(Hamilton leads, 3-2)
After yesterday’s 3-2 loss, the Anchorage Igloos found themselves just one game away from defeat in the SHL Finals, facing a must-win Game 5 in enemy territory. But the Igloos didn’t get to be two-time SHL champions without learning to overcome adversity. So before the game, coach Sam Castor delivered a simple message to his players: “You can’t lose this one,” Castor said. “So don’t.”
The Igloos heeded their coach’s words, seizing the lead early and hanging on for a 2-1 win over the Hamilton Pistols, keeping their Vandy hopes alive.
“We knew we weren’t going down without a fight,” said C Jake Frost. “We’re too good a team to lose in five, so we weren’t about to let that happen.”
In Game 4, Anchorage allowed Hamilton to get out to a 3-0 lead before mounting a rally that wound up falling short. With that in mind, the Igloos were determined to score first this time. “If you get the first goal, especially if you get it early, you can dictate the terms of the game,” said D Ted Keefe. “And that’s what we wanted to do.”
The boys in baby blue pulled that off a little over three minutes into the game when C Florian Theroux, who was scratched from Game 4 due to illness, deflected a shot from Keefe over the catching glove of Pistols goalie Lasse Koskinen.
“This was a happy day for me,” said Theroux. “Yesterday, I was throwing up my guts. Today, I was a hero.”
Anchorage may have struck first, but their advantage was short-lived. Less than two minutes after taking the lead, the Igloos went a man down when D Dave Frederick received a minor for holding the stick. On the ensuing power play, D Albie Glasco tied it up on a severe-angle shot that banked off the shoulder of Igloos goalie Ty Worthington.
“I was just trying to see if I could get a juicy rebound,” Glasco said. “I didn’t think there was any chance it was going to go in.”
The Igloos were eager to retake the lead before the end of the first. They did, but only by the skin of their teeth. In the waning seconds of the periods, Anchorage carried the puck into the offensive zone. It seemed to disappear in a mass of bodies in front of Hamilton’s net. Finally, the puck wound up in the net, seemingly at the same time at the horn ending the period. After review, it was determined that the puck crossed the line before the horn, giving Anchorage its sought-after lead. The goal was credited to D Olaf Martinsson.
“Going into the locker room with the lead, that was huge,” said Frost. “Our confidence was through the roof.”
In the second period, Anchorage borrowed a page from Hamilton’s Game 4 playbook, slowing the pace and bogging down the Pistols’ drives in the neutral zone. It wasn’t the prettiest twenty minutes of hockey, but it was effective, as Hamilton couldn’t mount any serious scoring threats. The Igloos missed a chance to add to their lead in the closing minutes of the period when Frost fired a shot that beat Koskinen but hit the right post.
Going into the third period, the Pistols were determined to break the Igloos’ press and turn up the pace. “We weren’t going to let them rock us to sleep for forty minutes with a one-goal lead,” said D Raymond Smyth.
The Pistols succeeded in generating some offensive pressure with more aggressive breakouts and long passes designed to break the Anchorage neutral-zone trap. But they ran into one big problem: Worthington. The Anchorage goalie was at his best, his razor-sharp reflexes anticipating the Pistols’ every move. He gobbled up one puck after another, snapping them out of the air with his glove or smothering them beneath his pads.
Hamilton’s best chance came in the middle of the period, when Igloos D Willy Calligan was sent off for slashing. The Pistols got into their power-play setup, and LW Steven Alexander wound up for a slapshot. Instead of shooting, he fired a pass to RW Claude Lafayette, catching Worthington out of position. Lafayette shot at what he thought was a wide-open net… only for the Igloos netminder to come flying over and deflect the shot with his stick.
“I have no idea how he got over so fast,” said Lafayette. “He must have a time machine.”
The Pistols had a couple more quality chances after that, but Worthington held his ground and preserved the win. The series now shifts back to Arctic Circle Arena in Anchorage, where the champs need to win both games to defend their title. “We’ll have our fans and we have the experience,” said Frost. “I like our chances.”
Alexander, for his part, seems unconcerned about the shift in venue. “We already beat them once in their barn,” the feisty winger said. “We can do it again.”