2020 SHL Finals – Game 4

ANCHORAGE IGLOOS 6, HAMILTON PISTOLS 4

(Hamilton leads series, 3-1)

For the Anchorage Igloos, there was only one goal in today’s Game 4: don’t get swept.  After the Hamilton Pistols won the first three games of the SHL Finals, the Igloos were on the brink of that ignominious end, and they were determined not to let that happen.  Not in front of their own fans at Arctic Circle Arena.  For a proud veteran team, the thought of such a humiliation was too much to bear.  And they didn’t let it happen, scoring four times in the second period on the way to a 6-4 win.

“This is the statement we’ve been looking for all series,” said C Jake Frost.

When the puck dropped to open the second, the game was tied 1-1 and the outcome was far from certain.  Igloos C Tom Hoffman, skating on the top line in a shake-up move by coach Sam Castor, won the faceoff and slid the puck to LW Jerry Koons.  Koons raced up the ice and passed it back to Hoffman, who began to loop behind the net, only to fire it just before he crossed the goal line and put it in to give the Igloos the lead.

Five minutes later, RW Nicklas Ericsson got behind the Hamilton defense and received a perfect pass from D Sebastian Pomfret.  Ericsson broke in alone on the net, dangled a bit, then went high to put the Igloos up by two.

“Nick is such a brilliant passer and facilitator that it’s easy to overlook his scoring talent,” said Castor.  “Just a remarkable player.”

Unlike in previous games, Anchorage managed to keep the Pistols from seizing the momentum.  When D Russ Klemmer scored to put Hamilton back within one less than a minute later, the Igloos kept the pressure on.  It was Frost who crashed the net and collected the loose puck and jammed it in to restore Anchorage’s two-goal lead.  When Pistols C Marco Venezio cut the deficit in half again, the Igloos needed just nine seconds for Koons to score on a slapshot from the slot.

Early in the third period, the Pistols threatened one more time when D Clayton Risch scored on a fluky looper of a shot that grazed the crossbar and went in.  This time, Anchorage’s seldom-used third line pitched in, as RW Jean Pierre Fleury juked his defender with a beautiful toe drag and then fired a shot about Hamilton goalie Lasse Koskinen‘s glove for his second goal of the game.

Any hope for a Pistols comeback in the rest of the game was snuffed out by a parade of penalties.  Hamilton went to the box three times in the third period, preventing them from establishing any sort of rhythm or sustained pressure.  As the final horn sounded, the Igloos gathered in a knot and traded head bumps while the crowd cheered with relief.

So the Igloos managed to prevent the sweep.  Their next goal: a win in Game 5 to keep Hamilton from celebrating on Anchorage’s ice.  “I said yesterday that we’re taking these one at a time,” said Castor.  “We got this one, and now we need to come out tomorrow and get the next one.”

The Pistols, meanwhile, remained confident that they will ultimately prevail.  “We never expected a sweep,” said coach Keith Shields.  “Anchorage is too good and talented a team to go down without a fight.  But if we keep playing the way we’ve been playing, we’ll be in good shape.”

Continue reading “2020 SHL Finals – Game 4”

2020 SHL Finals – Game 3

HAMILTON PISTOLS 3, ANCHORAGE IGLOOS 2

(Hamilton leads series, 3-0)

Facing a must-win Game 3, the Anchorage Igloos improved in a number of critical ways over the first two games.  With the home crowd at Arctic Circle Arena behind them, they managed to slow down the Hamilton Pistols at least a bit, and prevented them from shooting at will.  Goalie Ty Worthington upped his game after a couple of rocky starts.  The Igloos power play, which had come up dry in the first two games, finally struck pay dirt – twice, even.  But even with all those improvements, the Igloos still came up short, as the Pistols came from behind to claim a 3-2 win and move to the brink of claiming their second straight title.

“We felt like we did everything we needed to do in order to win,” said Igloos C Jake Frost.  “But we didn’t win.  That’s pretty frustrating.”

Today’s game didn’t unfold at the same full-tilt pace at the last two, but the Igloos didn’t take long to take the lead.  Pistols C Marco Venezio wound up in the penalty box for elbowing just 28 seconds into the game, and RW Jean Pierre Fleury scored on the ensuing power play.  Better still, the Igloos were able to make that goal stand up – and keep Hamilton off the board for the rest of the first period and much of the second.  Unfortunately, they were unable to add to their lead despite numerous opportunities.

“The first half of the game, we were getting the better end of the play,” said Anchorage coach Sam Castor.  “But we really should have been up 2-0 or 3-0 at that point, not 1-0.  We were taking the first shot instead of the best shot on too many occasions.”

As a result, when Pistols C Calvin Frye redirected a shot into the upper right corner of the net, that wound up tying the score and deflating the crowd.  Hamilton coach Keith Shields felt that Frye’s goal was critical to Hamilton’s eventual victory.

“Before that point, we’d had some great shots, but it seemed like we weren’t ever going to get anything through,” said Shields.  “But then Cal scored, and that got things going for us.”

In the first minute of the third period, the Igloos got the fans back into the game, as D Tony Citrone fired it home to give Anchorage the lead back.  But a few short minutes later, Hamilton was able to shift the game’s momentum in their favor, this time for good.

Unsurprisingly, it was team leader Steven Alexander who was responsible for the Pistols’ tying goal.  It came on an extended shift in the offensive zone, one that Alexander himself helped to extend by chasing down a loose puck just before it crossed the blue line.  After several tic-tac-toe passes, the puck wound back up on Alexander’s stick, and he ripped a slapshot so powerful that it seemed to go through Worthington and into the net.

“That was a textbook shift for us, and for Alex to end it with a goal was perfect,” said Shields.  “If you want to know what Pistols hockey at its best is all about, just watch that shift.”

It was not Alexander, however, who scored the winning goal.  Instead, it was LW Jamie Campbell, the young winger who struggled through a mediocre season but has come to life in the postseason skating on the second line.  On this play, Campbell parked himself in front of the Anchorage net and would not allow himself to be dislodged, despite vigorous hacking and whacking from a couple of Igloos.  He took Worthington’s eyes away on a shot from the point by D Burt Hampton, and so the netminder was helpless when Campbell tipped the shot just inside the post.

“I’m finally contributing the way I feel like I should,” said Campbell.  “It’s about time.”

The Igloos tried desperately to find the tying goal, firing 19 shots in the third period (and 45 for the game).  But they couldn’t get another one past Hamilton’s Lasse Koskinen.  Shields lavished praise on his goalie after the game.

“Koski’s definitely been under fire in this series,” said the coach, “and he’s come through clean every time.  He’s been Johnny on the spot for us every time.  Heck of a goalie!”

Meanwhile, Worthington and the Igloos sat at a quiet locker room and pondered the uncomfortable truth.  They’d played their best game of the series, and it still hadn’t been enough.  One more loss and their season will come to an end.

In spite of that, Anchorage remains confident of a comeback.  “We’ve got to win four in a row,” said Frost.  “We’ve done that plenty of times this year.  We can do it again.”

Castor, though, doesn’t want his team looking that far ahead.  “We just need to take it one game at a time,” the coach said.  “Let’s win tomorrow and go from there.”

Continue reading “2020 SHL Finals – Game 3”

Pistols, Igloos Do It Again in Finals

The 2020 Vandenberg Cup Finals feature something that has never happened before in SHL history: a rematch.  The defending champion Hamilton Pistols will be trying to become the first SHL franchise to win back-to-back titles, and they’ll be doing it against the team they defeated last season, the Anchorage Igloos.

“The fact that we were able to win it by beating the team we modeled ourselves after, that was special,” said Pistols coach Keith Shields.  “And if we could repeat against them, it would be that much more special.”

Needless to say, the Igloos – who themselves won the Vandy in 2018 – are eager to wrestle the crown back from the spirited youngsters from Hamilton.

“The rest of the league’s been wanting to write our eulogy all year,” said Igloos C Jake Frost.  “Sorry to tell them, we’re not dead yet.  Portland found that out the hard way last round, and we’re ready to show these guys the same thing.”

It was far from a guarantee that these teams would meet again in this year’s Finals.  Both teams found themselves in a cap crunch after last season, and were forced to part with key contributors.  The Igloos let go of C Nile Bernard, RW Ben Summers, and D Dave Frederick, all of them veterans who were popular with teammates and fans alike.  The Pistols, meanwhile, turned loose C Eddie Costello, the deadline pickup who starred down the stretch.

But both teams also got key contributions from some of their new additions.  For Hamilton, C Marco Venezio and Summers – both of them signed on cheaper-than-expected deals – clicked beautifully on a revamped second line that provided a major offensive spark.  For Anchorage, C Tom Hoffman – a third-year player widely regarded as a draft bust – arrived in an offseason trade and resuscitated his career, finishing third on the team in points with 62 and skating frequent minutes on the top line.

“If Tommy hadn’t delivered for us the way he did,” said Igloos coach Sam Castor, “we wouldn’t be in the playoffs, period.”

The teams also finished the season with similar records; Hamilton’s was slightly better, finishing with 82 points vs. Anchorage’s 78.  Both teams are even down a second-line winger; the Pistols are without LW Magnus Gunnarson, while the Igloos are missing RW Waldo Miranda.

“It’s no surprise that we’re so similar,” said Pistols C Calvin Frye.  “It’s like looking in a mirror.  But this is our chance to get the upper hand.”

If the Pistols can indeed win back-to-back titles, they’ll establish themselves firmly as the SHL’s top team.  But if the Igloos can win their third title, and second in three years, they can stake their own claim once more.

“This is a real heavyweight matchup,” said Pistols LW Steven Alexander.  “But this is our chance at immortality, and we’re not throwing away our shot.”

2020 SHL Playoff – Game 1

Western Division Playoff (Anchorage leads, 1-0)

ANCHORAGE IGLOOS 2, PORTLAND BLUEBACKS 0

The Portland Bluebacks came into today’s game at Willamette River Arena prepared to notch their first-ever postseason victory.  They were fired up but not overamped.  They had a sellout crowd of screaming fans behind them.  They flew up and down the ice, fired crisp tape-to-tape passes, and bombarded the Anchorage Igloos‘ net with 41 shots.  In short, they did everything they needed to win.

They just weren’t counting on Ty Worthington.  The Igloos goalie was a buzz saw, turning aside all 41 Portland shots.  Thanks to Worthington’s brilliance, Anchorage managed to steal one on the road, claiming a 2-0 win.

“He just sealed it up,” said Bluebacks D Woody Fairwood, who unloaded 10 shots on Worthington to no avail.  “He was never out of position, and he wasn’t leaving any daylight. He just had the net on lock.”

Worthington has five seasons worth of playoff experience; at this point in his career, the bright lights don’t raise his heart rate.  “I was able to block out the noise and just focus,” he told reporters.  “I was seeing the puck really well, and muscle memory took over from there.:

Igloos coach Sam Castor praised Worthington, but he also credited the team’s defense for denying the Bluebacks good looks at the net.  They were particularly effective at containing Portland’s top line of LW Alphonse Gaspard, C Eddie Costello, and RW Vince Mango, limiting them to just six shot.  “Sure, [the Bluebacks] took a lot of shots, but they weren’t top-quality shots,” said Castor.  “They were firing from the outside and severe angles a lot, and they weren’t getting second looks.  It wasn’t always pretty, but it was effective.”

With Worthington standing on his head, the Igloos didn’t need much offense.  C Jake Frost scored the winning goal for Anchorage just over three minutes into the game, catching the Bluebacks in a poor line change and finishing a breakway by firing the puck over the right shoulder of Portland netminder Jesse Clarkson.  They added a bit of insurance early in the second, when Bluebacks C Cliff Derringer was whistled for a controversial offsides to nullify a potential odd-man rush.  A frustrated Derringer whacked the puck into the stands, earning a minor for unsportsmanlike conduct.  On the ensuing power play, D Sebastian Pomfret cycled down from the blue line and fired a slapper that Clarkson couldn’t corral.

After the game, Derringer took responsibility for the loss.  “I have no idea what I was thinking,” he said.  “I just lost my head out there, and you can’t do that on this stage.”

In spite of their strong season, Portland now finds itself facing a must-win situation in Game 2.  Coach Harold Engellund believes his team is up to the challenge.  “We got knocked down today,” said Engellund.  “But I know we’re going to get off the mat and come back swinging.  They can’t shut us out every time.”

 

W Final - Gm 1, Anchorage @ Portland, Willamette River Arena

                   1   2   3   OT   F
Anchorage          1   1   0        2
Portland           0   0   0        0

 
Anchorage             SH   G   A PTS BLK PIM +/-   Portland              SH   G   A PTS BLK PIM +/-

Keefe           D      0   0   1   1   2   4  +1   Costello        C      3   0   0   0   0   0  -1
Ericsson        RW     1   0   2   2   1   0  +1   Mango           RW     1   0   0   0   0   2  -1
Koons           LW     2   0   1   1   0   0  +1   Fairwood        D     10   0   0   0   0   2  -1
Frost           C      4   1   0   1   2   0  +1   Lidjya          D      0   0   0   0   0   0  -1
Pomfret         D      6   1   0   1   2   2  +1   Gaspard         LW     2   0   0   0   0   0  -1
Kerasov         D      2   0   0   0   1   0   0   Argent          LW     1   0   0   0   2   5   0
Hoffman         C      3   0   0   0   1   0   0   Lambert         D      4   0   0   0   4   0   0
Collins         LW     1   0   0   0   0   5   0   Beasley         C      5   0   0   0   1   0   0
Citrone         D      4   0   0   0   4   2   0   Pepper          RW     1   0   0   0   0   0   0
Zhlotkin        F      1   0   0   0   0   0   0   Gallagher       D      3   0   0   0   1   0   0
Martinsson      D      2   0   0   0   1   0   0   Gatecliff       D      4   0   0   0   1   0   0
Adamczyk        LW     1   0   0   0   0   0   0   Durien          RW     1   0   0   0   0   0   0
Calligan        D      3   0   0   0   2   0   0   Mortensen       D      0   0   0   0   1   0   0
Bunyakin        C      1   0   0   0   0   0   0   Derringer       C      4   0   0   0   1   6   0
Fleury          RW     3   0   0   0   1   0   0   McElvern        F      2   0   0   0   0   0   0
------------------------------------------------   ------------------------------------------------
TOTALS                34   2   4   6  17  13   1   TOTALS                41   0   0   0  11  15  -1

Coach: Sam Castor                                  Coach: Harold Engellund                         

Scratches:
ANC:  Kennedy, Dyomin, LaNeige, Miranda (DL)
POR:  Bannon, Hexton, Gauss

 
Anchorage           SH    SV    G    Sv%
----------------------------------------
Worthington         41    41    0  1.000

Portland            SH    SV    G    Sv%
----------------------------------------
Clarkson            34    32    2  0.941

 

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

GOALS:
03:19  ANC  Frost (Ericsson, Koons)

PENALTIES:
09:06  POR  Derringer 4:00 (Spearing)
14:25  POR  Argent 5:00 (Fighting)
14:25  ANC  Collins 5:00 (Fighting)

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

GOALS:
02:47  ANC  Pomfret PP (Keefe, Ericsson)

PENALTIES:
02:28  POR  Derringer 2:00 (Unsportsmanlike Conduct)
04:54  POR  Fairwood 2:00 (High-sticking)
08:09  ANC  Citrone 2:00 (Slashing)

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

GOALS:
None


PENALTIES:
02:11  ANC  Pomfret 2:00 (Tripping)
06:59  POR  Mango 2:00 (Holding the Stick)
09:30  ANC  Keefe 2:00 (High-sticking)
18:00  ANC  Keefe 2:00 (Elbowing)


 
SHOTS
------
                   1   2   3   OT   F
Anchorage          8  12  14       34
Portland          19  10  12       41

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

Anchorage        1 for 4
Portland         0 for 4

 
INJURIES
--------

None

 

Eastern Division Playoff (Hamilton leads, 1-0)

HAMILTON PISTOLS 3, HERSHEY BLISS 2

After the first period of today’s series-opening game, Hamilton Pistols coach Keith Shields knew he needed to reset his team.  Within the first six minutes, the visiting Hershey Bliss had built a 2-0 lead on a pair of power-play goals.  Those power plays had come courtesy of two ill-advised penalties by D Burt “Hacksaw” Hampton, who earned a seat on the best for the rest of the period.  The Pistols reacted to the early deficit by turning frantic, firing a flurry of shots that Bliss goalie Christien Adamsson easily stopped.

“I could tell our hearts were beating a little fast,” said Shields.  “We needed to slow down a bit.”

So Shields reminded his team of who they are.  “You’re the defending champions,” he said to his players.  “You’re mighty warriors.  You’re behind, but you’re not out of it by a long shot.  You’ve faced bigger deficits than this.  Take a breath and relax.  You’ve got this.”

He turned to Hampton and said, “I’m letting you out of jail.  But we need you on the ice, so go forth and sin so more.”

The Pistols took their coach’s words to heart.  They went out and rallied, notching a come-from-behind 3-2 win that marked their first step toward defending their title.

“This was a big statement win for us,” said Pistols RW Claude Lafayette.  “It showed that if somebody else wants the Vandy, they’re going to have to come take it from us.”

Hamilton got a break just seven seconds into the second period, when Bliss D Steve Cargill was penalized for high-sticking on a failed lift check.  On the power play that followed, the Pistols whipped the puck around with aplomb until it wound up on the stick of LW Steven Alexander, who fired one of his trademark slapshots to the short side to cut the deficit in half.  The crowd at Gunpowder Armory, which had been unusually quiet, roared back to life after Alexander’s tally.

The scored remained 2-1 through the rest of the second, but the momentum was shifting, and both teams felt it.

“When that crowd got going, that seemed to settle [the Pistols] down,” said Hershey C Justin Valentine.  “They lost that nervous energy and started playing with more confidence.  And then they started tilting the ice.”

Just over six minutes into the third period, the Pistols set up on an extended shift in the offensive zone.  The puck came to Alexander, who wound up for a booming slapper… only instead of shooting, he fired a pass to Hampton, who was breaking toward the net.  The hulking defenseman finished with a surprisingly light touch, flipping the puck over Alexander’s blocker to tie it up.  It was a tremendous relief for Hampton, who toned for his earlier blunders.

“When coach let me out of the doghouse, I wanted to show him that he was right to trust me,” Hampton said after the game.  “Scoring isn’t really my game, but I was glad for the chance to lift the team up.”

A couple minutes after that, LW Jamie Campbell – who struggled for much of the season – earned his shot at redemption.  Campbell is skating on the second line due to Magnus Gunnarson‘s injury, and when that line set up in the Hershey end, the Bliss defenders ignored Campbell to focus on C Marco Venezio and RW Ben Summers.  Seeing the opportunity, Venezio found Campbell, who had a clear lane to a wide-open net.  He didn’t miss, tucking it under the crossbar to put the Pistols in front.

“I had a feeling the game was going to find me,” said Campbell.  “And I knew if it did, I wanted to be ready.”

As exciting as the win was for the Pistols, it came at a cost.  Rookie D Elvis Bodett left the game in the third period after taking an awkward check up high and he did not return.  The team announced that he will miss the rest of the series.

Meanwhile, the visiting locker room was quiet after the deflating loss.  But Hershey will need to readjust quickly if they’re going to bounce back in Game 2.

“We need to be more aggressive with the lead next time,” said coach Chip Barber.  “That’s the defending champs over there, and if you give them a chance to get back into a game, they’re going to take it.  When we get ahead next time, we need to finish them off.”

 

E Final - Gm 1, Hershey @ Hamilton, Gunpowder Armory

                   1   2   3   OT   F
Hershey            2   0   0        2
Hamilton           0   1   2        3

 
Hershey               SH   G   A PTS BLK PIM +/-   Hamilton              SH   G   A PTS BLK PIM +/-

Milton          D      1   0   1   1   1   0   0   Lafayette       RW     0   0   2   2   0   0  +1
Sweet           LW     3   0   0   0   1   0  -1   Frye            C      4   0   1   1   0   2  +1
Hart            RW     1   0   0   0   0   2  -1   Alexander       LW     3   1   1   2   0   0  +1
Aubin           D      2   0   0   0   2   0   0   Mulligan        D      2   0   0   0   2   0   0
Valentine       C      4   1   0   1   3   0  -1   Risch           D      3   0   0   0   3   0   0
Kirkpatrick     C      2   1   0   1   0   0  -1   Smyth           D      1   0   0   0   5   0  +1
Cargill         D      6   0   1   1   0   4  -1   Summers         RW     2   0   1   1   0   0  +1
Meloche         D      0   0   0   0   0   0  -1   Bodett          D      4   0   0   0   0   2  +1
Swindonburg     LW     1   0   0   0   0   2  -1   Venezio         C      1   0   1   1   0   0  +1
Montrechere     RW     1   0   0   0   1   0  -1   Campbell        LW     7   1   0   1   1   0  +1
Ketterman       C      1   0   0   0   0   0   0   Hampton         D      5   1   0   1   2   4  +1
Daniels         RW     2   0   1   1   1   4   0   Marais          C      2   0   0   0   0   0   0
Nahorniak       LW     2   0   1   1   2   0   0   Glasco          D      1   0   0   0   0   0  +1
Minnik          D      2   0   0   0   1   0  -1   Patterson       RW     2   0   0   0   1   0   0
Kulkarov        D      0   0   0   0   3   0  -1   Jennings        F      2   0   0   0   2   0   0
------------------------------------------------   ------------------------------------------------
TOTALS                28   2   4   6  15  12  -2   TOTALS                39   3   6   9  16   8   2

Coach: Chip Barber                                 Coach: Keith Shields                            

Scratches:
HSY:  Kilborn, Snelling, Lapointe
HAM:  Klemmer, Pedersen, Winston (INJ), Gunnarson (DL)

 
Hershey             SH    SV    G    Sv%
----------------------------------------
Adamsson            39    36    3  0.923

Hamilton            SH    SV    G    Sv%
----------------------------------------
Koskinen            28    26    2  0.929

 

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

GOALS:
01:51  HSY  Kirkpatrick PP (Nahorniak, Daniels)
05:54  HSY  Valentine PP (Cargill, Milton)

PENALTIES:
01:06  HAM  Hampton 2:00 (Interference)
05:02  HAM  Hampton 2:00 (Cross-checking)
13:38  HSY  Daniels 2:00 (Unsportsmanlike Conduct)

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

GOALS:
00:41  HAM  Alexander PP (Frye, Lafayette)

PENALTIES:
00:07  HSY  Cargill 2:00 (High-sticking)
02:02  HAM  Bodett 2:00 (High-sticking)
13:56  HSY  Cargill 2:00 (High-sticking)
15:15  HSY  Hart 2:00 (Holding the Stick)
16:43  HSY  Swindonburg 2:00 (Cross-checking)

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

GOALS:
06:32  HAM  Hampton (Alexander, Lafayette)
08:33  HAM  Campbell (Venezio, Summers)

PENALTIES:
00:44  HSY  Daniels 2:00 (High-sticking)
02:00  HAM  Frye 2:00 (Clipping)


 
SHOTS
------
                   1   2   3   OT   F
Hershey            9   8  11       28
Hamilton          18  10  11       39

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

Hershey          2 for 4
Hamilton         1 for 6

 
INJURIES
--------

Elvis Bodett (HAM) -- Upper-body  7 games