Igloos vs. Growlers Is a Family Affair

When Colin Mills sold his share of the Anchorage Igloos and purchased the Milwaukee Growlers, he figured it was likely that his new team would face his former one in the postseason at some point.  He just didn’t think it would be this year.

“I thought we were a good year or two away from contention,” said Mills.  “But we arrived ahead of schedule!”

The Growlers (who were the Dakota Jackalopes before relocating in the offseason) survived a crowded race for second place in the West, outlasting Michigan and Saskatchewan to make the postseason for the first time in franchise history.  Now, though, they face a tougher challenge: taking out an Igloos teams that has made a trip to the Finals a near-annual occurrence.

The Igloos, especially owner Leslie Mills (Colin’s daughter), seem eager for the matchup.  “Getting to fight against a friendly face should really motivate the boys,” said Leslie.  “The tables have turned, and they have a chance to prove their success with the better owner.”

Anchorage is the definite favorite in this series.  They have experience on their side, having reached the Finals in every year of the SHL’s existence except 2016.  They also had the edge in the standings; they pulled away from the pack in the second half and finished with the SHL’s best record.  Milwaukee, on the other hand, finished 9 points back… and they would have finished fifth if they played in the East.

Jake Frost

The Igloos rolled to a division title in spite of the fact that they were without their leading scorer, C Jake Frost, for a quarter of the season. Frost was still on the IL at the end of the regular season, but coach Sam Castor expects him to return during the playoffs.

One reason that Frost’s injury didn’t sink Anchorage is that they possess a deep and balanced offense; they boasted 11 scorers in double digits for goals.  (The Growlers had 10 in that category.)

“We’re definitely a better team when Jake’s in the lineup,” said LW Jerry Koons, whose 19 goals was second on the team.  “But we’re still strong even without Jake, and that’s because we have a lot of veteran guys who are comfortable carrying the load.”

Salary-cap constraints forced some roster turnover as usual, but the Igloos’ new pieces proved to be a good fit.  Half of the defensive corps consisted of rookies, but Laszlo Cierny (5 G, 23 A, 116 BLK, +23), Brian Coldivar (13 G, 12 A, 52.3 CF%), and Thor Dalmgaard (5 G, 14 A, 96 BLK, 51.2 CF%) all turned in strong campaigns.  A pair of free agents, RW Trevor Green (12 G, 20 A, 51.4 CF%) and LW Veikko Sikanen (13 G, 15 A, +20, 52.2 CF%), ably filled bottom-six holes on the wing.

“We’ve got a strong system and a strong locker room,” said Castor.  “As long as guys come in with a professional attitude and buy in to the system, they’ll succeed.”

The Growlers don’t have a top-flight scoring threat like the Igloos have in Frost; their highest scorer was RW Arkady Golynin, who had just 22 goals.  Milwaukee has a number of strong secondary threats, however, including seven players with 15 or more goals; as a result, they finished with slightly more goals on the season than Anchorage (209 vs. 206).

“We don’t have the prototypical #1 scorer, but we think that’s a plus,” said Growlers LW Zachary Merula.  “Instead, we’ve got scoring threats up and down the lineup.  There’s never a break with us.  It’s not like the third line comes on and you can say, ‘Oh, it’s the scrubs, we can take it easy.’  It’s 60 minutes of pressure.”

The Growlers’ “60 minutes of pressure” includes defense; Milwaukee allowed an average of 30.5 shots per game, nearly a shot a game less than Anchorage.  “Everyone here is committed to a 200-foot game,” said D Kirby Hanlon.  “If you’re going to score on us, you’re going to have to earn it.”

If there’s one area where the Igloos have an undisputed advantage, it’s in net.  Ty Worthington made a strong case as the SHL’s best goaltender this season, leading the league in save percentage (.922) and finishing second in GAA (2.38).  Backup Curt Freeze recovered from a slow start to post solid stats as well (12-3-3, 3.01, .906).

The Growlers, meanwhile, saw starter Lorne Mollenkamp take a step back after a solid rookie campaign, never quite seeming to settle into a groove.  His final numbers (21-18-4, 3.12, .895) were mediocre at best.  When rookie backup Kelvin White also struggled, Milwaukee acquired Washington’s Buzz Carson at the deadline.  After going 6-5-0 with a 2.54 GAA and a .917 save percentage in the Cream City, he might have done enough to steal the starting job from Mollenkamp.  Growlers coach Rodney Reagle refused to commit to a starter for this series.

Speaking of Reagle, the fun-loving coach is back in the postseason for the first time since 2016, when he took the Galaxy to their second straight SHL Finals.  With his team an undeniable underdog, might the irrepressible Reagle pull out some of his old hijinks to fire up his team?  Might he try coaching in costume, or giving a postgame interview in a Dracula accent?

Asked if he had anything special planned for the series, Reagle winked and said, “You’ll just have to wait and see.  I wouldn’t want to spoil any surprises and ruin the motivational impact.”

Igloos Go Crazy for K-Pop

K-pop is arguably the hottest musical trend on the planet right now.  Groups such as BTS have millions of devoted fans all over the world; they’ve become a force to be reckoned with.  Given K-pop’s popularity, it was only a matter of time before it broke through to the SHL, and now it has: the Anchorage Igloos have become K-pop stans.

According to team sources, it all began with RW Jean Pierre Fleury.  The young winger was reportedly introduced to the music of BTS by his girlfriend, and he quickly became a fan of the catchy, upbeat, danceable tunes.  He listened to the band virtually non-stop on road trips and to get himself hyped up before games.

Jean Pierre Fleury

“The music is full of energy,” said Fleury.  “It is like a Red Bull for my mind.”

Fleury tried to turn his teammates on to BTS, with little initial success. “They told me it was music for teenage girls,” the winger said.  “They would not really listen.”

But then, after an early-season victory, Fleury managed to slip the group’s mega-hit “Dynamite” onto the playlist.  This time, the players were much more receptive, dancing along with the music.

From that point, it was on.  BTS quickly became a playlist staple in the locker room and on team flights.  “One time, on a flight to Michigan, we must have played ‘Dynamite’ 20 times in a row,” said C Tom Hoffman.  “JP said they were different remixes, but they all sounded basically the same to me.”

As the team’s K-pop love deepened, they became interested in learning the intricately choreographed dance moves that go along with the songs.  A group of Igloos players began practicing the dances as part of their workout routine.  “Those guys can really move!” said G Ty Worthington of the pop stars.  “It’s not easy to keep up.  But it’s great cardio, and it’s fun too.”

Once the players started to learn the moves, they developed a tradition of holding locker-room dance battles after victories.  When “Dynamite” or another BTS song comes up on the playlist, the players form a circle and try to outdo one another.  The winner receives a “trophy,” made by Fleury, which features a doll of BTS member RM spray-painted gold and mounted on a wooden base.

The team considered moving the dance battles onto the ice – making them similar to the Carolina Hurricanes’ famed “Storm Surges” – but quickly realized that trying to execute the dance moves on skates could be disastrous.  “I’m sure if one of our guys blew out a knee trying to do the Dynamite dance,” said D Sebastian Pomfret, “no one would be happy.”

News of Anchorage’s postgame dance battles became public when Worthington started recording them and posting them to his Instagram account.  They quickly became a viral sensation among Igloos fans, and even won the team some new fans among the vast K-pop online army.

“Some of the guys were a little embarrassed about it at first,” said Worthington of the videos, “but once they became so popular, now everyone’s on board.  It’s pretty cool!”

Perhaps surprisingly, one fan of the dance battle tradition is Igloos owner Leslie Mills, who is herself a K-pop superfan.  “I totally approve,” said Mills about the victory dances. “It’s a good team bonding activity, and since it’s something I also like, that’s even better.”

Igloos Calm Anxious Fans With “Relax Room”

To call the last couple of years in America “stressful” would be an understatement.  Between rising political tensions, social unrest, the pandemic, and economic uncertainty, many Americans are walking around in a cloud of constant anxiety.  Anchorage Igloos owner Leslie Mills has noticed the spike in anxiety levels, and she has decided to do something about it: she has installed a “relax room” at Arctic Circle Arena to help calm the fans’ nerves.

“I know a lot of our fans are stressed out these days,” said Mills.  “Whether it’s because they’re nervous about the game or just anxious about life in general, we want to help.”

The relax room is full of amenities designed to soothe even the most stressed-out soul.  The walls are thoroughly sound-insulated, so the roars from the seating bowl can’t be heard.  The room is decked out with throw pillows, beanbags, and blankets, allowing fans to sit comfortably – or even take a quick nap.  There is a giant screen in one corner of the room showing a continuous loop of the famously relaxing “Joy of Painting” series, featuring Bob Ross.  Fans can sit down in one of several massaging recliners, slip on headphones, and enjoy Bob’s mellifluous voice, or they can select one of several relaxing music channels, or just the sounds of a babbling spring or a gentle rainstorm.  In the center of the room is a table with a variety of Igloos-branded fidget toys.  On the far side of the room is a rabbit pen, where fans can pet or snuggle with some very docile bunnies.

For fans who want to keep an eye on the game while they relax, the Igloos have that covered as well: there’s a big-screen TV showing the game outside the glass doors – with the sound off, of course.

“To be honest, I’d be in here 24/7 if I could get away with it,” said Mills.  “It’s just such a peaceful place.  I love it!”

The relax room opened during the Igloos’ recent homestand, and it quickly proved a hit with the fans.  In addition to fans seeking stress relief, the room was popular with parents whose kids found the noise in the arena overwhelming.

Wendy Gabbert, an Igloos fan from Big Lake, sat in the relax room cradling her 3-year-old daughter Alice.  “This is Alice’s first game, and she was excited to go, but the noise and the lights were a little too much for her,” said Gabbert.  “I was afraid I’d have to leave the game, but instead I can come here, help her calm down, and still keep up with the game.  Perfect!”

Don Christman, a 34-year-old office worker who lives in downtown Anchorage, came into the relax room between periods to sit in one of the recliners and watch Bob Ross.  “With everything in the world being so crazy today,” said Christman, “it’s nice to be able to watch my favorite team and still get my relax on.  This idea was genius!”

It’s not just fans who are attracted to the idea of the relax room.  Coach Sam Castor said he plans to check it out as well.  “If we’d had this during the last couple Finals,” quipped the coach, “that would have been great for my blood pressure.”

He praised the Mills for taking care of the fans.  “It’s a really nice thing to do,” said Castor.  “A lot of teams claim to care about their fans, but this shows just how much she really does care.”

The coach added one request for the owner: “If I could get one of those massaging recliners in my office, that would be great.  Thanks!”