SHL Division Playoff – Game 1

Western Division Series

ANCHORAGE IGLOOS 3, MICHIGAN GRAY WOLVES 1

The Western playoff is shaping up as a contest of momentum vs. body of work.  Based on their season records, the Michigan Gray Wolves entered the series as strong favorites, having finished 14 points clear of the division.  But the Anchorage Igloos came in hot, going 10-1-1 over the last three weeks of the regular season.  Meanwhile, the Wolves hadn’t played a truly meaningful game in weeks, and they lost leading scorer Hunter Bailes to injury.

“[Michigan is] still the favorite, but they’ve got to be a little nervous,” said Igloos coach Sam Castor.  “If we can steal one on their ice, they might just start to panic.”

The Igloos took a big step toward Castor’s goal in today’s Game 1.  Anchorage came into Cadillac Place, dictated the pace, and walked away with a 3-1 win.

“See any knees shaking over the other clubhouse?” joked Castor.  “Bet they didn’t see that coming.”

Anchorage came out firing in a frenetic first period.  The Igloos unloaded 21 shots on Wolves netminder Dirk Lundquist.  Only one got through – a top-shelf shot from LW Les Collins to finish a two-man breakaway – but that was enough to give Anchorage the lead at the end of the frame.

The second period was a more sedate affair, as Michigan asserted its trapping defensive style and slowed the game down.  Both teams combined managed only 17 shots in the period, and the Igloos held onto their 1-0 lead.

Midway through the third period, Wolves LW Scot Davenport scored on a power play to tie things up.  But the stalemate lasted less than a minute, as Igloos RW Ben Summers deflected a Dave Frederick slapper past a screened Lundquist to reclaim the lead.  A minute and a half later, Summers struck again on a wraparound that banked off the far post and went in. Anchorage was able to cruise to victory from there.

“I definitely need to tighten up my game,” said Lundquist afterward.  “I let in a couple of softies, which isn’t like me at all.  But tip of the cap to [the Igloos]; they played hard and really tilted the ice, especially in the first.”

Michigan coach Ron Wright said that his team needs to get its mojo back in Game 2.  “We’ve had the division on lock for so long that we lost our edge,” Weight said after the game.  “Castor’s boys came in here and took it to us, and we weren’t ready.  We’d better be ready next time, or this is going to be a short series.”

W Final - Game 1, Anchorage @ Michigan, Cadillac Place

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

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

Koons           LW     0   0   0   0   0   Douglas         LW     0   0   0   0   0
Keefe           D      0   0   0   2   1   Kronstein       D      0   0   0   0  -1
Frost           C      0   0   0   0   0   Madison         D      0   0   0   2  -1
Martinsson      D      0   1   1   0   1   Lunsford        RW     0   0   0   0  -1
Ericsson        RW     0   0   0   0   0   Beruschko       LW     0   0   0   0  -1
Collins         LW     1   0   1   4   1   Mudrick         D      0   0   0   0  -1
Pomfret         D      0   1   1   0   1   Marlow          C      0   0   0   0   0
Bernard         C      0   0   0   0   1   Zabielski       D      0   1   1   0  -1
Frederick       D      0   1   1   0   1   Poulin          RW     0   0   0   2   0
Montrechere     RW     0   1   1   4   1   Davenport       LW     1   0   1   4  -2
Miranda         LW     0   0   0   0   2   Bergdorf        D      0   0   0   0  -1
Citrone         D      0   0   0   0   1   Knight          C      0   1   1   0  -1
Calligan        D      0   0   0   2   1   Tollefson       D      0   0   0   0  -1
Summers         RW     2   0   2   0   2   Denison         RW     0   0   0   0  -2
Bellmore        C      0   1   1   0   2   Cage            C      0   0   0   0  -2
----------------------------------------   ----------------------------------------
TOTALS                 3   5   8  12   3   TOTALS                 1   2   3   8  -3

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

 
Anchorage           SH    SV    G    Sv%
----------------------------------------
Worthington         31    30    1  0.968

Michigan            SH    SV    G    Sv%
----------------------------------------
Lundquist           42    39    3  0.929

 

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

GOALS:
05:28  ANC  Collins (Montrechere)

PENALTIES:
11:01  ANC  Montrechere 2:00 (Holding the Stick)
11:34  MIC  Davenport 2:00 (Tripping)
19:13  ANC  Montrechere 2:00 (Hooking)
19:28  ANC  Calligan 2:00 (Tripping)

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

GOALS:
None


PENALTIES:
None


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

GOALS:
09:02  MIC  Davenport PP (Zabielski, Knight)
09:58  ANC  Summers (Frederick, Martinsson)
11:37  ANC  Summers (Bellmore, Pomfret)

PENALTIES:
01:23  ANC  Collins 2:00 (Hooking)
01:44  MIC  Davenport 2:00 (Elbowing)
04:40  MIC  Poulin 2:00 (Hooking)
06:37  ANC  Collins 2:00 (Tripping)
06:40  MIC  Madison 2:00 (Tripping)
08:03  ANC  Keefe 2:00 (Roughing)


 
SHOTS
------
                   1   2   3   OT   F
Anchorage         21  10  11       42
Michigan          14   7  10       31

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

Anchorage        0 for 4
Michigan         1 for 6

 
INJURIES
--------

None

 

Eastern Division Series

QUEBEC TIGRES 2, HAMILTON PISTOLS 1 (OT)

Coming into the Eastern playoffs, the Hamilton Pistols were hoping to turn the game into a shooting gallery, while the Quebec Tigres were hoping that defense and goaltending would prevail.  Each team got some of what it wanted in Game 1.  The Pistols generated the high-volume offense they were looking for, outshooting the Tigres 46-22.  But thanks to an outstanding performance from goalie Riki Tiktuunen and some good work on the power play, Quebec emerged with a 2-1 win in overtime.

“Riki really saved our bacon in this one,” said Tigres LW Walt Camernitz.  “We were outplayed on just about every level, but Riki kept us in it.  Make no mistake, though, we have to get better.”

Quebec drew first blood in the game six and a half minutes into the first period, with Camernitz banging home a slapper past Pistols goalie Lasse Koskinen in the dying seconds of a power play.  A couple minutes later, Hamilton’s Calvin Frye beat Tiktuunen on the glove side to tie the score at 1 apiece.

The next two periods saw an onslaught of offense from the Pistols, who outshot Quebec 25-9 in the second and third periods combined.  The middle of the third period was a particularly hairy stretch for the Tigres, as they took four straight penalties.  Fortunately for the home team, Tiktuunen stood on his head and answered every Hamilton blast.  He got a bit of help from the pipes, as the Pistols rang the iron twice in the last six minutes of regulation, including a blistering shot from LW Steven Alexander that actually dented the crossbar.

“I’m still not sure how we made it to OT,” said Camernitz.  “It felt like we were under siege the whole time.”

In the extra session, the Pistols kept firing and Tiktuunen kept stopping them.  As the extra session wore on, the penalty luck began to shift Quebec’s way.  Frye was sent off for cross-checking just under eight minutes into overtime.  The Pistols managed to kill that one off, but no sooner had that penalty ended than D Craig Werner was whistled for interference.

The Pistols penalty killers were worn down (and Werner, one of their top PK men, was in the box), and they were unable to stop the Tigres from crashing the net.  LW Stellan Fisker faked a shot from a sharp angle, then fired a pass to RW Rupert MacDiarmid at the top of the crease.  MacDiarmid had a wide-open net, and he banged it in to end the game.

“Riki was everything we needed him to be today, and thank God for that,” said Tigres coach Martin Delorme.  “In the next game, our defense will need to step up and take some of the pressure off.”

Despite losing the game, the mood in the Hamilton locker room was fairly optimistic.  “We played the game we wanted to play,” said coach Keith Shields.  “If you outshoot your opponent 2-to-1 like we did, you win that game 99 times out of 100.  In this case, you tip your cap to the goalie for a great game.  But if we can play every game like we did this time, we’re going to win it.”

E Final - Game 1, Hamilton @ Quebec, Centre Citadelle

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

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

Alexander       LW     0   0   0   0   1   Camernitz       LW     1   0   1   2  -1
Smyth           D      0   0   0   0   0   Workman         D      0   1   1   0   0
Frye            C      1   0   1   2   1   Zarkovich       C      0   0   0   0   0
Risch           D      0   0   0   0   0   McKinley        D      0   0   0   0   0
Lafayette       RW     0   1   1   0   1   Mirac           RW     0   1   1   0  -1
Gunnarson       LW     0   0   0   0   0   Fisker          LW     0   1   1   2   0
Mulligan        D      0   0   0   2   1   Ilyushin        C      0   0   0   0  -1
Constantine     C      0   0   0   0   0   Jones           D      0   0   0   0  -1
Werner          D      0   0   0   4   1   Robinson        RW     0   0   0   0   0
Patterson       RW     0   0   0   0   0   MacDiarmid      LW     1   0   1   0   0
Campbell        LW     0   0   0   0   0   Pugliese        D      0   0   0   0   0
Glasco          D      0   0   0   2   0   Kalashnikov     D      0   0   0   2   0
Zalmanis        C      0   0   0   0   0   Pentti          RW     0   0   0   0   0
Soforenko       LW     0   0   0   0   0   Miller          C      0   0   0   2   0
Dyomin          D      0   0   0   0   0   Wesson          D      0   0   0   0  -1
----------------------------------------   ----------------------------------------
TOTALS                 1   1   2  10   1   TOTALS                 2   3   5   8  -1

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

Hamilton            SH    SV    G    Sv%
----------------------------------------
Koskinen            22    20    2  0.909

Quebec              SH    SV    G    Sv%
----------------------------------------
Tiktuunen           46    45    1  0.978


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

GOALS:
06:29  QUE  Camernitz PP (Mirac, Workman)
08:57  HAM  Frye (Lafayette)

PENALTIES:
04:41  HAM  Werner 2:00 (Hooking)

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

GOALS:
None


PENALTIES:
15:23  HAM  Mulligan 2:00 (Roughing)

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

GOALS:
None


PENALTIES:
05:23  HAM  Glasco 2:00 (Holding the Stick)
06:55  QUE  Kalashnikov 2:00 (Holding the Stick)
07:25  QUE  Camernitz 2:00 (Tripping)
10:29  QUE  Miller 2:00 (Roughing)
11:46  QUE  Fisker 2:00 (Clipping)

Overtime
--------

GOALS:
10:41  QUE  MacDiarmid PP (Fisker)

PENALTIES:
07:48  HAM  Frye 2:00 (Cross-checking)
10:00  HAM  Werner 2:00 (Interference)


SHOTS
------
                   1   2   3   OT   F
Hamilton           8   8  17   13  46
Quebec             5   4   5    8  22

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

Hamilton         0 for 4
Quebec           2 for 5

INJURIES
--------

None
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Igloos Prevail Over KC In Wild OT Battle

When the Anchorage Igloos hosted the Kansas City Smoke on Friday, they were hoping for an easy win over a team on an eight-game winless streak, which would allow them to solidify their second-place standing in the West.  While the Igloos did ultimately prevail over the Smoke, it was anything but easy.  Twice, Anchorage had to rally from three-goal deficits, and needed overtime before they escaped with a wild 8-7 victory.

“Man, that was a battle we weren’t expecting!” exclaimed C Jake Frost after the game.  “We showed a lot of fight, a lot of heart, but boy, KC put a scare into us.”

The Smoke showed up ready to play.  It only took 15 seconds for LW Louis LaPlante to get on the board with his first goal of the season, a slapper past Igloos netminder Wendall Cantillon. Frost evened things up two minutes later with a shot from the right faceoff circle, but rookie C Noel Picard put the Smoke back ahead just over a minute later with a tip-in from the slot.  Midway through the first, Kansas City struck twice to take a 4-1 lead, leaving the crowd at Arctic Circle Arena in an uneasy silence.

Igloos coach Sam Castor considered lifting Cantillon at that point.  But given that it was the backup’s first action all week, the coach stayed with his goalie.  “Wendall’s got to have a chance to deal with adversity,” said Castor.  “I wanted to see how he’d react, and how the team would react.”

Anchorage rallied to Cantillon’s rescue, with RW Remi Montrechere and D “Chilly Willy” Calligan scoring to pull within one by the end of the period.  Four minutes into the second period, Montrechere struck again to tie it up and bring the crowd to its feet.

“We felt like the mommentum was going our way,” said Montrechere.  “We were in control and ready to pull away.”

As it turned out, the momentum was about to shift back to the visitors.  Three minutes after Montechere’s tally, Smoke LW Piotr Soforenko deflected a shot past Cantillon to retake the lead.  C Phil Miller went top-shelf to make it a 6-4 game at the end of the second period.

47 seconds into the third period, Kansas City D Tony Hunt notched a power-play tally to give the Smoke another three-goal lead and putting the Igloos behind the eight ball.

“We needed a jolt, and fast,” said Frost.

They got a pair of jolts in short order.  Five seconds after Hunt’s score, Montrechere blasted a shot just inside the pole to complete his hat trick.  Then, a minute later, C Broni Zhlotkin took exception to a rough hit from Hunt and dropped the gloved with him at center ice.  Although the donnybrook completed Hunt’s “Gordie Howe hat trick” (a goal, an assist, and a fight), it fired up both the Anchorage bench and the crowd.

Twenty seconds after the fight, LW Les Collins banged home a juicy rebound to pull the Igloos within one.  Six and a half minutes later, C Nile Bernard went five-hole on KC goaltender Brooks Copeland and tied it up.  Bernard jumped up against the boards in the corner as the fans banged the glass in delight.

Although the atmosphere in the arena remained near delirium for most of the third period, the Igloos couldn’t push the go-ahead goal across.  Frost and Collins each hit the post, and Copeland made a tremendous sprawling stop with three minutes left in regulation to rob Montrechere of a fourth goal.

The game went to overtime, with both teams and the fans exhausted.  “In OT, that was all adrenaline,” said Frost.  “We had no energy left.”  With a minute and a half left in the extra session, RW Nicklas Ericsson faked a pass to Frost in the slot and slid it up to the blue line, where D Ted Keefe fired a blast that hit the crossbar and went in for the game-winning goal.

Keefe’s goal delivered the Igloos their fourth straight win and their fifth in the last six games.  It also moved Anchorage seven points clear of Saskatchewan and Seattle for second place; it’s their largest lead of the season.  But Castor remains dissatisfied with his team’s performance.  “We had no business winning this game,” the coach said.  “We’ve looked a lot better this week, but we’re going to need to tighten it up on a night-to-night basis if we’re going to make the playoffs.”

Castor’s players were happier with the outcome. “Coming back from a three-goal [deficit] in a game is a game is impressive,” said Frost.  “Doing it twice in one game?  That doesn’t happen.  We’re pretty awesome!”

Frost Gives to Fight Lupus, Support Collins

Anchorage Igloos C Jake Frost is a big believer in standing up for his teammates.  This season, Frost has decided to put his money where his mouth – or rather his hockey stick – is.  In support of LW Les Collins’ sister, Frost is giving $100 to the Lupus Foundation of America for every goal he scores.

Les Collins

Collins’ sister was diagnosed with the disease back in 2015.  When that occurred, the winger wore purple armbands in solidarity with her, a gesture that initially drew a fine from the league until they discovered the meaning behind it.

The soft-spoken and intensely private Collins has been reticent to discuss his sister’s situation since then, but during the preseason, his teammates learned that her condition had worsened and she had to be hospitalized for a time.  The Igloos wanted to do something to support her; they sent her a jersey signed by the entire team, and they recorded videos encouraging her during her treatment.  But the Anchorage star decided that he wanted to do something more.

Jake Frost

“Les is like a brother to me,” said Frost.  “And although I’ve never met his sister, she’s family to me, too.  And I want to support them any way I can.”  He offered to help pay for the cost of the treatment, but Collins indicated that they were in good shape there.  So instead, Frost decided to give to the Lupus Foundation.

According to their website, the Lupus Foundation of America is “devoted to solving the mystery of lupus, one of the world’s cruelest, most unpredictable, and devastating diseases, while giving caring support to those who suffer from its brutal impact.”  The Foundation has raised over $80 million for lupus research and education, and they also host support groups for lupus patients and their families.

“I don’t need any extra motivation to score goals,” said Frost, “but it means a little more now, since I know that every time I score, I’m helping the fight [against lupus] too.”

Frost made his plan known to his teammates, but at Collins’ request he did not speak publicly about it.  A team beat reporter found out, however, and Frost confirmed it for the record.

“One thing I want to make real clear, though,” said the Igloos star.  “This is not a story about me.  This is about Les and his sister.  That’s what I’m doing this for.  This is all about taking care of my hockey family.”

Collins said that he was deeply touched by the gesture.  “It means a lot, you know, not just the money,” said the winger.  “Knowing that Jake and everybody here has that support for [my sister], it’s more than I can say in words.  We are a family here.”

Frost isn’t the only Igloos player to donate.  Upon learning of the gesture, D Tony Citrone announced that he too would give to the Lupus Foundation… $500 for every fight.  “I don’t score a lot of goals,” said Citrone.  “But I do get in lots of fights, so this is better.  Now when I’m punching a guy in the face, it’s also like I’m punching lupus in the face too.”

2017 SHL Finals – Game 7

HERSHEY BLISS 4, ANCHORAGE IGLOOS 3 (OVERTIME)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading “2017 SHL Finals – Game 7”

2017 SHL Finals – Game 4

ANCHORAGE IGLOOS 2, HERSHEY BLISS 1

Coming into today’s pivotal Game 4, Anchorage Igloos coach Sam Castor insisted that it was not a must-win game for his team.  “Look, we’ve got to break serve,” Castor told reporters before the game.  “We know that.  They won one in our barn, so we have to win one in their barn.  What order we do it in doesn’t matter, as long as we do win one.”

Despite Castor’s statement, the coach must have been relieved that his team was able to prevail over the Hershey Bliss in a close contest, 2-1, and tie the series at two games apiece.  “Really good to see the boys take care of business today,” said the Igloos coach.  “I think this one really swung the series in our favor.”

After a couple of slower-paced, defensive games, the Igloos turned on the jets and dominated possession of the puck, outshooting Hershey 41-23.  “We hadn’t had a game yet this series where we’ve really been in control,” said C Jake Frost.  “This time, we were able to dictate the play.”

Although they were able to dominate the puck, the Igloos weren’t able to run away with the game thanks to the heroics of Bliss goalie Brandon Colt.  The Hershey netminder made a number of dazzling saves to keep the game close.  In the first two periods, the Igloos were only able to pierce Colt once, when D Dave Frederick put a rebound just inside the right post with five and a half minutes left in the first period.  The score would have been much higher if not for multiple acrobatic saves by Colt, as he bounced around the crease and made save after save.

“Colter was like Inspector Gadget out there,” said Bliss C Henry Constantine.  “Anytime there was a shot that looked like it was going in, he’d shoot out his arm or his leg and make a crazy stop.  He was keeping us in it.”

Bliss RW Christopher Hart tied the game eight minutes into the third period by whistling a shot just underneath Igloos goalie Ty Worthington‘s left pad.  The crowd at Chocolate Center came alive, and on the visiting bench, the Igloos became agitated.

“We felt like we’d been getting the better end of the play, but it wasn’t showing up on the scoreboard,” said Anchorage C Nile Bernard.  “We felt like the next goal was going to win it, and we had to make sure it was us.”

Bernard was right; the next goal did decide the game, and the Igloos got it.  The winning tally came from a somewhat unlikely source.  LW Ben Summers arrived in Anchorage this season as a free agent, and he quickly became a favorite among fans and teammates alike as a quality third-line contributor.  But the top line has driven the action for both teams in this series, so few were expecting Summers to be the difference-maker.  But with less than five minutes remaining in the game, he deflected a shot from RW Tyler Cloude past Colt for the go-ahead tally.  There were some anxious moments for Anchorage while the referees reviewed the goal, since Hershey argued that Summers had played the puck with a high stick.  But after review, the goal was upheld, and the Igloos celebrated.

“Benny really came through for us,” said Frost.  “Just like he’s come through us all year.”

It was another physical game, with Bliss D Ruslan Gromov drawing the ire of some on the Anchorage bench after getting into his third fight in the last two games, this time going after LW Les Collins.  Castor indicated that he thought the league should consider suspending Gromov, because “he’s not playing hockey out there.  He’s trying to turn this series into a street fight.”  He paused, then added with a smile, “Of course, we’ve got the upper hand, so we’re not going to press the point.”

Do the Igloos really have the upper hand in a tied series?  Hershey coach Chip Barber reacted to Castor’s confident talk with a smirk.  “Sam’s a sly one, I’ll give him that,” said Barber.  “He’s walking around like M&Ms wouldn’t melt in his mouth.  But he’s more nervous than he lets on.  This is a wide-open series, and anyone can win it.  He can’t talk that away.”

Continue reading “2017 SHL Finals – Game 4”

2017 SHL Finals – Game 1

ANCHORAGE IGLOOS 5, HERSHEY BLISS 1

The Anchorage Igloos entered the Vandenberg Cup Finals as heavy favorites.  The “favorite” label can come with considerable pressure in the playoffs, as anything can happen in a short series.  In Game 1, at least, the Igloos didn’t let the pressure get to them, as they scored three goals in the first period and cruised to a 5-1 win over the Hershey Bliss.

“If all the games are this easy, it’ll be a short series,” said Anchorage RW Nicklas Ericsson, who had a goal and two assists.  “But we know they won’t all be this easy.”

The Bliss put themselves in trouble in the first period, committing four penalties.  The Igloos took advantage, scoring a pair of power-play goals.  Four minutes into the game, Hershey D Nikolai Kulkarov was whistled for hooking when he brought down Anchorage C Derek Humplik in order to prevent a breakaway.  Igloos C Jake Frost buried a slapshot from the top of the faceoff circle to make it 1-0.  Late in the period, Bliss C Henry Constantine flipped the puck over the glass for a delay of game penalty.  Before they could kill it off, D Joel Baldwin tried to draw a tripping call, but was called for embellishment.  Igloos RW Remi Montrechere cashed in during the waning seconds of the period, putting a rebound home past a sprawled Brandon Colt.  In between, LW Les Collins scored during 5-on-5 play, and the Igloos went to the locker room with a 3-0 edge, depsite being outshot 19-8.  The crowd at Arctic Circle Arena razzed the visiting Bliss on their way into the locker room.

“We were a little shell-shocked,” said Bliss C Justin Valentine of the first 20 minutes.  “We’d dominated long stretches of play, but look at the scoreboard and they were wiping the floor with us.”

In the second period, Baldwin tried to fire up his struggling team by starting a pair of fights.  In mid-period, he responded to a rough check by RW Tony Citrone by throwing hands with him.  Late in the period, he scrapped with Collins after the two traded jabs during a faceoff.

“I felt like we needed to shake things up,” said Baldwin.  “And I thought a good fight or two might change the momentum.”

Baldwin’s fisticuffs failed to spark Hershey, however, as Anchorage LW Jerry Koons scored the only goal of the period, yet another power-play tally.

Bliss LW Noah Daniels salvaged some dignity for his team, scoring four and a half minutes into the third period to foil Anchorage netminder Ty Worthington‘s shutout bid.  But Ericsson put one more home for the Igloos to restore their four-goal advantage, and that’s how the game ended.

Hershey coach Chip Barber was crestfallen after the game.  “Not the way that we wanted to start this series,” Barber told reporters.  “This loss was as bitter as biting into a chunk of backer’s chocolate.  But it only counts as one loss, thank goodness.”

Barber highlighted a couple of areas for his team to improve on in Game 2.  “Obviously, we’ve got to cut down on the penalties,” the Bliss coach said.  “Against a team this good, you can’t give them extra chances.  And we’ve got to find ways to get some more pucks past Worthington.”  The Igloos goalie made 38 saves in the game.

Continue reading “2017 SHL Finals – Game 1”

Change of the Guard Seems Imminent in SHL’s Last Week

Going into the final week of the 2017 SHL season, neither division race is terribly close, unlike the last couple of seasons.  Barring a seismic shift in the coming week, we aren’t going to see anything as dramatic as the 2016’s Hershey-Washington last-game showdown for the division.  Nonetheless, even if things unfold as expected, the results will still have their share of surprises.  As it stands, neither of last year’s Finals opponents will make a return trip this season.

In the West, the Michigan Gray Wolves head into the season’s final week trailing the Anchorage Igloos by 6 points.  The Wolves and Igloos have been the division powers since the league’s inception, so it’s no surprise that they will finish one-two yet again.  But the Wolves have been unable to make up the ground they lost when top scorers Hunter Bailes and Warren Marlow went down with injuries in midseason.  “We’ve fought hard all year, and I know we’re going to keep battling to the end,” said Wolves RW Gordon Lunsford.  “But we’re in a difficult spot right now.”

Michigan’s best chance to narrow the gap came on Wednesday, when they faced the Igloos at Arctic Circle Arena.  The game was a true heavyweight clash, as the Wolves stifled Anchorage’s league-best offense, with the Igloos responding in kind.  After two scoreless periods, Michigan actually drew first blood seven minutes into the third, when Lunsford dented the twine on a hard slapshot between Anchorage goalie Ty Worthington‘s legs.  “That got us fired up,” said Lunsford.  “We thought this was the goal that was going to set us on a run to take the division.”

But with just over a minute left in the game, the Igloos tied the game on a fluky goal by D Sebastian Pomfret, who flicked a rebound that bounced off the back of Michigan netminder Dirk Lundquist back and into the goal.  That sent the game to overtime, where Wolves C Wesley Knight committed a tough holding-the-stick penalty.  15 seconds into the power play, Igloos LW Les Collins beat Lundquist stick-side to seal a 2-1 win.

“That was a back-breaker,” admitted Lunsford.  “To go from thinking you’re on the road to the division to feeling like you’re on the brink of elimination… it’s a kick in the gut, no question.”

As surprising as the West race has been, things have been even more shocking in the East.  The Washington Galaxy have won the division in each of the last two seasons and established themselves as the class of the division.  When they caught fire out of the All-Star Break, winning 10 in a row and snatching first place away from the Hershey Bliss, it looked like they were set up to run to yet another title.  It hasn’t unfolded that way, though, as the Bliss have grabbed the lead right back over the last couple of weeks.

And while Hershey has played well, the race in the East has been a story of Washington collapse.  The Galaxy have dropped 11 of 15 over the last three weeks, and they head into the final week of the season 8 points back of the Bliss.  For a team with a reputation for stepping it up in the second half, their dismal performance has been completely unexpected.  “We can’t figure it out,” said LW Casey Thurman.  “We know we can do better than this, but it’s kind of like we’re stepping on the gas and there’s nothing there.”

Certainly, the Galaxy’s using scoring punch has been absent during their recent skid.  They’ve fallen from sixth in the league in goals scored to second-to-last, ahead of only Quebec.  Several of their stars, including Thurman (2 goals in the last 15 games), C Eddie Costello (3 goals), RW Jefferson McNeely (3 goals), and C J.C. Marais (2 goals), have been in slumps.  But the offense hasn’t been the only culprit.  The normally stout defense, which allowed fewer than two and a half goals per game over the first two-thirds of the season, has allowed over three per game during their slide.  Backup goalie Ron Mason has lost his last five starts.  Their special units have flatlined over the last three weeks, with their power play dropping from a league-leading 24.1% success rate to a middle-of-the-pack 19.6%, and their penalty kill going from 82.9% efficiency to 78.8%.  “It’s like it’s all falling apart at once,” said Costello.

For the Bliss, who have heard over and over that they’re too soft, too sloppy, or too star-dependent to beat the Galaxy, the turnabout has been pretty sweet.  “We’ve taken a lot of crap over the years about how we can never win the big one, or how Washington’s got our number,” said Bliss C Justin Valentine.  “We’ve never bought into that story, but we knew we were were going to keep hearing it until we proved it.”  On Saturday, Hershey came into Constellation Center and walloped Washington 5-1.  “That one definitely felt good,” said Valentine.  “To be able to go into their building and shut them down like that… it gave us confidence that this isn’t going to be like the other years.  It’s a new era for us.”