Igloos Prepare for Change After Finals Loss

As the final seconds ticked away in the deciding Game 6 of the 2019 SHL Finals, the Anchorage Igloos hung their heads.  Playing in front of their home fans at Arctic Circle Arena, the Igloos had allowed four third-period goals to turn a 3-1 lead into a 5-3 defeat at the hands of the Hamilton Pistols.  It had been a tense, close series, with all the previous games decided by one goal and two of them going to overtime.  But the series was ending with a clunker, a shocking embarrassment for the defending champions.

In the locker room after the game, the Igloos sat quietly and contemplated an uncertain future.  Ten of the twenty players on Anchorage’s roster are pending free agents, and salary-cap constraints mean that several of them won’t be back.  The roster is likely to look a lot different next season.

“This definitely isn’t the ending we wanted,” said C Jake Frost.  “Especially knowing that this is the last ride for some of our guys, that’s tough.”

LW Les Collins, one of those free-agents-to-be, shared Frost’s sense of disappointment.  “There’s a definite sense of unfinished business here,” Collins said.  “Ending like this, it’s shocking.  But I want to come back and help us get back on top next season.”

Some of the Igloos acknowledged that the balance of power was shifting within the league.  For years, Anchorage and the Michigan Gray Wolves were the unquestioned class of the SHL.  Recently, though, the Igloos and Wolves have been challenged within their division by the Seattle Sailors (who made the playoffs for the first time this season) and Saskatchewan Shockers, as well as by the Pistols and other teams in the rising East.

“For so long, we’ve been the favorites,” said LW Jerry Koons.  “But now, there are other teams just as good as us.  We can’t take it for granted anymore that we’ll be the best.  The Pistols are a really good, really tough club.  I don’t think this is the last time we’ll be facing them in the Finals.”

Coach Sam Castor struggled to reckon with his team’s collapse in Game 6.  “This series was so close for so much of the way,” Castor said.  “A couple bounces here or there and it’s a totally different conversation.  But for us to fall apart like that in a must-win game, especially on home ice… that’s not like us at all.  But Hamilton won this series, no question about it.  They deserve to be the champions.  For us, we’ll have to go back to the drawing board.”

Asked whether the team had lost its hunger for victory after its previous wins, Castor demurred.  “I don’t think that’s true at all,” said Castor.  “I didn’t see anyone here resting on their laurels.  We came up against a very good team, and they came through when it counted.”

While some of the Igloos struggled with the outcome and contemplating the next chapter, co-owner Leslie Mills took a philosophical approach.  “We gave it our all, and that’s all that you can ask,” she said.

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Interview of the Week: Leslie Mills

This week’s interview is with SHL co-founder and Anchorage Igloos co-owner Leslie Mills.

SHL Digest: We’re here this week talking to the league’s founding mother, Leslie Mills.  Welcome, Leslie!

Leslie Mills: Hi, I’m glad to be here!

SHLD: How do you feel about the league after two seasons?

LM: I am very happy with where we are right now. I think that we have had a very successful and fun run so far!

SHLD: Why do you think the league has been so successful?

LM: I think it really has to do with the cooperation the entire SHL community has had. We have a really good comradery, and all of us together have made something really amazing.  

SHLD: What was your favorite moment from this season?

LM: I think my favorite moment has to be all of the little mishaps that occur over the season. I can’t pick just one! They just prove how many things are funny looking back, and shows the league’s flexibility and how we aren’t afraid to have fun.

SHLD: What are you most excited to see in the coming seasons?

LM: I am excited to see how it all plays out and all of the exciting and funny memories we will create in the future.

SHLD: Who is your favorite player in the league and why?

LM: It has to be Ryan Airston because his bunny obsession is really cute and fun. He isn’t afraid to be different, which I think is something very important about the SHL.

SHLD: Is there anything you’d like to see change in the SHL?

LM: I don’t think anything major is necessary. If anything I would say we should do more league-wide events, so the teams aren’t only seeing each other on the ice.

SHLD: Your team, the Igloos, won the coveted Vandy last season.  Is the trophy as shiny as everyone says it is?

LM: It is super shiny and cool. Admittedly, it is not something I would drink out of. But it looks like a perfect fit in its display case. The Vandy not only has physical value, but it commemorates the whole first season we had. It proves that teamwork gets the win in the end.

SHLD: The Igloos didn’t make the playoffs this year.  What do you think you’ll need to do to get back into the playoffs next season?

LM: I think that there are some very fast-paced and strong teams in the league now, which is a little different than last year. We need to focus on making sure we are equally strong on all areas of the ice. And focus on what we are good at and not try to get too fancy with it.

SHLD: Care to make a prediction about the Finals this year?  Who do you think will win and in how many games?

LM: That is a difficult question! I think it could easily go all the way to Game 7 but in the end, my money is on Michigan. They have been such a strong team this year.

SHLD: What would you like to say to the fans who have faithfully supported the SHL for the last two seasons?

LM: I would like to say and gigantic thanks to all of you. Thanks for sticking with us through our first 2 seasons. We love all of you guys and here’s to many more great seasons to come!