2018 Eastern All-Star Roster

The rosters for the Eastern Division in the 2018 SHL All-Star Game, as announced by coach “Chocolate Chip” Barber, were as follows:

First Line

LW: Casey Thurman, WashingtonLast season, Thurman had to be talked into accepting his All-Star nod, due to the fact that he was having an off season by his standards.  2018 is a different story; he’s off to a tremendous start, and when he was voted in as the East’s starting left winger (by about 800 votes over Hamilton’s Steven Alexander), nobody had to persuade him to accept the honor.  Thurman is third in the league in points with 50, and he’s in the top five in goals (21) and assists (29).

D: Reese Milton, HersheyAlthough the Bliss’ attempt to defend their surprise 2017 title have been fairly disastrous, it didn’t stop the fans from voting Milton into the starting lineup.  The blueliner, a well-known squirrel lover, is a bit off of his usual offensive pace, but he’s still putting up decent numbers (5 goals, 15 assists).  In addition, he continues to produce the kind of steady, lock-down defense that has made him one of the league’s top blue-liners.

C: Calvin Frye, HamiltonWith the Pistols tied for the league’s best record at the halfway point of the season, the fans in Hamilton are responding.  Attendance at Gunpowder Armory is up 22% this season, and the league has received 27% more All-Star votes from the Hamilton area than they did in 2017.  Given the fired-up fan base, it’s no surprise that Frye was voted in as the East’s starting center.  The rising star is establishing himself as one of the SHL’s top forwards.  He’s second in the league with 51 points, and his 24 goals is good for third place in the SHL.  In addition, his +27 rating is tied with his linemates for the tops in the league.

D: Dominic Sanchez, New York.  The 28-year-old is arguably the league’s best offensive defenseman, and bolstered by a strong backing from the New York area, he was voted to his second straight starting berth, again narrowly beating out Raymond Smyth of Hamilton.  Sanchez has 29 assists on the season, which places him in the SHL’s top five, to go with a team-best +10 rating.  His excellent performance earned him Player of the Week honors this season for the first time.

RW: Jefferson McNeely, Washington.  The strong voting contingent from Hamilton nearly elevated Claude Lafayette into this spot, but in the end, McNeely’s exceptional season could not be denied, and he won the position for the second straight year by approximately 3,500 votes.  The Galaxy winger leads the league with 56 points, and is tied for the league lead in goals with 29.  “My home sweet home, DC, I wanna give you a kiss,” said McNeely as he celebrated the honor.

 

Second Line

LW: Steven Alexander, Hamilton. Alexander was offended when he missed out on the starting spot, so much so that he nearly decided to boycott the game entirely.  Alexander certainly had a strong case for starting: he’s tied for the league lead in goals with 29, and he’s also tied for the lead in plus-minus at +27.  The winger was also upset that his best friend and Pistols teammate, Claude Lafayette, was not selected to the game.  But Lafayette convinced Alexander to participate, and the fiery scorer vowed to lift the East to victory.  “When our children tell our story,” Alexander vowed, “they’ll tell the story of tonight.”

D: Raymond Smyth, Hamilton. In a repeat of last season, Smuth narrowly missed out on a starting slot. but was immediately named to the squad as the top coach’s choice.  “Everybody in the East has had a chance to see Raymond work,” said Barber.  “We’ve all been burned by him at some point or another.”  Smyth remains one of the league’s best-regarded two-way defensemen.  He has 27 assists on the season, second-highest among SHL blueliners, while also providing the rugged, hard-hitting defense that is his trademark.

C: Justin Valentine, Hershey. Last season, Valentine was voted onto the team as a starter.  This season, he needed Barber to name him to the Eastern squad.  Fortunately, the Bliss coach described Valentine as “a no-brainer choice.  We’re not having the kind of year we expected, but Justin’s still an All-Star in my book.”  Although the center is having a bit of an underwhelming year, he is tied for the team lead in goals (12) and points (33).

D: Kevin Buchanan, Washington.  This wasn’t a popular choice among Bliss fans, as Buchanan has been a frequent target of boos at Chocolate Center for his vicious hits and his habit of taunting the Bliss as “soft” in postgame interviews.  Still, Barber didn’t hesitate to select him, noting that “this is the All-Star game, not the Miss Congeniality Awards.  Kevin’s one of those games that you hate when he’s on the other team, but you love when he’s on your side.”  Buchanan is having a surprisingly strong season on offense (5 goals, 23 assists), but it’s his hard hits and smothering defense that fans love — or love to hate.

RW: Christopher Hart, Hershey. Hart joins his fellow “Love Line” member Valentine on the East’s second line.  Alexander was not alone in believing that Lafayette should have received this slot instead, but Barber said that “Chris is still getting the job done, even if the team is struggling right now.”  Hart is the Bliss’ assist leader with 23, and he’s tied with Valentine for the highest point total with 33.

 

Third Line

LW: Lix Darnholm, BostonUnsurprisingly, Darnholm is the sole representative for the expansion Badgers on the Eastern roster.  The 19-year-old Swedish-born winger is one of the few bright spots for Boston on offense.  He has scored 13 goals so far this season, which is tied with Kansas City’s Noel Picard for the second-highest total among expansion players.  His 28 points is also the second-highest among expansion clubs; only the Smoke’s Royal, a fellow All-Star, has a higher point total.

D: Laurie Workman, QuebecThe Tigres have the second-best record in the East, so it’s something of a surprise that none of their players can be found on the top two lines.  Quebec is nonetheless well represented, with four All-Stars, including three on the bottom line.  Barber said this was by design: “I figured teammates would prefer to play together.”  The rookie Workman is the only Tigres defender on the team.  He is having a strong debut season, with 17 points (4 goals, 13 assists) and a +10 rating to go along with stout defense.

C: Mikhail Ilyushin, Quebec.  The 28-year-old Ilyushin makes his first All-Star team this season.  The Tigres have undergone an offensive renaissance this season, with their top line leading the way.  Ilyushin, who centers that top line, has been a key part of that production.  He is second on the team with 34 points on the season, including 12 goals and 22 assists, and he is tied for the team lead with a +13 rating.

D: Jack “Hercules” Mulligan, Hamilton. Mulligan celebrates his second season in the SHL with his first trip to the All-Star game.  A first-round draft pick in 2017, Mulligan is living up to his advance billing with the Pistols.  He’s best known for his fearlessness and his devastating checks, which have become a regular feature of YouTube clips and highlight videos.  He contributes on the offensive end as well, having registered 18 assists so far this season to go with a +11 rating.

RW: Stephane Mirac, Quebec. Mirac joins teammates Ilyushin and Workman on the East’s third line.  The Tigres star makes his first All-Star appearance.  In 2017, Mirac was in the grip of a sophomore slump; this time around, he’s rediscovered the form that caused Quebec fans to nickname him “Stephane Miracle.”  He has scored 16 goals this season, which ranks among the SHL’s top ten, and is a steady and diligent presence on defense.

 

Goaltenders

Lasse Koskinen, Hamilton. The strong voting presence from southern Ontario helped Koskinen get over the hump and get the start in his first All-Star appearance.  “I am very honored to have this opportunity, and the recognition for all of my hard work.”  Koskinen’s excellent work has been a key factor in the Pistols’ early success; his .933 save percentage is the league’s best, and he is tied with Michigan’s Dirk Lundquist for the SHL lead with 18 wins.

Riki Tiktuunen, Quebec. Tiktuunen was selected to attend the All-Star Game last season, but he had to bow out due to an injury.  This time, the Finnish netminder is healthy and able to appear in the game.  Tiktuunen has the second-best save percentage in the league, stopping pucks at a .930 clip; only Koskinen has a better percentage.  Tiktuunen’s 17-7-0 record and 1.99 GAA testify to his tremendous work in the crease and the success that the Tigres are having this season.

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Eastern All-Star Rosters

The roster for the Eastern Division in the SHL’s first All-Star Game, as announced by coach Rodney Reagle, are as follows:

First Line

LW: Steven Alexander, HamiltonThe young, scrappy, and hungry winger has been one of the SHL’s top scorers since the beginning.  This year, Alexander is tied for the league lead in goals with 23.  “I am not throwing away my shot,” Alexander told reporters, confirming that he will play.

D: Reese Milton, HersheyThe 25-year-old blueliner is one of the SHL’s best two-way threats, contributing solidly on offense (7 goals, 24 assists) and providing lock-down defense that has helped propel the Bliss to the top of the division. “For once, Reese will be on my side, instead of kicking my butt,” said Reagle.

C: Justin Valentine, Hershey. Valentine was the top overall vote-getter among Eastern All-Stars.  He needed them all, as this was one of the most competitive positions.  Valentine withstood a determined charge from New York’s Brock Manning, Hamilton’s Calvin Frye, and Washington’s Eddie Costello.  Valentine is tied for the league lead in goals (23) and is in the top five in points (39).

D: Dominic Sanchez, New YorkSanchez was the beneficiary of a late surge in voting from the New York area, allowing him to surpass Hamilton’s Raymond Smyth to claim a starting spot. Sanchez is one of the league’s top offensive defenseman, and he has put up 30 points (6 goals, 24 assists) for the Night so far this season.

RW: Jefferson McNeely, WashingtonMcNeely withstood a late charge from New York’s Rick “The Stick” Nelson to win this starting spot by less than 5,000 votes.  The winger is having a bit of a down season, but he is still among Washington’s top scorers with 25 points (12 goals, 13 assists).  When reporters called McNeely to get his reaction to being selected, they discovered that he had not yet learned he had been chosen.  “What’d I miss?” McNeely said.

 

Second Line

LW: Lance Sweet, Hershey. Sweet is a member of Hershey’s well-known “Love Line,” among the top-scoring lines in the SHL.  Sweet has more than held up his end of the bargain, putting up 34 points (11 goals, 23 assists) on the season so far. He is just outside the league’s top 10 in both points and assists.

D: Raymond Smyth, Hamilton. Smyth lost out on a starting spot to Dominic Sanchez in the final days of voting, but Reagle wasted no time tapping him as a reserve.  Smyth has the numbers to back up his case: he has the most points (38) of any defenseman in the league, and he has an excellent defensive reputation as well.

C: Brock Manning, New York. Manning fell short to Valentine  in the voting for the hotly-contested center position, but he was selected by Reagle as a reserve.  Manning has long been one of the SHL’s top scorers, and this season is no exception; his 21 goals puts him in the league’s top five.  As the Night have improved in recent weeks, Manning has led the way, scoring 10 goals in the last two weeks.

D: Kevin Buchanan, Washington. Buchanan was one of three Galaxy players that Reagle named to the Eastern squad.  He is the top point-scorer among Washington’s defensive corps with 18, but he is known primarily as a stay-home defender.  “I was afraid of what Kevin would do to me if I didn’t pick him,” said Reagle.

RW: Christopher Hart, Hershey. Hart joins his linemate Sweet among the Eastern reserves.  He is among the top 10 in the league in points with 36 (10 goals, 26 assists).  “Glad to see the Love Line representing!” Hart said.  “We’re going to tear it up out there.”

 

Third Line

LW: Casey Thurman, Washington. Thurman is having a bit of a down year by his standards, but he remains the Galaxy’s leader in goals scored (with 14), which is good enough to put him in the top 10 in the league.  “I had to talk Casey into it a little,” said Reagle.  “He didn’t think he deserved it, but I convinced him that he did.”

D: Ward Jones, QuebecJones will be the Tigres’ only All-Star representative, as Riki Tiktuunen will miss the game due to injury.  Jones is one of the key contributors to the Tigres’ largely anonymous but second-ranked defense.  He has been a stalwart on Quebec’s top line, producing 3 goals and 3 assists while providing rugged defense.

C: Calvin Frye, Hamilton. Frye was not voted in as a starter despite being in the top ten in the league in both goals (14) and assists (28).  Frye was named SHL Rookie of the Year last season, and he shows no signs of dropping off in his sophomore campaign, on pace for a 25-point improvement from his rookie point total.

D: Grant Warriner, Washington. The Galaxy’s second-year blueliner is proving his worth as a two-way contributor.  He has thrived beside free-agent signing Patrick Banks in Washington’s second pairing, putting up 17 points to go with a +10 rating.  “I didn’t want to pick too many of my own guys,” said Reagle, “but I look at the numbers until my eyes crossed, and I didn’t see anyone who was more deserving.”

RW: Ivan Trujwirnek, New York. The second-year winger known affectionately as “Trainwreck” has been a consistent contributor on a struggling Night team.  His rugged, hard-working play quickly earned the notice of coach Nick Foster, who wound up promoting him from the third line up to the top line.  He has continued to produce even with the promotion, putting up 8 goals and 11 assists.

 

Goaltenders

Roger Orion, Washington. The Galaxy have been a defense-first team this season, and Orion has been a key piece of the equation. He is among the top 5 in the league in wins (9), GAA (2.50), and save percentage (.922).  He was voted the starter by over 10,000 votes more than his closest competitor.

Dennis Wampler, Hamilton. Orion originally named Quebec’s Riki Tiktuunen as the backup netminder, but the sophomore star was injured in Friday’s loss to Dakota.  Pistols rookie Lasse Koskinen was another possibility, but he was also injured this week and therefore unavailable.  So Reagle turned to Koskinen’s backup, Wampler.  The second-year man has been strong, going 6-3-1 with a 2.47 GAA and a .913 save percentage.

2016 SHL Finals – Game 1

Michigan SmallWashington SmallMICHIGAN GRAY WOLVES 4, WASHINGTON GALAXY 0

Despite his team coming into the SHL Finals as a strong favorite, Michigan Gray Wolves coach Ron Wright stressed the importance of starting the series strong.  “In a short series, it’s all about momentum,” said Wright.  “Fall into a hole, no matter how strong you are, and it can be impossible to get out.  I want to see us make a statement right away.”

In Game 1, the Wolves did exactly what their coach wanted.  They made about as strong a statement as possible, seizing control of the game in the first period and cruising from there.  Behind the brilliant play of G Dirk “The Bear” Lundquist (31 saves), Michigan put up a 4-0 shutout that left the visiting Washington Galaxy dazed and confused.

“Man, they really came to play,” said Washington LW Casey Thurman.  “We’re really going to have to step it up in the next game, or we’re just going to get run over.”

The Galaxy came into the game determined not to let Michigan push them around.  “We know the Wolves play a physical game,” said Galaxy D Bruce “Boom Boom” Hogaboom.  “We wanted to show them that we’re not scared.”

As a result, Washington started the game in a feisty mood, throwing elbows and hips at the Wolves.  Less than eight minutes into the game, Galaxy LW Walt Camernitz took exception to a hard check into the boards by Wolves D Bjorn Tollefson and came up swinging.  Both players wound up getting majors.

Washington’s aggressive play wound up getting them into trouble later in the period.  Rookie D Grant Warriner was whistled for high-sticking with about six minutes left in the first period.  The Galaxy managed to kill off that penalty, but no sooner had they done so than D Kevin Buchanan was hit with a double minor for spearing Michigan C Hunter Bailes.  The crowd at Cadillac Place booed Buchanan lustily, but the boos turned to cheers a couple minutes later when Michigan D Fritz Kronstein went top-shelf on Washington netminder Roger Orion to put the home team on the board.

“I saw a little daylight and I took advantage,” said Kronstein, who was Michigan’s first-round pick in this year’s draft.

Less than a minute later, the Wolves doubled their advantage as LW Jorma Seppa, filling in on the top line due to Vladimir Beruschko‘s injury, scored on a wraparound.

“That second goal really threw us off,” said Hogaboom.  “We’d been holding our own all period, then boom-boom, we’re in a hole.”

The Galaxy hoped just to survive the rest of the first and head into the locker room down 2-0, but Michigan RW Oskar Denison scored on a slapper in the waning seconds of the period for a three-goal advantage.

“At that point, we knew we were basically done for,” said Camernitz.

The rest of the game was somewhat anticlimactic, highlighted by one more goal (by Wolves C Warren Marlow in the third period) and one more fight (between Hogaboom and Michigan D “Mad Max” Madison).  The real star of the day, though, was Lundquist.  The goalie flashed his athletic prowess making some brilliant saves to keep the shutout intact.  In the second, Lundquist made several brilliant saves to help Michigan kill off back-to-back penalties.  In the third, he made a tremendous glove save to stone Washington C Eddie Costello on a breakaway attempt.

“The Bear’s motor is really incredible,” said Wright.  “Even after the outcome of the game wasn’t in doubt, he was still in top form, still hustling.  If he keeps up this level of play, it’s going to be a real short series.”

After the game, Galaxy coach Rodney Reagle sought to put the game behind him.  “I’m not going to watch the film of this game,” said Reagle.  “I think I’m going to burn the film, in fact.  If I want to watch something, I’ll watch Die Hard instead.  At least that one has a happy ending.”

Continue reading “2016 SHL Finals – Game 1”

Washington, Hershey Title Fight Goes Down to Last Day

Washington SmallHershey SmallGoing into the last week of the season, the East’s defending champion, the Washington Galaxy, trailed the Hershey Bliss by two points.  But with the two teams scheduled to meet on the last day of the season, Galaxy coach Rodney Reagle made a prediction.  “Just you watch,” Reagle said to reporters during Saturday’s game.  “It’s all going to come down to that game, and we’re both going to be tied.  One game for all the marbles.  Because that’s exactly the sick sense of humor the hockey gods have.”

As it turns out, Reagle’s prediction was exactly right.  When the Bliss and Galaxy faced off at Constellation Center on Friday, they had identical 33-23-3 records. Just as Reagle had foreseen, the winner of the game would win the division.

As it turned out, Washington defended its division crown with a dramatic come-from-behind 5-3 win that left the home crowd ecstatic and the visiting Bliss heartbroken.

“Couldn’t have asked for a more thrilling finish, eh?” said Reagle with a grin.

The Galaxy came into the season finale riding a six-game winning streak.  The Bliss were nearly as hot, having won six of their last seven, the only loss a 3-1 decision to eventual Western champ Michigan on Tuesday.

Both teams were confident heading into the deciding game.  “We feel like we’ve got the edge,” said Bliss C Justin Valentine, anchor of the team’s high-powered Love Line.  “Our offense is clicking, and Jesse [Clarkson] has really sealed up the net for us.  We’re ready to take this.”

Countered Galaxy RW Jefferson McNeely, “This game is ours.  We’re peaking at the right time, and we’re playing at home in front of our awesome fans.  We always come up big in big moments, and this is about as big as they get.”

The first period was a raucous, high-tempo affair, with the crowd at full volume.  Both teams came out of the period with some good news.  The Galaxy were able to contain the Love Line, denying the high-scoring trio any good looks at the net.  On the other hand, Hershey got offense from an unexpected source, as third-line C Henry Constantine slipped a pair of power-play goals past Washington netminder Roger Orion, quieting the crowd and giving the visitors a 2-0 edge after the first period.

In the second period, the pace slowed a bit as the nervous energy of the first frame ebbed.  Washington got on the board as D Rusty Anderson banged in a slapper from the blue line a little more than 6 minutes in, but that was the only tally of the period, and the Galaxy found themselves trailing 2-1 with only one period left to save their season.

Before the third, Reagle tried an unorthodox approach to motivate his men.  The coach is well-known for his penchant for dressing in costume and making screwball jokes, but he played it straight.  “You know who you are and you know what you need to do,” Reagle told his players.  “Stop, take a breath, and remember: you got this.”

Unfortunately for the home team, Hershey struck again five minutes into the third period, as LW Russ Nahorniak tipped one in from the goal mouth to make it 3-1.  “That was the real gut check for us,” said Galaxy C Eddie Costello.  “We looked up and down the bench and said, ‘All right, are we gonna roll over and give up, or are we going to get back in this?'”

Washington got their second wind and came out determined to catch up.  Less than two minutes after Nahorniak’s goal, Galaxy LW Walt Camernitz struck back on a three-on-two breakaway on a power play, going top shelf to make it 3-2.  But it was the latter half of the third period that really turned into a nightmare for Hershey.

With seven and a half minutes left in the game, Galaxy D Bill Corbett fired a low liner from the blue line.  The puck took a couple of strange bounces and eluded Clarkson for a curious tying goal.  Four minutes later, the Bliss surrendered another odd-man rush, with C J.C. Marais deking past a helpless Clarkson and putting the home team ahead for the first time.  The arena seemed to shake to its foundations as the crowd roared while a stunned Hershey squad tried to get itself back together.  But with a minute and a half left, the Galaxy got some much-needed insurance, with D Kevin Buchanan banking one home off the left post to make it 5-3, which was the ultimate final score.

After the game, the Bliss were left shell-shocked, having surrendered four unanswered goals to blow a seemingly solid lead.  There was a lot about this game that was tough for Hershey to swallow.  The Love Line was held without a single point in the game.  Bliss coach “Chocolate Chip” Barber suggested that the trio was exhausted by a long season.  “They’ve carried so much of the load for us for so long,” mused Barber.  “I just think there wasn’t enough left in the tank.”  And Clarkson, Hershey’s big deadline pickup, wilted in the clutch when his team needed him most.  Clarkson was not available for comment after the game.

Barber summed things up for his team by saying, “To come this far this year and then have a game like this, it’s like biting into a nice Fifth Avenue bar and finding a big rock in the middle.”

In the Washington locker room, the mood was entirely different.  Reagle blasted “Joy to the World” from his office as the players danced and sprayed each other with beer.  “Man, what a crazy ending!” shouted Costello.  “Last year was easier, but this was way more fun.”

The Galaxy also extended praise to their defeated foe.  “Big tip of the lid to Hershey,” said McNeely.  “They gave us a real run, and with a couple of bounces, this could easily have gone their way.  They’re a hell of a team, and I expect them to come back strong next year.”

As for the Finals matchup with Western champion Michigan?  “Bring it on,” said McNeely.  “We can handle anything they want to throw at us.  We’re ready.”

Washington Surges in East

Washington SmallLast season, the Washington Galaxy led the East virtually wire-to-wire, maintaining a steady single-digit lead for almost the entire season.  This season was different, as the Hamilton Pistols and Quebec Tigres got off to surprisingly strong starts and the division remains tightly bunched in the early weeks.  Over the last couple of weeks, though, the Galaxy have quietly kicked things into gear, going on a tear and opening up a double-digit advantage over their stumbling competitors.  As the league hits midseason, Washington appears well-positioned for a return trip to the playoffs.

“That whole team should wear ninja outfits,” said New York Night C Brock Manning, whose team trails the Galaxy by 11 points.  “They rarely look dominating, they don’t have a bunch of big-name stars… but damned if you don’t look up and see them pulling away every time.  I don’t know how they do it.”

How do they do it?  With a surprisingly potent and balanced offense, combined with a sturdy defense and solid goaltending.  To the surprise of many observers, Washington is second in the league in goals with 104.  The Galaxy’s top scorer is RW Jefferson McNeely, who has rebounded in a big way from a down year in 2015 to establish himself as a star.  McNeely’s 18 goals and 36 points puts him in the top 10 in the league in both categories.  McNeely’s emergence has taken considerable pressure off of linemate Casey Thurman, who was the team’s leading scorer in ’15 but got off to a slow start this year.

“I’m really glad to see Jefferson having a strong season,” said teammate Eddie Costello.  “He’s an electric personality, and the fans are really getting to see that now that he’s breaking out.  The people in DC are going to love this guy.”

But McNeely is far from the only quality scorer in the Galaxy’s lineup.  Thurman (10 goals, 25 points) has been gaining steam during Washington’s recent run.  Costello has done a great job setting up McNeely and Thurman, but is also a scoring threat in his own right (12 goals, 36 points).  Washington has strong scorers on its second and third lines as well, including LW Walt Camernitz (15 goals, 29 points), RW Sindri Pentti (11 goals, 17 points), and C J.C. Marais (25 points)

“That’s what makes us so dangerous,” said Camernitz.  “We pack a punch on all three lines, and we can score at any time.  Some other teams, you contain their one or two big guys and you can shut them down.  We’re not like that.”

Washington is no slouch in its own end, either.  The Galaxy’s defensive prowess was a key reason they were able to push the heavily favored Anchorage Igloos to 7 games in last season’s SHL Finals, and if anything, they’re stronger this year.  Defenseman Bruce “Boom Boom” Hogaboom is the team’s chief enforcer, and his willingness to scrap is legendary around the league.  But Washington is well stocked with solid two-way threat on the blue line.  Top pairing Leonard Wright and Kevin Buchanan are strong playmakers at both ends, and second pairing Rusty Anderson and Grant Warriner provide a bit of a heavier, more defense-oriented look.  The team also has several rugged wingers, most notably the hard-checking Pentti.

“A lot of teams in this league are imbalanced toward offense or defense,” said Buchanan.  “We pride ourselves on being balanced.  We can bang with the big boys, but we also have the speed and scoring ability to keep up with the faster clubs.”

Backstopping the defense is netminder Roger Orion, who has provided steady and drama-free prowess in the crease since the beginning.  “Other goalies have flashier reps and bigger names,” said Costello.  “But we’re happy to go to war with Roger any time.  We know he’s going to take care of business back there.”

Overseeing the whole circus is the league’s most colorful coach, Rodney Reagle.  A former goalie who was nicknamed “Reagle the Eagle” in his playing days, he’s done nothing to disprove the adage that goaltenders are a strange breed.  Players, though, say that his offbeat style keeps the cluhbhouse loose even in tense moments.

“Coach, well… what can you say?” said Costello.  “He’s one of a kind.  And by that I mean he’s hard-core nuts.  But we love that.”

Reagle keeps up a seemingly never-ending stream of pranks and jokes.  Recently, in reaction to the “creepy clowns” stories circulating on the Internet, he had the visiting locker room at Constellation Center decorated with pictures of clowns.

“I’ve been in there,” said Reagle, “and afterward I had to curl up in the fetal position for a half hour.  It’s totally going to unnerve our opponents.  Think of it as psychological warfare.”

While creepy clowns may or may not be essential to Washington’s recent success, critics argue that the Galaxy are simply cleaning up against a weak division.  As of this writing, none of the other teams in the East have an above-.500 record.  The West, meanwhile, has a pair of powerhouses in the Igloos and the Michigan Gray Wolves.  Even if Washington cruises back to the Finals, won’t they simply be crushed by whoever emerges from the West?

Reagle pointed out that people said the same thing last year, and the Galaxy nearly won the title.  “If everyone wants to overlook us and say that we’re weak because our division is struggling, go ahead,” said the coach.  “We’ll be happy to prove them wrong again.”

2015 SHL Finals – Game 1

Washington SmallAnchorage SmallWASHINGTON GALAXY 3, ANCHORAGE IGLOOS 2

The Anchorage Igloos came into the SHL Finals as heavy favorites.  If they expected this series to be a cakewalk, though, they’ll need to adjust their expectations.  The Washington Galaxy skated into Arctic Circle Arena and stole Game 1 by a 3-2 margin.

“You guys might want to hold up on the coronation,” Galaxy RW Jefferson McNeely jibed to reporters after the game.  “Looks like we’ve got a real series on our hands, huh?”

The Igloos are famous for their team speed, and early in the first game, they threatened to leave the visiting Galaxy in the dust.  A little more than 6 minutes into the game, Anchorage had already secured a 2-0 lead on goals by LW Les Collins and C Jake Frost.  “That was a real gut check for us,” said Washington D Kevin Buchanan.  “They were turning [the game] into a track meet, and we just weren’t able to keep up.”

But Washington coach Rodney Reagle made some adjustments and encouraged his team to keep their heads up.  “I told ‘em all to take a deep breath and figure out a way to get in Anchorage’s heads,” said Reagle.  “The pressure’s on them; they’re the favorite.  If we can disrupt their flow, we can change the whole series.  That was the message.”

Reagle’s players listened.  Late in the first period, Galaxy D Bill Corbett goaded Collins into a slashing penalty, and Galaxy RW Nori Takoyaki took advantage, banging home a goal from the left faceoff circle to make it 2-1.

In the second period, Washington managed to slow the pace of the game and prevent the Igloos from making their trademark breakaways.  Late in the period, the Galaxy first line struck twice to claim the lead.  First, C Eddie Costello banged home a blue-line shot through traffic to tie the game.  Then, less than a minute later, Igloos RW Sven Danielsen was whistled for tripping.  On the ensuing power play, Costello faked another blue-line slap shot, instead passing to LW Casey Thurman, who was sitting in front of the crease.  Thurman tipped it past Anchorage goalie Ty Worthington for a 3-2 lead.

In the third period, the Igloos peppered the Washington net with shots (a total of 14 in the period), but Galaxy goalie Roger Orion made several brilliant saves, and Washington’s defenders also sacrificed their bodies to block a number of Anchorage attempts, as the Galaxy held on for the victory.  The crowd filed out in stunned silence, perhaps realizing that they were in for more than they’d bargained for.

Buchanan proudly lifted his shirt in the locker room to display the bruises he’d received from blocking shots.  “That’s playoff hockey, baby!” Buchanan shouted.  “Those are badges of honor right there.  We’re not about to let up!”

Castor remained confident despite his team dropping the opener at home.  “We never thought the Galaxy were going to make this easy on us,” said Castor.  “We knew we’d have to earn this.  But we’re going to have to turn the intensity up a notch in the next game.”

Continue reading “2015 SHL Finals – Game 1”

Galaxy Players Go Cow Crazy

Washington GalaxyOn the surface, it seems like things are going well for the Washington Galaxy.  The team has been at or close to the top of the standings throughout the season to date.  But beneath the surface, according to sources close to the team, a tension is building.  The source of that tension: a chocolate-theme jingle performed by a trio of singing cows.

This week, the Galaxy came to Hershey to play the Bliss.  Coach Rodney Reagle, figuring it was a good opportunity for the new team to bond, brought the Galaxy in a day early and took them to the Chocolate World exhibit at Hersheypark.  In addition to creating their own candy bars and tasting a variety of different chocolates, the team went on a ride that explains how Hershey’s chocolate is made.

singing-cows-of-hershey
The (real) singing cows

One of the most notable aspects of the ride is a trio of female cows (Gabby, Harmony, and Olympia) that sing about the glories of milk chocolate.  The players all agreed that this was a highlight of the experience.  Little did they know that it would be the bone of contention in the days to come.

Casey Thurman
Casey Thurman

According to team sources, Galaxy LW Casey Thurman, D Kevin Buchanan, and F Gene Kennedy were especially fond of the song.  And ever since, the three have taken to serenading their teammates with the jingle, in falsetto, everywhere the team goes.  In the locker room before games, on the team plane, in restaurants, everywhere.  The three players even bought pink boas to match those worn by the cows.

Kevin Buchanan
Kevin Buchanan

Needless to say, the constant singing has not been equally appreciated by all teammates.  In particular, C Drustan Zarkovich reportedly threatened to kill the singers with his stick if they didn’t stop singing during a particularly long plane flight.  The threats and complaints have reportedly only encouraged Thurman, Buchanan, and Kennedy to keep it up.

Gene Kennedy
Gene Kennedy

“I mean, it was funny at first,” said star LW Jefferson McNeely.  “But there’s a point where it’s too much.  I mean, you see three grown men walking down the street, singing in high voices and wearing pink boas… it’s weird.  They’ve even started calling each other by the names of the stupid cows.”

Apprised of McNeely’s criticism, Thurman (“Gabby”) responded, “I’ve never had more fun in my life.  I think in my soul, there’s always been a singing cow waiting to get out.”

For his part, Reagle doesn’t regret the bonding trip.  “It’s the kind of thing the guys will be talking about all season,” said the coach.  “Maybe eventually one of the guys will snap and start choking someone, and then I’ll have to intervene.  But for now, I’m cool with it.  Besides, I’ve heard them sing, and they’re not half bad.  Of course, they’re not half good either.”