2020 SHL Finals – Game 1

HAMILTON PISTOLS 6, ANCHORAGE IGLOOS 3

(Hamilton leads series, 1-0)

The SHL Finals got off to a fast start.  Both teams came out in top offensive form; they combined to fire 88 shots on goal.  But it was the defending champion Hamilton Pistols who got the upper hand, breaking the game open in the second period and cruising to a 6-3 victory over the Anchorage Igloos.

“We played the kind of game we wanted to play today,” said Pistols C Calvin Frye, who scored two of Hamilton’s half-dozen goals.  “We controlled the flow of play, kept the energy level high, and came away with the W.”

The first period established that this was going to be an offense-focused contest, but it wasn’t clear who would come away with the win.  The teams were trading goals in the early going.  The home team struck first, as D Burt “Hacksaw” Hampton – normally known more for his hard-hitting defense than his scoring touch – pounced on a loose puck above the faceoff circle and swatted it past a screened Ty Worthington and into the Anchorage net.  Worthington never tracked the puck, and didn’t flinch as it sailed over his catching glove.

“That was a real goal-scorer’s goal,” said LW Steven Alexander, struggling to suppress a smirk.  “Can’t wait to see the highlight reel on that.”

Just over a minute later, Igloos D Sebastian Pomfret deflected a slap-pass under the crossbar to tie things up.  About a minute after that, RW Claude Lafayette finished an odd-man rush with a knuckling shot that Worthington couldn’t corral before it crossed the goal line, putting Hamilton back in the lead.  On the following faceoff, Igloos C Jake Frost won the draw, then promptly led his team up the ice and pumped a slapshot top shelf.  Less than 5 minutes had elapsed, and the score already stood 2-2.

“At that point, it felt like we were headed for a football-type score,” said Frye.  “It was a little too crazy out there.”

After the initial adrenaline rush wore off, the pace settled down slightly, and the red-light parade came to a halt.  It wasn’t until after the halfway point of the period that Frye jabbed one home from the slot to break the deadlock, and got the crowd cranked up again.

Both sides agree that the key momentum shift occurred at the end of the first frame and the beginning of the second.  The Pistols had a pair of power plays that were virtually back-to-back and came up empty.  Then, with less than two minutes to go in the first, Hampton caught Igloos C Tom Hoffman up high with his stick.  Hoffman came away with a nasty cut below his eye; Hampton came away with a double-minor for high-sticking.

Anchorage had four minutes with which to tie the game or take the lead.  And they tried their hardest; they kept the puck in the offensive zone for well over three minutes of the man advantage and fired seven shots.  But Pistols goalie Lasse Koskinen didn’t buckle under the assault, stopping all seven, sometimes with acrobatic moves that left the crowd roaring.

As the seconds ticked away and the Igloos still couldn’t find the equalizer.  The Pistols and their fans steadily gained confidence as Koskinen stopped shot after shot.  And 35 seconds after the power play came up empty, RW Kenny Patterson swooped into the Anchorage zone and beat Worthington short-side to make it a 4-2 game.  Frye added his second tally a few minutes later to put the home team firmly in command.

“That double-minor, and the fact that we couldn’t convert, that swung the whole game,” said Igloos coach Sam Castor.  “Tip of the cap to Koskinen there; he really stood on his head.  But when we came up with that goose egg, and then Patterson went down and scored, that was a real back-breaker.”

The teams traded goals early in the third – C J.C. Marais scored for Hamilton, while Pomfret got his second for Anchorage – but the outcome was never really in doubt.

Pistols coach Keith Shields lauded praise on Koskinen, who made 40 saves in all.  “We really needed Koski today,” Shields said.  “It was a run-and-gun type of game, and you really need your goalie to be on his toes in that kind of game.  Koski definitely was.  Obviously, he was huge on that penalty kill, but all game he was seeing the puck great and making tremendous saves.  It’s a totally different game if he has an off night.”

If Koskinen and the Pistols are sharp again in tomorrow’s Game 2, they’ll be halfway to being the SHL’s first bakc-to-back champs.  But Anchorage will be eager to tilt the ice and even the series.

“We’ll be ready to bring the fight to them tomorrow,” said Frost.  “We had our hands full with them today, but they’ll have their hands full with us tomorrow.”

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Night, Pistols Resume Unpleasantries in OT Thriller

On Sunday, the Hamilton Pistols and New York Night faced off for the first time this season at Gunpowder Armory.  Even though the teams came into the game with very different records, with the Pistols undefeated and the Night winless, the game between the two bitter rivals was expected to be very closely contested.

Nick Foster

In case anyone thought that the mutual enmity between the clubs had cooled since last year, Night coach Nick Foster happily re-stoked the flames in his press conference the day before, stating: “We’ve had this one circled on our calendar since the schedule came out.  We’re excited to come to Tank Town and skate into that festering old dump and snatch a win from the Nutcracker and his boys.  My guys all got their tetanus shots and their cups, so they’re ready.  As long as we get out before the roof caves in, we’re good.”

Pistols star Steven Alexander shot back, “It’s too bad [the Night] can’t play as good as their coach runs his mouth.  Apparently Foster forgot who won the Vandy last year.”

The match lived up to its advance billing, as a sellout crowd got to see a fast-paced see-saw of a contest with action from beginning to end.  Regulation wasn’t enough to settle things, but in the end the Night backed up Foster’s boast, heading back to the Big Apple with a 7-6 win.

According to league sources, the Pistols sought permission from the SHL to delay their banner-raising ceremony until this game, but the league vetoed the idea.  So instead, when the Pistols took the ice for the pre-game skate, Alexander came out holding the Vandy over his head and took a lap while the PA system played “We Are the Champions.”  As Alexander skated past the New York bench, the visitors greeted him with upraised middle fingers.

Once the game began, it took the champs a mere 25 seconds to get on the board, as D Burt “Hacksaw” Hampton deflected a shot by RW Ben Summers into the lower right corner of the net.  The rest of the period, however, belonged to the Night.  Just over two minutes after Hampton’s goal, the visitors struck twice, as D Rocky Winkle and C Rod Remington scored just eight seconds apart to give the Night the lead.  When Hampton went to the sin bin for high-sticking late in the period, Remington banged home a slapper to make it 3-1.

In the locker room between periods, Pistols coach Keith Shields exhorted his team to get back into it.  “Coach Shields never curses,” said Alexander, “but you could tell he wanted to.  ‘All right, boys, let’s go stick it to those flipping buggers!’”

Hamilton drew back even early in the second.  About ninety seconds into the frame, LW Magnus Gunnarson finished an odd-man rush with a shot that went through the five-hole on Night netminder Sherman Carter.  Less than a minute later, LW Jamie Campbell got the equalizer on a shot from the bottom of the faceoff circle that snuck in above Carter’s catching glove.  The score remained even for much of the second, but Night LW Charlie Brooks jammed one in from the slot with just under seven minutes left to give New York a 4-3 edge, which they took to the dressing room.

Steven Alexander

Less than two minutes into the third, Campbell got his second goal of the night, finishing on a beautiful pass from RW Kenny Patterson that split the Night defenders.  Campbell waved his arms to the crowd, which responded with ecstatic approval.  That tie lasted barely over three minutes, before Brooks scored again on a tip-in for a 5-4 New York.  A few minutes later, Alexander scored on a laser-beam slapper that bounced off of Carter’s blocker and in.  The feisty winger by holding his stick like a rifle and firing “shots” at the New York bench, who responded with another middle-finger salute.  Alexander was later fined by the league for his actions.

The crowd was roaring for more; they got it with six minutes remaining, as C Calvin Frye redirected an Alexander slapper just under the crossbar to give the Pistols their first lead since the opening minutes.  If the Hamilton fans thought it was over, though, they had another think coming.  Two minutes after Frye’s go-ahead tally, rookie C Norris Fletcher jabbed home the tying goal for New York, prying it loose from under the pad of Pistols goalie Lasse Koskinen.  The Pistols argued vigorously that the play should have been whistled dead, but the referees denied their appeal.  As boos filled the arena, Fletcher smirked and cupped his hand to his ear.

Less than two minutes later, Fletcher cemented his status as Public Enemy#1 in Hamilton by felling Alexander with a high stick that opened a gash under the winger’s eye.  Alexander went down the tunnel to get stitches, and Shields argued that Fletcher should be ejected for attempting deliberate injury.  Instead, he got a double minor.  Angry fans poured beer on the rookie as he sat in the penalty box; Fletcher responded by blowing kisses.

In the wake of the penalty, Hampton challenged New York D Donald Duckworth to answer for Fletcher’s high stick, but Duckworth declined the invitation.  “Typical New York,” Alexander fumed after the game.  “Big talk and cheap shots, but they won’t back it up.”

The Pistols tried furiously to score the game-winner on the ensuing power play, but their shots kept missing the net.  The penalty continued into the overtime session, when a sewed-up Alexander returned to the ice to rapturous applause.  Even with their star on the ice, though, Hamilton couldn’t get the puck over the line.  Finally, about midway through the overtime session, LW Chase Winchester scored from a severe angle to give the Night the win.

The visitors celebrated by blasting Ace Frehley’s “New York Groove” in the locker room – “loud enough for [the Pistols] to hear,” said RW Rick “The Stick” Nelson.  In his postgame press conference, Foster sarcastically thanked the Pistols for their pre-game Vandy skate.  “That gave us all the inspiration we needed,” the coach said with a grin.  “No matter what else happens this season, we’ll always remember we got our first W here in Tank Town.  Love you guys!”

Continue reading “Night, Pistols Resume Unpleasantries in OT Thriller”

2019 SHL Finals – Game 6

HAMILTON PISTOLS 5, ANCHORAGE IGLOOS 3

(Hamilton wins, 4-2)

In the locker room before the third period of today’s Game 6, Hamilton Pistols coach Keith Shields looked for the right words to inspire his struggling team.  After forty minutes of play, the defending champions Anchorage Igloos led the Pistols 3-1.  The Igloos were just a period away from erasing Hamilton’s 3-1 series lead in the SHL Finals, setting up a winner-take-all Game 7 in Anchorage tomorrow.  The momentum was firmly on the side of the champs, and the Pistols’ hopes for the Vandy were rapidly slipping away.

“I knew I didn’t want it to go to seven,” said Shields.  “I knew our best chance to win was today, even having to come from behind.”

And so the coach, who is a devout Christian, talked to his players about the story of David and Goliath.  “The Israelites were saved because one man was brave enough to take on this giant on the other side,” the coach said.  “And with God’s strength behind him, David killed Goliath.  Who among you is brave enough to defeat our enemy?  If that’s you, step forward like David did.”

One by one, the Pistols stepped forward.  Then they went out and staged the biggest comeback in Finals history, scoring four unanswered goals to take a 5-3 win and clinch their first-ever SHL title.

The first player to answer Shields’ challenge was, unsurprisingly, LW Steven Alexander.  The winger has been Hamilton’s unquestioned leader since the beginning, a brave and ambitious player who discovered a new level to his game after tying the knot in mid-season.  He got the team going in the right direction right from the opening faceoff of the third, marching down the ice and scoring just 16 seconds into the frame.

“Coach Shields had gotten us fired up with his speech, but someone needed to get our comeback started,” said D Hercules Mulligan.  “And of course it was Alex.  That guy knows no fear.”

Alexander got things rolling, but Hamilton needed another hero.  Up stepped one of their oldest players.  33-year-old RW Kenny Patterson considered retiring after last season, before signing an extension with the Pistols to fill a hole on the second line.  And when his team needed him most today, he came through with the tying and (ultimately) winning goals.

The tying tally came on a power play, as Igloos D Tony Citrone was penalized for tripping.  Patterson stationed himself in front of the Anchorage net, absorbing hacks and slashes from defenders.  And when D Raymond Smyth fired a shot toward the net, Patterson deflected it just beyond the reach of Igloos goalie Ty Worthington and just under the crossbar.

The go-ahead goal came on a similar tip play on 5-on-5 just over two minutes after the previous one.  This time, it was D Clayton Risch firing from the blue line while Patterson stood in the slot.  The puck bounced off Patterson’s stick and knuckled past a stunned Worthington.  The Igloos protested, arguing that Patterson’s stick had been above the crossbar when it struck the puck.  Upon review, though, it was deemed a good goal.  The fans at Arctic Circle Arena booed, while the Igloos sagged on the bench.

“They couldn’t believe it,” Patterson said.  “They’d been so sure they had this one in the bag, and then we came back and they didn’t know what to do.”

RW Claude Lafayette has been a close friend of Alexander’s since childhood and shares a line with the star.  So it only seems fitting that he gave Hamilton an insurance goal with less than seven minutes left, finishing off an odd-man rush that Alexander started.  The old friends wrapped each other in an embrace and screamed in celebration, while the crowd fell into a stunned silence.

The Igloos tried to mount a rally, but the fired-up Pistols overwhelmed them.  Anchorage’s final push was thwarted when LW Jerry Koons took an ill-timed tripping penalty with three minutes remaining.  A frustrated Koons slammed his stick against the glass and buried his head in his hands as he sat in the sin bin.

“I feel like I cost us the championship,” said Koons.  “I took a stupid, stupid penalty at the worst possible time.”

As the final horn sounded, the Pistols raced toward their blue line to celebrate.  They pounded each other on the back and shouted, “We won, we won, we won!  We won!”  When Commissioner Perry Mitchell presented them with the Vandy, Alexander took a long lap around the ice, tears streaming down his cheeks as he contemplated the team’s accomplishment.

“I have lived to see our glory!” said Alexander in the locker room, as his teammates poured beer and champagne over his head.  “It’s been an amazing year for me, getting married and winning the title, and this is a new high.  When our children tell our story, they’ll tell the story of tonight.”

Shields ran around the locker room, hugging his players and doing his best to dodge the beer showers.  “Goliath is dead!” shouted the coach. “With our faith and our bravery, we stood up against our mightiest opponent and we took him down.  All hail the heroes!”

A somber Sam Castor, coach of the Igloos, congratulated the victorious Pistols.  “Make no mistake, they earned this title,” said Castor.  “It was a hard-fought series, but they were the better team in the end.  They deserve this.”

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2019 SHL Finals – Game 4

HAMILTON PISTOLS 3, ANCHORAGE IGLOOS 2

(Hamilton leads, 3-1)

The first three games of the 2019 SHL Finals have been tense, back-and-forth affairs, with neither team leading by more than one goal at any point.  Coming into today’s pivotal Game 4, both the hometown Hamilton Pistols and the defending champion Anchorage Igloos were looking for a decisive victory, one that might swing the momentum of the series firmly in their favor.

As it turned out, it was the Pistols who made the strong statement, running out to a 3-0 lead in the first half of the contest.  They then withstood a late Anchorage rally to hold on for a 3-2 win, moving themselves within a game of their first-ever Vandy.

“We’re rising up, boys!” hollered Pistols LW Steven Alexander in a jubilant postgame locker room.  “One more win, and the world turns upside down!”

Up to this point, the first periods in this series have followed a pattern: a lot of sound and fury, but no goals.  Before today’s game, Hamilton coach Keith Shields suggested to his team to slow down the pace a bit and focus on shot quality over quantity.  He also tinkered with the team’s offensive setup.  Noting that the Igloos were focusing their defense on Alexander, Shields decided to roll his lines and run less of the offense through his star winger.  The changes paid great dividends.

Just over two minutes in the game, with the third line on the ice, LW Magnus Gunnarson received a perfect pass from C Henry Constantine in the slot, and went top-shelf for a goal.  It’s the first time in the series that Hamilton has scored first, and it got the crowd at Gunpowder Armory fired up early.

“We’ve been getting traffic in the home plate area, and it’s been paying off for us,” said Gunnarson.

Shortly after the midway point of the first, the Pistols’ top line set up for an extended shift in Anchorage’s end.  C Calvin Frye found Alexander in his preferred shooting spot.  Alexander wound up for a slapshot, and Igloos goalie Ty Worthington committed to block it.  But Alexander instead fired a pass to teammate Claude Lafayette, who was skating hard toward the net.  Lafayette easily tucked the puck home over a sprawling Worthington to give Hamilton a 2-0 lead.

The Igloos had opportunities to cut into the lead late in the period thanks to a flurry of Pistols penalties, but they couldn’t convert, and went into the locker room down by a pair.  Coach Sam Castor laid into the champs, demanding to see more urgency.

“We let [the Pistols] get the jump on us, and we weren’t responding,” said Castor.  “That’s not like us.”

The Igloos came out with more energy in the second half, but they frequently ran into a brick wall at the blue line, courtesy of the Pistols’ rugged defensive corps.  “They did a really good job keeping us from getting established on offense,” said Igloos LW Jerry Koons.  “We just couldn’t get any momentum.”

A little more than 5 minutes into the period, the Pistols’ top line broke out on an odd-man rush.  Frye fed it to Alexander, who again wound up for a shot.  Worthington prepared to block it, only to see Alexander toss it back to D Raymond Smyth, who beat Worthington glove-side to make it a 3-0 game.  As Smyth circled back for hugs and backslaps from his teammates, the crowd threatened to tear the roof off with their jubilation.

The Igloos refused to give in, however, and slowly fought back with the help of some ill-timed Pistol penalties.  About four minutes after Smyth’s goal, RW Kenny Patterson was assessed with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for smacking the puck into the stands to protest an offside call.  With about 20 seconds left on the power play, Igloos RW Ben Summers got free in front of the net and jammed the puck just inside the post to get his team on the board.

In the third period, Frye took another unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.  Anchorage kept the puck in the offensive zone, and cashed in during the waning seconds of the power play with a goal from D Ted Keefe.  The Igloos celebrated as an uneasy buzz ran through the stands.

With just over three minutes left in regulation, Anchorage had a golden chance to tie the game when Pistols D Clayton Risch was whistled for spearing. “We knew we really had to buckle down and stop them at all costs,” said D Hercules Mulligan.  “We could not let a stray shot give us away.”

So Anchorage took their shots, and Pistols goalie Lasse Koskinen and the penalty kill turned them away.  And then, 1:17 into the power play, Igloos D Olaf Martinsson committed a cross-checking penalty, wiping away the man advantage and the visitors’ hopes for victory.

In the losing locker room, the Igloos were grim but determined.  “Well, we used up all of our rope,” C Jake Frost said.  “Now the only thing we can do is go win three in a row.  So that’s what we’re going to do.”

Continue reading “2019 SHL Finals – Game 4”