrap, and he’s one of the league’s best at steals and forcing turnovers as well.

RW: Nicklas Ericsson, Anchorage. As mentioned above, Ericsson narrowly missed being voted into a starting slot on the Western squad, and Castor had no hesitation about picking his own player to complete the second line. Despite having what for him is a bit of a down season (7 goals, 20 assists), Ericsson continues to be regarded as one of the league’s elite passers.  “He could fit a puck through the eye of a needle if he had to,” said Castor.

 

Third Line

LW: Pascal Royal, Kansas CityThe SHL requires that every team be represented on the All-Star teams, and Royal is the Smoke’s lone representative.  The 27-year-old winger has had something of a career resurgence in KC, and he leads the team in points (31) and assists (19).  The All-Star Game is something of a showcase for Royal, who seems a likely possibility to be moved at the trading deadline.

D: Matt Cherner, Dakota.  Cherner makes his first-ever All-Star appearance.  Like his Jackalopes teammate Karlsson, he’s likely to attract attention from teams around the trading deadline, although given that his contract doesn’t expire until 2020, he’s less likely to be moved.  Cherner is one of the league’s best offensive-minded defensemen, and he’s putting up a strong season, scoring 7 goals and 23 assists to date.

CWarren Marlow, Michigan. Marlow was not originally chosen as an All-Star last season, but he wound up going as a replacement after teammate Hunter Bailes suffered an injury in the days before the game.  He is the only Wolves player selected by Castor… a fact that hasn’t gone unnoticed at Cadillac Place. Marlow has actually recorded more points than Bailes so far this season (27 to 26), although Bailes has scored more goals (18 to 13).  He also has the unusual distinction of being one of four regular starters in the SHL who has yet to record a penalty this season.

D: Dave Frederick, Anchorage. In a selection considered debatable by some, Castor tabbed the 31-year-old Frederick to make his All-Star debut in the West’s bottom pairing.  Wolves fans argued for the selection of Brooks Zabielski or Frank Mudrick over Frederick, while Sailors supporters protested that Doron Lidjya was unfairly snubbed.  In fairness to Frederick, he has some points in his favor: he’s second among Western defenders in plus-minus at +19, and he’s produced on offense, putting up 4 goals and 11 assists so far this season.

RW: Elliott Pepper, Seattle. The Sailors get their second representative in Pepper, who’s making his first All-Star appearance.  The winger got off to a strong start that earned him Player of the Week honors in the season’s first week.  He’s cooled off some since, but he remains one of the league’s better offensive performers, with 16 goals (tied with fellow All-Star Mango for the Seattle team lead) and 13 assists so far on the year.

 

Goaltenders

Dirk “The Bear” Lundquist, Michigan.  Although the SHL’s best-bearded goalie isn’t quite as dominant this season as he has been in years past, he still won the starting nod handily, according to the fan vote.  Lundquist’s numbers are certainly nothing to sneeze at, either: his 18 wins are tied for the league lead, while his 1.91 GAA is second-best and his .926 save percentage is good for third overall.

Ty Worthington, Anchorage. The Igloos netminder will be the Western backup once again this time around. Although Worthington got off to something of a slow start this season, he’s rebounded nicely in recent weeks, helping Anchorage firm up their hold on second place in the West.  Overall, his numbers remain quite respectable: 13-11-0, 2.41 GAA, .923 save percentage  — good enough to get the nod over Saskatchewan’s Zeke Zagurski.

Igloos Coach Calls Out Team During Skid

The Anchorage Igloos had a brilliant run in 2017, seizing the division lead midway through the season and never looking back on the way to the Western title.  But the Igloos suffered a stunning loss in the Finals to the Hershey Bliss, and they haven’t looked the same since.  After slogging through an uninspired preseason, Anchorage has continued to underwhelm during the regular season.  Over the last couple week, the Igloos’ play has taken a turn for the worse, to the point that coach Sam Castor took the rare step of publicly criticizing his team this week.

The Igloos are currently on a swing through the East, a trip that got off to a rough start.   They opened their trip with back-to-back one-goal losses against the Bliss and Boston Badgers, the worst teams in the league.  The next night, the Igloos put up a listless effort against the Hamilton Pistols, getting drilled 4-1.  It was Anchorage’s fourth straight loss and the seventh in their last nine games.  After the game, Castor stepped to the podium and roasted his team’s lack of effort.

Sam Castor

“Look, I understand that the loss in the Finals was a blow,” said Castor.  “It knocked us off our stride.  But at some point we’ve got to put it behind us and move on.  We haven’t looked like ourselves this season.  We’re going through the motions.  It feels like we’re taking the playoffs for granted.  But if we keep playing this way, we might not even make the playoffs.”

Castor specifically criticized the team’s top line of LW Jerry Koons, C Jake Frost, and RW Nicklas Ericsson.  “We rely on Koonsy, Frosty, and Nick to drive our offense,” the coach said.  “This season, the feel hasn’t been there, the spark hasn’t been there.  Our lower lines are doing their job, but the top line needs to take on more of the load.”

The coach also dinged his team’s play in its own end.  “We’ve been sloppy and careless on defense,” said Castor.  “It’s the little things, a sloppy pass to set up an easy chance, a missed check there, shying away from wall work, not clearing the dirty areas in front of the net.  W’re giving up too many high-quality chances, and we’re getting burned.”

He concluded by saying, “The whole division is a traffic jam right now, except for Michigan.  That’s a good thing for us, because it’s keeping us in the race.  If the Shockers or Sailors go on a run, we could find ourselves in a hole quick.  We’ve got time to pull it together, but probably not a lot of time.”

The Igloos largely agreed with Castor’s assessment.  “We could all be doing better right now, starting with myself,” said Frost.  “We’re too talented to be limping along the way we are.  We can do better, and we need to start doing better.”  Koons added, “It’s time for us to look in the mirror.  We need to take the intensity level up a notch and get on a winning streak.”

Anchorage looked good in their next game, thrashing the New York Night 7-1 on Friday.  But the Igloos closed out the week still below the .500 mark, tied with Saskatchewan for second place.  “It’s a good win for us,” said Castor, “but one win doesn’t fix everything.  We need to see this kind of performance night in and night out.”

Might Castor have spoken up because he’s starting to feel the heat?  Despite the fact that he’s taken the Igloos to two Finals in three seasons and won the Vandy in 2015, some irate fans have been calling for the coach’s head.  GM Will Thorndike shot down any rumors, though.  “Sam’s not going anywhere,” Thorndike told reporters.  “He’s a big reason why we’ve been as successful as we have.  This is a bump in the road; it will pass.”

SHL Issues Year-End Awards

Starlight Hockey LeagueAt the SHL’s second annual awards banquet, SHL Commissioner Perry Mitchell handed out the trophies that recognized the league’s best players and coaches.  “The fierce competition for these awards shows just how strong our league is,” said Commissioner Mitchell.  These awards were voted on by SHL players, coaches, and media.

The 2017 award winners are as follows:

Most Valuable Player: LW Jerry Koons, Anchorage Igloos

Koons had a breakout season, scoring 44 goals and 90 points along with a +56 rating, and played a key role in the Igloos’ charge to the best record in the SHL.  He finished with the third-most goals in the league, behind teammate Jake Frost and Hamilton’s Steven Alexander.

“Jerry’s emergence this season gave us a valuable extra weapon,” said Anchorage coach Sam Castor.  “Opposing defenses couldn’t overload on Frosty, because then Jerry would burn them big-time.  He makes us a more balanced and more dangerous team.”

Other finalists for the MVP honor included fellow Igloos G Ty Worthington, Hershey C Justin Valentine, and Hamilton C Calvin Frye.


Rookie of the Year: 
LW Rod “Money” Argent, Seattle Sailors

The freshman class in the SHL wasn’t quite as strong this season as it had been the previous year, but there were a number of strong contenders for the award.  Argent was a surprise choice by the Sailors as the #1 pick in the draft, and he rewarded them with an impressive rookie campaign, leading the league in points among first-year players with 49, and tying Saskatchewan’s Elliott Rafferty for the most goals with 23.

“I understand where he got the nickname Money, because his shot is money in the bank,” said Sailors RW Vince Mango.  “His shot is like a laser, and he can thread it through traffic and find the tiniest cracks to slip the puck into the net.  He’s strong in the defensive end, too, unlike me.  He’s the total package.”

Argent narrowly beat out Hamilton G Lasse Koskinen to claim the honor.  Others who received votes included Rafferty, New York G Sherman Carter, and Anchorage D Tony Citrone.

 

Coach of the Year: Sam Castor, Anchorage Igloos

Castor was recognized for steering the Igloos to a league-best 42-12-6 mark, outlasting Michigan in a brutal Western race and claiming the division.  One testament to Castor’s brilliance was the fact that Anchorage was one of two teams with a better road record than home record.  Their 22-5-3 performance on the road was all the more impressive given that the Igloos’ road trips are much longer than any other team in the league.

“We’ve got a ton of talent on this team, but Coach Castor really knows how to get the most out of us,” said Frost, the Igloos star.  “He knows when to push us, when to lay back and trust us, when to find a way to take the pressure off.  He’s really great at figuring out situations for everybody to shine.  He knows just the right buttons to push to get us all performing at our best.”

Castor received the nod over Hershey’s “Chocolate Chip” Barber and Hamilton’s Keith Shields.

 

Sharp Shooter Award: C Jake Frost, Anchorage Igloos

The Sharp Shooter Award is one of two honors that is not awarded as the result of the vote.  Instead, it is given to the player who finished with the highest goal total.  This season, the winner was Frost, who finished with two more goals than runner-up Steven Alexander of Hamilton.  Frost sat out a game in the last week of the season after the Igloos clinched the division, possibly costing him a shot at 50 goals.

“It’s kind of a bittersweet feeling,” said Frost.  “I’m glad I had a strong season, absolutely.  But it feels a little empty because we weren’t able to bring the Vandy home.  We accomplished so much this year, but we couldn’t capture the ultimate prize.  It’s great that our team is winning so many awards, but we didn’t get the one that really counts.  That’s going to fuel us big time next season.”


Commissioner’s Trophy: 
LW Jerry Koons, Anchorage Igloos

Like the Sharp Shooter Award, the Commissioner’s Trophy isn’t awarded based on a vote. Rather, it goes to the player who finishes with the highest season point total.  Koons’ breakout offensive year allowed him to capture the point title.  With 90 points (44 goals, 46 assists), Koons finished a point ahead of teammate Nicklas Ericsson and three ahead of Frye.  He is the first player to win multiple individual awards in the same season, having also captured the MVP.

“I think we’re really set up well for the long run,” said Koons.  “We’ve got me and Frosty and Nicky, some quality young guys coming up like Collie [Les Collins] and Humps [Derek Humplik], plus excellent defense and a great goalie in Ty [Worthington].  We’re a strong team from top to bottom.  Yeah, it stings that we lost in the end this year, but I think we’ll be competing for titles a long time.”


Goalie of the Year: 
Dirk Lundquist, Michigan Gray Wolves

Lundquist becomes the first-ever repeat award winner; as the league’s unquestioned top netminder, it’s a well-deserved honor.  “The Bear” performed up to his usual standards again this year, going 32-13-4 with a 1.39 GAA and a .952 save percentage.

Unlike last season, though, Lundquist didn’t win the award unanimously; Anchorage’s Worthington (31-6-4, 1.78 GAA, .942 sv%) received a number of votes, and Quebec’s Riki Tiktuunen (17-14-7, 1.88, .941) received consideration as well.

“I think it’s a good thing for the league that there are other goalies who can challenge for the award,” said Lundquist.  “If I’m just racking up the award automatically every year, that’s not good for me or the SHL.  We’ve got some young pups coming along who are going to be able to push me, and they might even surpass me sometime.  That’s exciting.”

Defenseman of the Year: Max Madison, Michigan Gray Wolves

Although the Wolves missed the playoffs this year, they did managed to nab a pair of awards, one for Lundquist and one for Madison.  The man known as “Mad Max” is a throwback blueliner in a lot of ways.  He’s one of the fiercest and hardest-hitting defensemen in the league; his 101 penalty minutes was second in the league only to Hershey’s Ruslan Gromov.  “Max will drop gloves if you so much as look at him cross-eyed,” said Wolves coach Ron Wright.  “He’s an old-school guy, and I love him for it.”

But Madison isn’t just a one-dimensional thug.  He’s also a capable passer and scorer; this season, he turned in 10 goals and 34 points this season, while recording a +30 rating.  “In today’s game, there’s no room for guys who can’t do anything but fight,” said Wright.  “The game’s become too skilled and fast for that.  But if you have a blueliner who can contribute on offense and makes some noise, but knows how to put a hurting on a guy too, that’s a player who’s worth his weight in gold.  Max is that player.”

To win the award, Madison beat out Hershey’s Reese Milton, Anchorage’s Ted Keefe, Dakota’s Matt Cherner, and fellow Wolf Fritz Kronstein.

 

2017 SHL Finals – Game 7

HERSHEY BLISS 4, ANCHORAGE IGLOOS 3 (OVERTIME)

Coming into today’s winner-take-all Game 7, Hershey Bliss coach Chip Barber was honest about the challenge his team faced.  “It’s a heck of an assignment, that’s for sure,” said Barber.  “One game for all the marbles, on enemy ice, and we’re missing our top scorer,” Barber told reporters.  “How’s it going to come out?  I don’t know.  What I do know is that every man in here is going to give everything he has to win it.  We’re not holding anything back, because there is no tomorrow.”

In order to dramatize the stakes of the game, Barber placed a bag of marbles in every locker in the visiting locker room.  “This is it, we’re playing for all the marbles,” the coach told his players.  “And I know you’re all ready to go all in for the victory.”  One by one, each player stepped to the center of the room and tossed their marbles into a big bucket with the Bliss logo on it.

Next, injured captain Justin Valentine stepped up.  “I’m not going to be able to win it for us out there today,” Valentine said.  “So I need you guys to go out there and win it for me.  I’ve got total faith in everybody on this team.  I know you’ve got what it takes to win this one.  Let’s do it!”  Valentine then pulled out his iPhone and cued up the ’90s pop song “Tubthumping” by Chumbawumba, with its inspiring refrain “I get knocked down, but I get up again/You’re never gonna keep me down.”

“Maybe it was a little hokey,” admitted the captain, “but it put us in the right mood for the game.”

It definitely seems to have worked, as Hershey managed to eke out a 4-3 win in overtime to stun the Anchorage Igloos and win their first Vandy.

“We’ve been counted out so many times,” said Bliss LW Lance Sweet.  “But nobody in here ever gave up, nobody ever lost hope.  We believed in ourselves, and that carried us through.”

Hershey certainly could have lost hope after the first period, when the Igloos scored twice.  LW Les Collins got Anchorage on the board 10:31 into the game with a shot from the half-wall that snuck in under Bliss goalie Brandon Colt‘s armpit.  Then with 30 seconds left in the period, the Igloos got set up in Hershey’s end, and LW Jerry Koons deflected a shot past Colt to make it 2-0.  The crowd at Arctic Circle Arena roared its approval, thinking the game was in the bag.

“That was a real gut-check moment for us,” said C Henry Constantine.  “We knew we were about to let it slip out of our grasp.”

But Anchorage switched to a defensive, trapping style in the second period and they succeeded in slowing the game down and frustrating Hershey’s attempts to generate offensive momentum.  As the minutes ticked away, Anchorage’s two-goal lead loomed larger and larger.  The Bliss needed a hero.  True to the tenor of this series, help came from an unexpected source.

When Hershey acquired LW Vonnie McLearen at the deadline, they hoped he would give them the offensive jolt they needed to take the division title.  The deal didn’t quite work out as expected; McLearen struggled to mesh with his new teammates and managed only 2 goals and 10 points in 21 games with the Bliss.  He was a non-factor through the first six games of the Finals, failing to record a point and skating anonymously on a third line that achieved virtually nothing in its limited ice time.

But when the Bliss needed a spark in today’s game, it was McLearen who provided it, scoring a pair of goals in the span or 80 seconds to tie the game and stun the Anchorage crowd.  When three and a half minutes left in the second period, Hershey finally achieved sustained ice time in the offensive zone.  After failing to find a good look at the net in several tries, D Ruslan Gromov fired a hard slapper well wide of the net.  But McLearen shook free of his defender and deflected the puck past Igloos goalie Riley Lattimore.  Hershey was on the board at last.

But McLearen wasn’t finished.  Just over a minute later, the Bliss managed to break the Anchorage press, springing McLearen on an odd-man rush with linemates Sven Danielsen and Lee Fleming.  Danielsen headed for the net, faked a hard slapshot, then flipped the puck back to McLearen, who found the upper left corner of the net to make it 2-2.

“Just like that, it was like somebody pulled the plug on the crowd,” said Constantine.

Early in the third period, a visibly frustrated Igloos team committed three straight penalties, putting themselves on the defensive for the first several minutes, including a 5-on-3 situation for over a minute.  Anchorage managed to surivive the two-man deficit, but were still on the penalty kill when the Bliss took their first lead of the game.  D Nikolai Kulkarov, on a feed from – who else? – McLearen, fired a shot from the blue line that beat a screened Lattimore.

Igloos coach Sam Castor was sharply critical of his team’s play during the opening minutes of the third period.  “That was the only time in the series when we really fell down,” said Castor.  “We let the game get into our heads, and we played dumb hockey.  That isn’t like us, and it cost us.”

Kulkarov’s goal seemed to snap the Igloos out of their funk.  On the ensuing faceoff, Bliss D Pierre Chappelle took a double-minor for spearing Collins, and Anchorage cashed in on the power play.  C Derek Humplik tied it up with a laser from the top of the right faceoff circle.  The score brought the crowd back to life, and seemed to spur both teams on.  The second half of the third period was intense, as both teams went flat-out, setting up golden chances and making amazing stops.  Kulkarov fired up his team with a series of shot blocks that left him visibly pained but kept the Igloos from scoring the go-ahead goal.  On the other end, Lattimore made several brilliant stops, earning a round of stick taps from his teammates.

After 60 minutes, the game remained tied.  Sudden-death overtime is one of the most nerve-wracking experiences in sports, and when it occurs in a deciding game, the tension ratchets even higher.  Both squads were running on fumes and adrenaline in the extra session.  “I think we were all dead on our skates at that point,” said Sweet.  “The only thing that kept us going was the stakes of the game.”

Perhaps fortunately for both sides, overtime didn’t last long.  Just over three minutes in, RW Tyler Cloude turned the puck over in the offensive end.  Danielsen corraled it and flung a head man pass to Fleming, who found McLearen on a breakaway.  The winger streaked toward the Anchorage net, deked a shot toward the right post, then slid it under a sprawling Lattimore for the winning goal.  McLearen celebrated his hat trick by collapsing to the ice and sliding into the boards, before bouncing up and into the arms of his teammates.

“It was a real mountaintop moment,” said Sweet.  “It’s the highest I’ve ever been in my life.”

Before the Bliss retired to the locker to spray each other with champagne and chocolate syrup, they shook hands with the Igloos and then received the Vandy from Commissioner Perry Mitchell.  The commissioner called Hershey the “never-say-die team” and added, “You showed the skeptics just what an incredible team you are, and you proved that you have the heart of a champion.”

There was no question who would get to take the ceremonial first lap with the trophy.  Valentine took his time skating around the ice, both to avoid aggravating his injured leg and to soak in the moment as long as he could.

“We went through a lot to get here,” said the captain as tears rolled down his cheek.  “Finally, we made it!”

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