2019 SHL Division Playoff -Game 2

Eastern Division Series (Series tied, 1-1)

HAMILTON PISTOLS 8, HERSHEY BLISS 4

The Hamilton Pistols live by the credo best expressed by D Hercules Mulligan: “If you knock me down, I get the [heck] back up again.”  After the Hershey Bliss knocked the Pistols down by winning Game 1 of their playoff series and taking a two-goal lead in Game 2, the boys in red and black got back up and started swinging back hard.  They rallied to take the lead, then applied the knockout blow with a five-goal third period to seal an 8-4 win, evening up the series at a game apiece.

“When we say we’re young, scrappy, and hungry, this is what we’re talking about,” said Pistols LW Steven Alexander, who scored a hat trick in this game.  “We’ve got a great chance to win the Vandy, and we are not throwing away our shot.”

Just over six minutes into today’s game, it looked like the Bliss were well on their way to taking a 2-0 series lead, thanks to goals by LWs Russ Nahorniak and Gabriel Swindonburg.  But Alexander struck back just 12 seconds after Swindonburg’s goal, blasting a slapshot through Hershey netminder Brandon Colt.

Hamilton swung the momentum in their direction in the second period.  Five minutes into the stanza, LW Magnus Gunnarson finished a breakaway by going five-hole on Colt to tie the game.  Four minutes later, D Raymond Smyth picked off a lazy pass by Hershey D Cedric Meloche and fed it to RW Claude Lafayette, who beat Colt on the glove side to give the Pistols a lead that they wouldn’t relinquish.

It was the third, though, that turned the game into a rout.  Alexander scored his second goal 20 seconds into the period.  Five minutes later, C Calvin Frye deflected one into the back of the net to make it 5-2.  A frustrated Bliss D Joel Baldwin took a holding-the-stick penalty shortly after that, and LW Jamie Campbell scored on the power play that followed.  The teams traded goals a couple times after that, but the win was assured.

Alexander angered the Bliss by completing his hat trick on a power play with 13 seconds left to go and Hamilton up by three.  The closing seconds of the game turned into a scrum, and Hershey’s players said they would remember the disrespect.  “Him spiking the football like that, it didn’t sit well with us,” said D Reese Milton.  “I’d expect there will be more coming.”

After being rocked for all eight goals, some observers called for Colt to be benched for Game 3 in favor of backup Oliver Richardson.  Bliss coach Chip Barber said that he planned to stick with his starter.  “Brandon’s the one who got us here,” said Barber.  “And I’m not going to panic over one game.  We’re looking past it, and we’re focused on the next one.”

But with the series shifting north of the border, have the Pistols seized the momentum for good?  Coach Keith Shields thinks it’s possible.  “My guys were all the way awake in this one,” said Shields.  “If we keep playing like this, I don’t see who’s going to stop us.”

 

E Final - Game 2, Hamilton @ Hershey, Chocolate Center

                   1   2   3   OT   F
Hamilton           1   2   5        8
Hershey            2   0   2        4

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

Alexander       LW     3   1   4   0   4   Milton          D      0   3   3   0   1
Smyth           D      0   4   4   0   5   Valentine       C      1   1   2   0  -4
Frye            C      2   3   5   0   4   Baldwin         D      0   0   0   2   0
Risch           D      0   0   0   4  -1   Hart            RW     1   2   3   0  -4
Lafayette       RW     1   2   3   0   4   Nahorniak       LW     1   0   1   0  -4
Gunnarson       LW     1   0   1   0   1   Meloche         D      0   0   0   4  -5
Mulligan        D      0   0   0   0  -1   Kirkpatrick     C      0   1   1   0   1
Glasco          D      0   1   1   2   5   Montrechere     RW     0   0   0   0  -1
Patterson       RW     0   0   0   0  -1   Danielsen       LW     0   0   0   2  -1
Campbell        LW     1   0   1   0  -1   Aubin           D      0   0   0   0  -5
Dyomin          D      0   0   0   0   0   Kulkarov        D      0   0   0   0   0
Marais          C      0   1   1   2   1   Daniels         RW     0   0   0   2   1
Hampton         D      0   0   0   2   0   Ketterman       C      0   0   0   0  -1
Estabrook       F      0   0   0   0   1   Swindonburg     LW     1   0   1   2   1
Costello        C      0   1   1   0  -1   Cargill         D      0   0   0   0   1
----------------------------------------   ----------------------------------------
TOTALS                 8  13  21  10   4   TOTALS                 4   7  11  12  -4

Scratches:
HAM:  Constantine, Baker (DL), Klemmer
HSY:  Minnik, Chappelle, Lapointe, Sweet (DL)

 
Hamilton            SH    SV    G    Sv%
----------------------------------------
Koskinen            39    35    4  0.897

Hershey             SH    SV    G    Sv%
----------------------------------------
Colt                44    36    8  0.818

 

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

GOALS:
02:16  HSY  Nahorniak PP (Hart, Milton)
06:14  HSY  Swindonburg (Kirkpatrick)
06:26  HAM  Alexander (Frye)

PENALTIES:
00:27  HAM  Glasco 2:00 (Elbowing)
07:58  HSY  Daniels 2:00 (Cross-checking)

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

GOALS:
05:03  HAM  Gunnarson (Glasco, Marais)
09:20  HAM  Lafayette (Smyth)

PENALTIES:
01:10  HSY  Meloche 2:00 (High-sticking)
09:52  HAM  Risch 2:00 (Unsportsmanlike Conduct)

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

GOALS:
00:20  HAM  Alexander (Frye, Smyth)
05:19  HAM  Frye (Lafayette)
07:00  HAM  Campbell PP (Costello, Smyth)
07:16  HSY  Valentine (Milton, Hart)
10:59  HAM  Frye (Alexander, Smyth)
15:50  HSY  Hart PP (Milton, Valentine)
19:47  HAM  Alexander PP (Lafayette, Frye)

PENALTIES:
05:39  HSY  Baldwin 2:00 (Holding the Stick)
13:02  HSY  Swindonburg 2:00 (Cross-checking)
13:17  HAM  Marais 2:00 (Unsportsmanlike Conduct)
14:11  HAM  Hampton 2:00 (Tripping)
17:07  HSY  Meloche 2:00 (Slashing)
18:06  HSY  Danielsen 2:00 (Cross-checking)
19:55  HAM  Risch 2:00 (High-sticking)


 
SHOTS
------
                   1   2   3   OT   F
Hamilton          14  11  19       44
Hershey           18  10  11       39

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

Hamilton         2 for 6
Hershey          2 for 5

 
INJURIES
--------

None

 

Western Division Series (Anchorage leads, 2-0)

ANCHORAGE IGLOOS 5, SEATTLE SAILORS 1

The Seattle Sailors’ first-ever trip to the playoffs is threatening to be a short one.  The Sailors had no answer for the Anchorage Igloos – C Jake Frost and G Ty Worthington in particular – and they never recovered from another early deficit on the way to a 5-1 Game 2 defeat that left them one loss away from elimination.

“We’ve got to dig deep and find another level,” said Sailors LW Rod Argent, “or we’re going to die quick and quiet.”

The game unfolded at the fast pace that both the Sailors and Igloos prefer.  But Worthington was up to the challenge – making 37 saves – while Seattle’s Rocky Goldmire was not.

Anchorage coach Sam Castor lavished praise on his netminder.  “Ty always answers the bell, doesn’t he?” Castor marveled.  “When the spotlight is on and we need a big game, no one in this league does it better.  Nothing rattles him.  He makes our whole team better.”

As in Game 1, the first period set the tone for the game.  LW Waldo Miranda put the Igloos on the board when the game was less than two minutes old, potting a juicy rebound that Goldmire couldn’t control.  Sailors D Doron Lidjya evened it just before the midway point of the period, but then Frost took over.

When Seattle D Benny Lambert went to the box for cross-checking a minute and a half after Lidjya’s tally, Frost made the Sailors pay with a shot that ticked off of Goldmire’s glove and went in.  Then with less than two minutes left in the period, Frost got behind the Sailors defense and beat a helpless Goldmire to make it 3-1.

Frost made it a hat trick less than five minutes into the second, firing up the crowd and deflating the Sailors.  “After Frosty scored, I looked up and down [the Sailors’] bench, and their shoulders just sagged,” said LW Jerry Koons.  “They were beat already.”

Koons finished the scoring early in the third with a redirect of a Nicklas Ericsson slapper that found the roof of the net.  For much of the rest of the game, the crowd amused itself by serenading the dispirited Sailors with repeated choruses of “Na-Na Hey-Hey Kiss Him Goodbye.”

Seattle coach Harold Engellund predicted that his team would be rejuvenated for Game 3 as the series shifted to Century 21 Arena.  “Playing in front of our home fans, it should put a little pep in our step,” said Engellund.  “It’ll have to, or we’re going to be done.”

 

W Final - Game 2, Seattle @ Anchorage, Arctic Circle Arena

                   1   2   3   OT   F
Seattle            1   0   0        1
Anchorage          3   1   1        5

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

Argent          LW     0   1   1   2  -2   Koons           LW     1   1   2   0   2
Lambert         D      0   0   0   2   1   Keefe           D      0   0   0   0  -1
Beasley         C      0   1   1   0  -2   Frost           C      3   0   3   0   2
Lidjya          D      1   0   1   0   1   Martinsson      D      0   0   0   4  -1
Mango           RW     0   0   0   0  -2   Ericsson        RW     0   4   4   2   2
Lane            LW     0   0   0   0  -1   Collins         LW     0   0   0   0   0
Mortensen       D      0   0   0   0  -3   Bernard         C      0   0   0   0   0
Derringer       C      0   0   0   0   0   Frederick       D      0   1   1   2   3
Gatecliff       D      0   0   0   0  -1   Summers         RW     0   0   0   2   0
Pepper          RW     0   0   0   0   0   Miranda         LW     1   0   1   0   1
Gaspard         LW     0   0   0   0   0   Citrone         D      0   1   1   4   1
Venezio         C      0   0   0   0  -1   Theroux         C      0   1   1   0   1
Snelling        D      0   0   0   0  -1   Calligan        D      0   0   0   0   1
Durien          RW     0   0   0   0  -1   Fleury          RW     0   0   0   0   1
Gallagher       D      0   0   0   0  -3   Kerasov         D      0   1   1   0   3
----------------------------------------   ----------------------------------------
TOTALS                 1   2   3   4  -3   TOTALS                 5   9  14  14   3

Scratches:
SEA:  Fairwood, Bacon, McElvern
ANC:  Pomfret (DL), Kennedy, Zhlotkin

 
Seattle             SH    SV    G    Sv%
----------------------------------------
Goldmire            38    33    5  0.868

Anchorage           SH    SV    G    Sv%
----------------------------------------
Worthington         37    36    1  0.973

 

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

GOALS:
01:41  ANC  Miranda (Theroux)
09:20  SEA  Lidjya (Argent, Beasley)
12:11  ANC  Frost PP (Ericsson, Koons)
18:04  ANC  Frost (Ericsson, Kerasov)

PENALTIES:
05:39  ANC  Citrone 2:00 (High-sticking)
09:27  ANC  Ericsson 2:00 (Slashing)
10:49  SEA  Lambert 2:00 (Cross-checking)

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

GOALS:
04:49  ANC  Frost (Frederick, Ericsson)

PENALTIES:
05:59  ANC Citrone 2:00 (Tripping)
09:01  ANC  Frederick 2:00 (Unsportsmanlike Conduct)
13:24  ANC  Summers 2:00 (Roughing)

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

GOALS:
01:26  ANC  Koons (Ericsson, Citrone)

PENALTIES:
11:28  ANC  Martinsson 4:00 (Spearing)
19:08  SEA  Argent 2:00 (High-sticking)


 
SHOTS
------
                   1   2   3   OT   F
Seattle           13  11  13       37
Anchorage         16   9  13       38

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

Seattle          0 for 6
Anchorage        1 for 2

 
INJURIES
--------

None
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2019 SHL Division Playoff – Game 1

Western Division Series (Anchorage leads, 1-0)

ANCHORAGE IGLOOS 2, SEATTLE SAILORS 0

Seattle Sailors RW Vince Mango didn’t waste words when diagnosing his team’s loss to the Anchorage Igloos in Game 1 of the Western division series.

“It was the refs,” said Mango.  “We lost this game because of crappy officiating.”

What got Mango so hot and bothered?  Seattle had a couple of questionable calls against them in the opening minutes of the game, and Anchorage converted on the subsequent power plays, putting the Sailors in a hole they never dug out of in a 2-0 loss.

The first controversial call came during the opening puck drop.  Sailors D Hans Mortensen, jockeying for position with Igloos counterpart Dave Frederick, accidentally jabbed Frederick in the midsection.  Referee Scott Pritchard immediately sent Mortensen to the box with a double minor for spearing, a call that sparked outrage on the Seattle bench.

“There’s always bumping and jostling that goes on during faceoff,” said Mango.  “Sending a guy to the box on the opening faceoff, for incidental contact?  You’ve got to be kidding me.”

The early penalty allowed the Igloos to start the game on offense, and the Sailors struggled to clear the puck out of their end.  Igloos C Jake Frost ultimately fired a shot from the slot that found the upper-left corner of the net, putting Anchorage on top.

Just over a minute later, with the Sailors still fuming over the initial penalty, C Marco Venezio received a minor for elbowing LW Waldo Miranda.  Seattle players thought that the supposed infraction was weak at best, and that Miranda should have been called for embellishment instead.

“They went behind the net, and Marco barely grazed [Miranda], but [Miranda] snapped his head back and got the call,” said Mango.  “Completely ridiculous.”

Less than a minute into that power play, Igloos LW Jerry Koons fired a severe-angle shot that snuck between Seattle goalie Rocky Goldmire’s body and the post for another goal.

Seattle received two more minor penalties in the period, which they successfully killed off.  All in all, the Sailors spent much of the opening frame on the penalty kill, a key reason that they were outshot 16-7 in the period.  Although they weren’t penalized in either of the other two periods, they never managed to mount a successful pushback.  Anchorage goalie Ty Worthington easily turned aside all 28 shots he faced.

Coach Harold Engellund agreed with Mango that the calls played a role, but added that the Sailors deserved the blame for their defeat.

“Mentally, we just took ourselves out of the game,” said Engellund.  “We had a couple bad penalties against us early in the game and got in a hole, and we spent the rest of the night being mad at the refs instead of playing hockey.  When you’re in the playoffs, there’s no time to feel sorry for yourself.”

Igloos coach Sam Castor regarded the Sailors’ fury with amusement.  “As soon as I saw that [the Sailors] were spending their time arguing with the officials instead of trying to score, I put the W in my mental scorebook,” Castor said.  “Honestly, I hope they never get over it.”

“For what it’s worth, I thought the officiating was very fair,” the Igloos coach said with a sly grin.

 

W Final - Game 1, Seattle @ Anchorage, Arctic Circle Arena

                   1   2   3   OT   F
Seattle            0   0   0        0
Anchorage          2   0   0        2

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

Argent          LW     0   0   0   0   0   Koons           LW     1   0   1   0   0
Lambert         D      0   0   0   0   0   Keefe           D      0   1   1   2   0
Beasley         C      0   0   0   0   0   Frost           C      1   0   1   0   0
Lidjya          D      0   0   0   0   0   Martinsson      D      0   0   0   0   0
Mango           RW     0   0   0   0   0   Ericsson        RW     0   2   2   0   0
Lane            LW     0   0   0   0   0   Collins         LW     0   0   0   0   0
Mortensen       D      0   0   0   4   0   Bernard         C      0   0   0   0   0
Derringer       C      0   0   0   0   0   Frederick       D      0   0   0   0   0
Gatecliff       D      0   0   0   2   0   Summers         RW     0   0   0   0   0
Pepper          RW     0   0   0   4   0   Miranda         LW     0   0   0   2   0
Gaspard         LW     0   0   0   0   0   Citrone         D      0   0   0   0   0
Venezio         C      0   0   0   2   0   Theroux         C      0   0   0   0   0
Snelling        D      0   0   0   0   0   Calligan        D      0   0   0   0   0
Durien          RW     0   0   0   0   0   Fleury          RW     0   0   0   0   0
Gallagher       D      0   0   0   0   0   Kerasov         D      0   1   1   0   0
----------------------------------------   ----------------------------------------
TOTALS                 0   0   0  12   0   TOTALS                 2   4   6   4   0

Scratches:
SEA:  Fairwood, Bacon, McElvern
ANC:  Pomfret (DL), Kennedy, Zhlotkin

 
Seattle             SH    SV    G    Sv%
----------------------------------------
Goldmire            36    34    2  0.944

Anchorage           SH    SV    G    Sv%
----------------------------------------
Worthington         28    28    0  1.000

 

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

GOALS:
01:45  ANC  Frost PP (Ericsson, Kerasov)
04:15  ANC  Koons PP (Keefe, Ericsson)

PENALTIES:
00:00  SEA  Mortensen 4:00 (Spearing)
03:18  SEA  Venezio 2:00 (Elbowing)
13:08  SEA  Gatecliff 2:00 (Elbowing)
18:28  SEA  Pepper 4:00 (Spearing)

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

GOALS:
None


PENALTIES:
11:40  ANC  Keefe 2:00 (Interference)
14:24  ANC  Miranda 2:00 (Diving)

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

GOALS:
None


PENALTIES:
None



 
SHOTS
------
                   1   2   3   OT   F
Seattle            7   9  12       28
Anchorage         16   9  11       36

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

Seattle          0 for 2
Anchorage        2 for 4

 
INJURIES
--------

None

 

Eastern Division Playoff (Hershey leads, 1-0)

HERSHEY BLISS 3, HAMILTON PISTOLS 1

Coming into the Eastern playoff against the Hamilton Pistols, Hershey Bliss C Justin Valentine predicted that the series would go the distance, noting that the teams were very evenly matched.  “The key to winning this series is going to be taking one game at a time,” Valentine said.

The Bliss took their first step forward in today’s Game 1, making the most of their opportunities and withstanding a late Hamilton charge to secure a 3-1 win in front of a sellout crowd at Chocolate Center.

“I thought we did a great job today,” said Valentine.  “We didn’t get too fancy, we just played good, straight-ahead hockey and didn’t screw anything up.  Seems simple, but in the playoffs, nothing is.”

The Bliss came out strong in the first period, outshooting the Pistols 15-8.  Hamilton goalie Lasse Koskinen was sharp, turning aside most of Hershey’s blasts.  He was pierced once in the first, though, when LW Gabriel Swindonburg crashed the net and made a slap-pass to D Reese Milton, who jammed it home just inside the left post.

Early in the second period, Hershey took advantage of a rare Hamilton miscue to double their lead.  D Albie Glasco collected the puck in the defensive end, and fired a headman pass to center ice to start a breakout.  Swindonburg anticipated the pass and picked it off, starting an odd-man rush that RW Noah Daniels finished by beating a sprawling Koskinen up high.

But Hamilton hung tough, and when Bliss C Vance Ketterman was sent off for high-sticking in the closing minutes of the second, Pistols LW Steven Alexander scored on the ensuing power play to cut the deficit in half.

The Pistols turned up the intensity in the third, and Hershey found themselves in a tough spot midway through the period when they took a pair of penalties just 29 seconds apart.  During the 5-on-3, C Calvin Frye nearly scored the game-tying goal, but his shot pinged off the crossbar.  The Bliss fought off the penalty kill, and a couple minutes later, Ketterman added a little insurance with a wrap-around shot that got past Koskinen.

Despite the loss, Pistols coach Keith Shields remained upbeat.  “We had nothing to be ashamed of in the way we played today,” Shields said.  “We basically played dead-even, but a couple of the breaks went their way.  If they’d gone our way, we probably get the win.  I know my guys will be playing hungry tomorrow, but if we keep playing as well as we did today, we should be good.”

 

E Final - Game 1, Hamilton @ Hershey, Chocolate Center

                   1   2   3   OT   F
Hamilton           0   1   0        1
Hershey            1   1   1        3

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

Alexander       LW     1   0   1   0   0   Milton          D      1   0   1   0   1
Smyth           D      0   0   0   0  -1   Valentine       C      0   0   0   0   0
Frye            C      0   1   1   0   0   Baldwin         D      0   0   0   0   1
Risch           D      0   0   0   0  -1   Hart            RW     0   0   0   0   0
Lafayette       RW     0   1   1   0   0   Nahorniak       LW     0   0   0   0   0
Gunnarson       LW     0   0   0   2  -1   Meloche         D      0   0   0   0   1
Mulligan        D      0   0   0   0  -1   Kirkpatrick     C      0   1   1   2   2
Glasco          D      0   0   0   0  -1   Montrechere     RW     0   0   0   0   1
Patterson       RW     0   0   0   0  -2   Danielsen       LW     0   1   1   2   1
Campbell        LW     0   0   0   0  -2   Aubin           D      0   0   0   0   1
Dyomin          D      0   0   0   0  -1   Kulkarov        D      0   1   1   0   1
Marais          C      0   0   0   0  -1   Daniels         RW     1   0   1   2   2
Hampton         D      0   0   0   0  -1   Ketterman       C      1   0   1   4   1
Estabrook       F      0   0   0   0  -1   Swindonburg     LW     0   2   2   0   2
Costello        C      0   0   0   0  -2   Cargill         D      0   1   1   0   1
----------------------------------------   ----------------------------------------
TOTALS                 1   2   3   2  -3   TOTALS                 3   6   9  10   3

Scratches:
HAM:  Constantine, Baker (DL), Klemmer
HSY:  Minnik, Chappelle, Lapointe, Sweet (DL)

 
Hamilton            SH    SV    G    Sv%
----------------------------------------
Koskinen            32    29    3  0.906

Hershey             SH    SV    G    Sv%
----------------------------------------
Colt                30    29    1  0.967

 

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

GOALS:
10:24  HSY  Milton (Swindonburg, Cargill)

PENALTIES:
16:50  HAM  Gunnarson 2:00 (Holding the Stick)

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

GOALS:
01:18  HSY  Daniels (Kirkpatrick, Swindonburg)
17:40  HAM  Alexander PP (Frye, Lafayette)

PENALTIES:
05:46  HSY  Kirkpatrick 2:00 (Interference)
17:14  HSY  Ketterman 4:00 (High-sticking)

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

GOALS:
14:50  HSY  Ketterman (Kulkarov, Danielsen)

PENALTIES:
10:21  HSY  Daniels 2:00 (Slashing)
10:50  HSY  Danielsen 2:00 (Tripping)


 
SHOTS
------
                   1   2   3   OT   F
Hamilton           8  10  12       30
Hershey           15   8   9       32

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

Hamilton         1 for 4
Hershey          0 for 1

 
INJURIES
--------

None

East Playoff Features Teams That Learned From Adversity

If it’s true that champions are forged in adversity, this year’s Eastern playoff features a pair of opponents who are hard as iron.  One team won the Vandy in a massive upset two years ago, then stumbled through a disaster of a season in which everything seemed to go wrong at once; this season, they’ve weathered the loss of a star player and clawed their way back to the top.  The other team sailed through a breakout 2018 before stumbling down the stretch and losing an agonizing five-game playoff; this year, they shook off a disappointing first half to charge into a playoff spot.

The Hershey Bliss and the Hamilton Pistols are both well-balanced and battle-scarred, they both finished with 78 points, and they’re poised to face off in what should be an epic best-of-five series.

“This one should be a treat for the fans,” said Pistols coach Keith Shields.  “Two talented and well-matched teams trading haymakers until someone falls.  I can’t wait to get started!”

Both teams have learned from their past struggles and made adjustments.  For Hershey, they had to shake off the damage of a season when it seemed that every break went against them, and they were dismissed as an accidental champions, a team that lacked the heart and physicality to be a real contender.

Chip Barber

Coach Chip Barber taught his team to tune out the naysayers and just play loose.  “I mean, all the bad breaks we got last season, we couldn’t possibly have that many again,” said Barber.  “We’d been through the worst, and we survived.  So this season, instead of waiting for the next thing to go wrong, let’s just relax and laugh it off.”  The result was a cohesive, resilient locker room that responded to the loss of top-line LW Lance Sweet without missing a beat.  The Bliss dedicated the rest of the season to their fallen comrade and went 13-7-0 without him.

Many around the league thought goalie Brandon Colt might be finished after his poor performance last season at age 33.  But Hershey hired a new goaltending coach, Jayson Frink, who helped Colt with the mental side of his game, visualizing performances beforehand and learning to refocus quickly after goals.  The veteran responded with a strong bounce-back season (29-16-1, 2.68 GAA, .909 save percentage).  “Frinker really turned everything around for me,” said Colt.  “He gave me a whole new toolkit, a different way to see the game.  I’d probably be done if he hadn’t come along to help me out.”

Meanwhile, Hamilton’s major weakness was an overreliance on their star, LW Steven Alexander.  Historically, stopping the Pistols meant stopping Alexander.  Even as the team got deeper and developed additional weapons, Alexander tended to fall back on his old do-everything ways.

This season, assistant coach Jack Thornberry worked with Alexander to help him learn to trust his teammates and moderate his famous intensity somewhat.

Steven Alexander

“I’ve always felt like I had to be the hero,” said Alexander.  “I’ve always felt like everything relied on me.  Coach Thornberry helped me understand that it’s okay to spread the load around, and that it actually hurts the team if I try to carry it all myself all the time.”

It took a while for the lessons to take root, and Alexander’s struggle to adjust was one reason for his subpar first-half numbers.  But the young winger was also distracted by his impending marriage, which took place at Gunpowder Armory in the last game before the All-Star break.  And in the second half, everything changed for Alexander.  He scored an incredible 70 points post-All-Star Game.  And it wasn’t all goals, either; Alexander set a career high in assists with 48.  With their newly-married star leading the way, the Pistols become red-hot in the second half, going 20-10-2.

Hamilton is a strong two-way team, with the third-most goals scored (223) and the fourth-lowest GAA (2.50).  They dominated in 5-on-5 play; their +64 plus-minus was by far the best in the SHL.

This matchup figures to be a very close one; a good or bad bounce here and there might prove the difference.  Hamilton looks slightly better statistically, but Hershey is stronger on special teams.  The Bliss have an edge that may prove critical: home-ice advantage.  Although both teams finished with the same number of points, Hershey had more total wins, earning them an extra game at Chocolate Center.  Home ice proved crucial in last year’s Eastern final; will history repeat itself?

“We’re not worried about any of that stuff,” said Alexander, when asked about Hershey’s home-ice advantage.  “We just need to go in and play our game, and that will be enough to win.  Simple as that.”

Both Divisions Decided on Final Day

The SHL has had its share of close division races over the years.  Some of them have even gone all the way to final day of the regular season, such as 2016’s epic Washington-Hershey contest or last season’s showdown between Hamilton and Quebec.  But never before has the identity of both division winners been decided during the regular-season finale.  This season, however, the battles in both the East and West went the distance, setting up an epic slate of games on Saturday.

Out West, the defending champion Anchorage Igloos entered the last day one point ahead of the upstart Seattle Sailors.  The Sailors finished their season on the road against the Saskatchewan Shockers, while the Igloos hosted the Kansas City Smoke for their finale.  The Sailors, who had already clinched their first-ever playoff berth, expressed confidence heading into the game.  “We know what we need to do,” said RW Vince Mango, “now we just need to go out and do it.”

The Sailors got off to a fast start.  Shockers D Rusty Anderson went to penalty box just seven seconds into the game, and Sailors LW Rod “Money” Argent cashed in on the ensuing power play to give Seattle the early lead.  Later in the period, D Bud Gatecliff banged home a short from the point to make it 2-0.  The score remained that way throughout the rest of that period and the next, and it appeared the Sailors were set to get the victory they needed.

In the third period, however, Saskatchewan got their game in gear.  In the opening minutes of the period, LW Troy Chamberlain emerged from a scrum in front of the net and tucked a shot under the crossbar to put Saskatchewan on the board.  Just 24 seconds after that, C Cyril Perignon deflected a slapper past the glove of Seattle goalie “Jersey Mike” Ross to tie the score.  A half-minute later, the Sailors reclaimed the lead on a short-side blast by D Hans Mortensen.  But Saskatchewan wasn’t finished; less than three minutes after Mortensen’s tally, Anderson tied things back up with a blast from the slot that got between Ross’s pads.  Both teams kept the pressure on, combining for 26 shots in the period, but the tie persisted through the end of regulation.

Going into overtime, Seattle had a choice: play defensively to preserve the tie, or go for the win?  For the Sailors, it was no choice at all: “We wanted the W,” said Mango.  In the first minute of the extra session, Mango nearly won as he ripped slapshot that dribbled through the legs of Shockers goalie Shawn Stickel, but the puck stopped on the goal line and Stickel fell on it before anyone could jam it home.  Finally, just over two minutes in, Chamberlain got loose on a breakaway and went top shelf to beat Ross and win the game.

“Missed it by that much,” said Mango, holding his thumb and forefinger just slightly apart.

With nothing to play for, the Igloos lost 3-2 to Kansas City, but still won the division.  The celebration was fairly subdued, as Anchorage is focused on winning its second straight Vandy.  “Everyone in this room isn’t going to be satisfied unless we go all the way,” said Igloos C Jake Frost.  “Winning the division is nice, but it’s not enough.”

Meanwhile, in the East, the Hershey Bliss entered the finale a point up on the red-hot Hamilton Pistols.  The Bliss expected to have the division clinched already, as they’d entered the final week with a five-point lead.  But they proceeded to drop two of their three games on the week, while the Pistols won all three of theirs.  Still, all Hershey needed to do to ensure that the division would be theirs was to win or tie against the last-place Boston Badgers.

Unfortunately for the Bliss, even though they outshot the Badgers 40-26, they were unable to take the victory.  Hershey was stymied by a brilliant goaltending performance from Boston backup Carson Wagner.  Then, with just over five minutes left in a tie game, Bliss RW Noah Daniels was called for a controversial interference penalty on Boston’s Pascal Royal, one that left coach Chip Barber and the Bliss bench hollering in frustration; they contended that Royal should have been penalized for embellishment instead.  Their anger only grew more acute when Badgers LW Lix Darnholm scored what turned out to be the game-winning goal.

“I only hope that the division doesn’t wind up turning on that call,” said Barber after the game.  “You’d hate to see that.  It would be like biting into a Hershey’s Kiss and finding out someone hid a Lemonhead in the middle: a sour ending to what should be sweet.”

Hershey’s loss opened the door for the Pistols.  Standing in their way were their bitter rivals, the New York NightNick Foster‘s club was officially eliminated from contention earlier in the week, but they relished the opportunity to deny the Pistols the title.

“If you can’t make it to the promised land, the next best thing is stopping your enemy from getting there,” Foster said.  “That’s the hockey version of the Golden Rule.”

The game unfolded at a furious pace: both teams combined for an astounding 43 shots in the first period alone, with Hamilton taking 26 of them.  But New York goalie Sherman Carter was in top form, turning aside all those shots except one, a slapper from Pistols C Henry Constantine that hit the crossbar and went in.  Night C Tom Hoffman answered with a bouncing shot that hopped over Hamilton netminder Ron Mason‘s pad, creating a 1-1 tie that would last the rest of the period.

LW Misha Petronov gave New York its first lead just five seconds into the second period, bringing the crowd at Neon Sky Center to its feet, razzing Mason with sing-song chants.  Those chants didn’t last long, however, as Pistols D Albie Glasco tied it up a mere 16 seconds later with a shot from just inside the blueline that got past a screened Carter.  Just under two minutes after that, LW Steven Alexander fired home a slapper from his favorite spot between the faceoff circles to put Hamilton back on top.

In the third period, it took Night C Rod Remington just 30 seconds to rip a shot just above Mason’s blocker to tie things up again.  The New York fans resumed their sing-song taunts of Mason, later adding Alexander to their chants as he shanked shots or fired them just wide. The Pistols thought they had taken the lead when C Calvin Frye scored on a power play at the midpoint of the period, but Foster challenged and sit turned out that Hamilton had entered the offensive zone offside.  When the tally came off the board, the fans roared with delight. Hamilton had a few grade-A chances later in the period, but Carter kept stonewalling them, and the score remained deadlocked at the end of regulation.

In the overtime period, the Night focused on grinding the clock as much as possible, and the game ended in a 3-3 tie.  Hamilton and Hershey wound up with the same number of points, but Hershey had more total wins, so they won the title.  (The same thing happened to the Pistols last season, as they ended up in a tie with Quebec on points, but the Tigres had more victories.)

True to form, the Night celebrated as though they’d won the division.  As the game ended, the New York players dogpiled at center ice.  In the locker room, they sprayed each other with champagne and blasted victory music.  “It’s a thing of beauty, it really is,” said Foster, wiping the bubbly out of his eyes.  “For us to prevent the Nutcracker and his gang of clowns from winning the division, it warms my heart.  It really does.  If they wind up having to play Game 7 on enemy ice and they wind up losing to those Hershey softies, I hope they’ll think of me.”

The Pistols, naturally, didn’t appreciate New York’s attitude.  “I thought the way they played in overtime and then their little post-game party was totally lacking in class and sportsmanship,” said coach Keith Shields.  “But then, that’s typically of the way they operate.  Fortunately, we’ve got enough talent that we can win in the playoffs with or without home-ice advantage.  And since [the Night] will be watching the playoffs on TV once again, they might see if they can learn something.”

Alexander was more blunt than his coach.  “I believe in karma,” he told reporters, “and that’s why I’m confident that Foster and his boys will never win anything.  They’ve got a loser’s mentality; any team that celebrates like that for a game they didn’t even win, for a playoff spot that they didn’t get, is just pathetic.  Enjoy the golf course, you [jerks].”

Pistols Make Big Splash in Landing Costello from DC

Last season, the Hamilton Pistols were headed for their first-ever playoff appearance, and they faced a choice: dip into their store of top prospects and make a big win-now deal, or make a smaller depth deal and hold on to their young talent.  They chose the latter path, and wound up being bounced in the first round by Quebec.

This year, in the midst of an intense race in the East, the Pistols decided to go for a big-splash deal.  They acquired C Eddie Costello from the Washington Galaxy in exchange for C Pat Collistone, D Buster Kratz, and their first-round pick.

“To be honest, I’m surprised to be here announcing this deal,” said Pistols GM Marcel LaClaire.  “When we began to discuss it, it was almost as a joke.  But the longer we talked, the more serious it became.  Finally I said, ‘Let’s take the dare and do it.’”

The trade is a big swing designed to address Hamilton’s biggest weakness, which is scoring beyond their top line.  The 28-year-old Costello led the Galaxy in points with 45 and in assists with 33.  He will slot into the second-line center position in Hamilton, between LW Magnus Gunnarson and RW Kenny Patterson.  In order to fit under Hamilton’s salary cap, the Galaxy will retain $1 million of Costello’s salary.

“Eddie is a dynamite player, and he gives us an immediate boost on offense,” said Pistols coach Keith Shields.  “I’ve watched him beat us enough times over the years; I know what he can offer us.”

For Washington, the trade brings an end of the tenure of one of their most popular players.  Costello was a key contributor to the Galaxy teams that made back-to-back SHL finals appearances, and was also a colorful character on the ice and in the locker room.  Many young Galaxy fans copied his signature fauxhawk haircut.

“It’s pretty tough for me to leave DC, since I’ve had so many good times here,” Costello said.  “But I’m excited to join the playoff hunt again, and I’ll keep in touch with all my boys back here.”

The rental of Costello (who will be a free agent at the end of the season) didn’t come cheaply.  Collistone has been a longtime favorite in the Pistols organization.  The 23-year-old known affectionately as “Stoner” was strongly considered for the third-line center role in Hamilton this season; the Pistols wound up signing veteran J.C. Marais instead.  He was a 2018 CHL All-Star, and though his numbers are down a bit this season (13 goals, 17 assists with Oshawa), he remains a well-regarded prospect.

The 21-year-old Kratz is another homegrown Hamilton prospect.  He’s been a depth defenseman for the Pistols this season, appearing in only 12 games and failing to record a point.

“I never thought [LaClaire] would make Stoner available,” said Galaxy GM Ace Adams.  “He and Kratz both help us restock our prospect pool, which is great as we look to the next chapter for our team.  We wish Eddie all the best.  I hope he brings home the Vandy.”

Pistols Star Gets Hitched at the Arena

Hamilton Pistols LW Steven Alexander is one of the SHL’s brightest stars.  He’s known as a top goal scorer, but at least within league circles, he’s equally well-known for his tempestuous personality.  He is furiously competitive and never forgets a slight, tendencies that fuel his competitive edge but also makes him vulnerable to being baited by adversaries like New York coach Nick Foster.

As teammate and close friend Claude Lafayette put it, “I love Steve, but he’s a hothead.  He’ll settle down one of these days, hopefully before he winds up in jail.”

Steven Alexander

This week, the 26-year-old Alexander took a key step toward settling down, tying the knot with his girlfriend Elizabeth Skyler in a ceremony that took place at Gunpowder Armory before Saturday’s game against the Kansas City Smoke.

“Hockey is my life, so it seemed like the only appropriate place for my wedding,” said Alexander.  “Fortunately, Liz was cool with it.”

Alexander met Elizabeth, an adjunct history professor at McMaster University, at a party in Hamilton late last season.  After a whirlwind courtship, Alexander proposed during a trip to New York City during the offseason.  After Elizabeth enthusiastically accepted, they began looking to select a wedding date – and quickly ran into a snag.  Between his travel, practice, and game schedules and her teaching commitment, the earliest practical date was the following summer.  But neither of them wanted to wait that long.

“At that point, Liz said as a joke, ‘We should just get married at the arena,’” said Alexander.  “And I said, ‘Hey wait, that’s actually a good idea!’”

The team was happy to accommodate the request, and several of Alexander’s teammates also participated in the festivities.  As expected, Lafayette served as Alexander’s best man, and teammates Calvin Frye and Raymond Smyth also stood up for him.  Pistols coach Keith Shields, who was a seminary student in college, officiated the ceremony.  “I was honored that Steve and Liz asked me to be part of their special day,” Shields said.

Most amusingly of all, D Hercules Mulligan took the role of flower girl, flinging petals in the air behind the happy couple, to the great amusement of the 300 guests and 2,000 or so hockey fans who came out early to see the ceremony.

After the happy couple exchanged vows, the Pistols lifted the Alexanders up on their shoulders and skated them around the ice, as the fans and guests gave a standing ovation.  “It’s good practice for when we’re hoisting the Vandy in a few months,” quipped Lafayette.

The Pistols proceeded to celebrate Alexander’s nuptials with a 6-0 whitewashing of Kansas City.  The newlywed contributed a goal and an assist.

Shields expressed the hope that Alexander’s nuptials would improve his life on and off the ice.  “Getting married is an important milestone in any man’s life,” the coach said.  “I’ve seen Steve maturing here the last couple of seasons.  The fact that he felt ready to take this step is a good sign that he’s really growing up.”

For Mulligan, the key takeaway from the wedding was slightly different.  “Man, if Alexander can get married,” said Mulligan, “there’s hope for my [butt] after all.”

Night Troll Pistols with “Canada Night” Stunt

Last season, New York Night coach Nick Foster spent considerable time trying to ignite a rivalry with the Hamilton Pistols.  He enraged the Pistols by accusing star Steven Alexander of cheating, then doubled down by calling Hamilton’s arena a “total dump” and claiming the only thing that could improve it was “a bulldozer.”

Nick Foster

This season, Foster and the Night are taking their trolling to the next level.  New York hosted the Pistols on Tuesday, and they celebrated the occasion with a “Canada Night” promotion that left the Pistols – and their fellow countrymen – furious.

The 15,000-plus fans who showed up at Neon Sky Center received what the Night described as the “Finger of Friendship,” a red foam finger emblazoned with the slogan “Canada’s #1!”  But instead of the index finger being extended, as is typical, the giveaway item featured an upraised middle finger.  This set the tone for the evening.

During the player introductions prior to puck drop, pictures of the Pistols players flashed by to the tune of “Blame Canada,” a satirical song from “South Park.”  When Alexander’s face appeared, both the chyron and PA announcer Morty Shandler referred to him as “Steven ‘The Nutcracker’ Alexander,” referring to the mocking nickname that Foster gave the Hamilton winger last year.  The fans greeted the images of their foes with loud boos; several of them also held up their Fingers of Friendship to make their feelings abundantly clear.

The mockery of Canada in general and the Pistols in particular continued throughout the game.  Between the first and second period, the Night displayed a “Hamilton Highlights” video, which contained pictures of Pistols players falling over, getting checked into the boards and whiffing on shots, interspersed with their mug shots from the karaoke bar fight incident from earlier in the season, all scored to the parody song “Canadian Idiot” by “Weird Al” Yankovic.  At various stoppages in play, the Jumbotron showed clips from the 1995 movie “Canadian Bacon,” whose plot revolved around a fictional war between the US and Canada.  When the Pistols skated onto the ice at the start of the third period, Shandler encouraged the fans to “wave your Fingers of Friendship” at the visiting team.  The crowd gleefully complied.

The stunt seemed to backfire on the Night.  The Pistols erupted for three goals in the third period to cap off a 4-0 shutout of the Night.

In spite of their sizable win, the Pistols were irate about the “Canada Night” promotion.  Coach Keith Shields led the charge, calling the event “classless and vulgar.  It’s nothing but the same cheap punchlines over and over again.  My 5-year-old son could come up with better jokes than that.  The Canadian people have been nothing but wonderful to me and my family since we moved there, and they deserve better than this.”

Pistols RW Kenny Patterson, a former Night player, agreed with his coach.  “Xenophobia is a real problem in our society,” Patterson told reporters.  “Using another nationality as a punchline, even as a joke, is irresponsible and inappropriate.  Unfortunately, that’s all you can expect from an obnoxious and morally bankrupt organization like this one.  At least we crushed them, which is the best revenge.”

Steven Alexander

Alexander added that the Night might be getting the rivalry Foster wants, but they should be careful what they wish for.  “If [Foster] wants to be rivals so bad, that’s fine with me,” the Pistols star said.  “As we showed them today, it just gets us fired up to beat them.  But sure, we can play this game.  Foster better watch out, though.  If one of his guys winds up getting cold-cocked, that’s on him.”

For his part, Foster was delighted by the promotion.  “It’s about time somebody called out our so-called ‘neighbors to the north,’ the New York coach said in his post-game press conference.  “Everybody thinks Canada’s just this cute harmless little country, but let’s get real.  What have they given us?  They gave us Canada geese, those suburban terrorists who waddle around honking and crapping on everything.  They gave us Celine Dion.  They gave us Justin Bieber.  They even gave us round slices of ham and tried to tell us it’s bacon, for God’s sake.  Canada’s a danger to us all, and it’s about time someone called them on it.”

The league fined the Night $5,000 and Foster $1,000 for the stunt, and SHL Commissioner Perry Mitchell warned the coach and the team to cut it out.  “I’m all in favor of team rivalries, even heated ones,” said Commissioner Mitchell.  “But that’s no excuse for a promotion that’s essentially a bunch of insults about another country.  That kind of thing has no place in our league.  The SHL is a league that is inclusive and welcoming to everyone, including Canadians.”

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