West Strikes Early in All-Star Victory

Could this be the year?  The SHL’s Eastern Division squad came into Wednesday’s third annual SHL All-Star Game hungry for revenge.  In last season’s game, the West humiliated the East in a 9-2 rout.  The West has always been considered the league’s stronger division, but the East has slowly been improving.  The Quebec Tigres took the eventual champion Anchorage Igloos to seven games in last year’s finals. Eastern teams have been much more competitive in this season’s interdivision games.  With a raucous and rowdy home crowd behind them at the New York Night’s Neon Sky Center, the East hoped that the third time would be the charm.

Instead, the rule of threes worked against the East, as the West scored three goals in the game’s first three minutes, and wound up winning by three, 5-2, continuing their unbeaten All-Star streak.

“I think we’re all getting pretty sick of those bastards,” said Hamilton Pistols LW Steven Alexander, who was held scoreless in the game.  “We’ve got to win one of these.”

The Big Apple crowd definitely made its presence felt, even during the introductions.  They cheered loudly for the four Night players who made the Eastern squad, while booing each of the Western players with remarkable vigor.  They also booed their loathed rival Alexander, who responded by blowing kisses to the crowd, and Washington Galaxy C Eddie Costello, who won a slot that the Night’s fans felt should have gone to their own Brock Manning.

“One thing about the New York fans: you always know where you stand,” joked Anchorage’s Sam Castor, who coached the Western team.

Once the game started, though, the West wasted no time asserting control of the contest.  Just 71 seconds into the game, Saskatchewan Shockers D Wyatt Barnes redirected a shot from teammate Elliott Rafferty into the top-left corner of the net to put the West on the board.  Just over a minute later, Igloos LW Jerry Koons and RW Nicklas Ericsson got loose on a 2-on-1 rush, and Koons finished with a shot through the five-hole to make it 2-0.  35 seconds after that, Seattle Sailors RW Vince Mango fired a slapshot that beat Eastern goalie Jesse Clarkson on the glove side for the West’s third tally.

“They really came out firing,” said Clarkson after the game.  “My head was just spinning trying to keep up.”

East coach Martin Delorme considered lifting Clarkson after the initial onslaught, but did not want to embarrass the netminder in front of his home fans.  He did wind up relieving the starter after the first period, however.

The East’s backup netminder was Hamilton’s Lasse Koskinen, who started last year’s game but was removed after being rocked for five goals in the first period.  He admitted afterward that he’d celebrated a bit too hard in the run-up to the game.  He was much more solid this time around.  Michigan Gray Wolves D “Mad Max” Madison greeted him with a screened blast from the blue line that found the twine 55 seconds into the period.  After that, Koskinen stopped all but one of the 25 shots he faced the rest of the way. A deflection from Igloos C Jake Frost later in the second was the only other blemish on his record.

“I feel I made up for myself this time,” said Koskinen.  “Not as much parties, not as much stay out late.”

Unfortunately for the East, any hope of a comeback was stymied by Michigan’s Dirk “The Bear” Lundquist, who smothered everyone of the 34 shots he faced over two periods.  Even the East-favoring crowd gave Lundquist a standing ovation when he came up with a sprawling stop on a breakaway attempt by the Night’s Rick “The Stick” Nelson late in the first period.

“Lundquist is just a force of nature,” said Castor.  “Nothing puts that guy off his game.”

Lundquist’s brilliance earned him the All-Star MVP honors, the first time a goalie has received the award.  “When you consider the fact that the whole game is basically defense-optional,” said Barnes, “you’re that much more impressed about what The Bear did.”

Along with the award, Lundquist received a brand-new Kia Telluride SUV.  “Wow, this is a big one,” said the Wolves goalie.  “You could fit a whole kid’s hockey team in there.  But I have no kids, so I can put all of my fishing gear in it.”

The East did manage to break the shutout in the third period, scoring twice against the Western backup, Anchorage’s Ty WorthingtonHershey Bliss RW Christopher Hart struck first, beating Worthington through the five-hole about five and a half minutes into the period.  A minute and a half later, New York’s Chase Winchester scored on a wraparound that snuck past Worthington’s pad, touching off the largest cheer of the night, as the crowd saluted one of its own.

“We managed to save a little pride,” said Winchester.  “But that’s no substitute for actually winning.  Next year, it’s ours.”

If so, the East will need to win on the road; next year’s game is at Heartland Telecom Center in Kansas City.

 

SHL All Star Game 
West All Stars @ East All Stars, Neon Sky Center

                   1   2   3   OT   F
West All Stars     3   2   0        5
East All Stars     0   0   2        2 
 
East All Stars         G   A PTS PIM +/-   West All Stars         G   A PTS PIM +/-

Alexander       LW     0   0   0   0  -2   Koons           LW     1   1   2   0   2
Sanchez         D      0   0   0   0  -2   Kronstein       D      0   0   0   0   2
Frye            C      0   0   0   0  -2   Frost           C      1   1   2   0   2
Milton          D      0   0   0   0  -2   Madison         D      1   1   2   0   2
Nelson          RW     0   0   0   0  -2   Ericsson        RW     0   1   1   0   2
Winchester      LW     1   0   1   0   0   Collins         LW     0   0   0   0   0
Mulligan        D      0   0   0   0  -2   Barnes          D      1   0   1   0   2
Beauchesne      C      0   0   0   0   0   Beasley         C      0   1   1   0   0
Risch           D      0   0   0   0  -2   Pomfret         D      0   0   0   0   2
Lafayette       RW     0   1   1   0   0   Mango           RW     1   0   1   0   0
Camernitz       LW     0   0   0   0  -1   Airston         LW     0   2   2   0   1
Aubin           D      0   0   0   0   1   Chouinard       D      0   0   0   0  -1
Costello        C      0   1   1   0  -1   Rafferty        C      0   2   2   0   1
Workman         D      0   2   2   0   1   Fairwood        D      0   1   1   0  -1
Hart            RW     1   0   1   0  -1   Merula          RW     0   0   0   0   1
----------------------------------------   ----------------------------------------
TOTALS                 2   4   6   0  -3   TOTALS                 5  10  15   0   3

Scratches:
WAS:  none
EAS:  none

 
East All Stars      SH    SV    G    Sv%
----------------------------------------
Clarkson            18    15    3  0.833
Koskinen            26    24    2  0.923

West All Stars      SH    SV    G    Sv%
----------------------------------------
Lundquist           34    34    0  1.000
Worthington         18    16    2  0.889
 

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

GOALS:
01:11  WAS  Barnes (Rafferty, Airston)
02:24  WAS  Koons (Ericsson, Frost)
02:59  WAS  Mango (Beasley, Madison)

PENALTIES:
None


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

GOALS:
00:55  WAS  Madison (Rafferty, Airston)
14:28  WAS  Frost (Koons, Fairwood)

PENALTIES:
None


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

GOALS:
05:35  EAS  Hart (Workman, Costello)
07:03  EAS  Winchester (Lafayette, Workman)

PENALTIES:
None



 
SHOTS
------
                   1   2   3   OT   F
West All Stars    18  13  13       44
East All Stars    18  16  18       52

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

West All Stars   0 for 0
East All Stars   0 for 0

 
INJURIES
--------

None

2019 SHL Western All-Star Roster

The roster for the Western Division in the 2019 SHL All-Star Game, as announced by coach Sam Castor, was as follows:

First Line

LW: Jerry Koons, AnchorageKoons receives his third All-Star selection, and was voted into the starting lineup for the second time, winning by about 10,000 votes over Seattle’s Rod Argent.  Last season, Koons won All-Star MVP honors after scoring a pair of goals in the West’s 9-2 rout.  The Igloos have been red-hot lately, and Koons has been a key driver of their surge.  He’s in the league’s top 10 in points (38) and assists (24).

D: Fritz Kronstein, Michigan.  There are apparently three certainties in life: death, taxes, and the election of the Wolves’ top defensive pairing to the All-Star Game.  Kronstein and teammate Max Madison will the West’s starting defensive pair for the third straight season.  For the second straight year, Kronstein received the most votes of any defenseman in the West.  The 26-year-old continues to be among the SHL’s best two-way blueliners; he’s among the league’s top 10 in assists with 26, and has a solid +11 rating to boot.  In addition, he retains his reputation as a heavy hitter and ferocious fighter when challenged.

C: Jake Frost, Anchorage.  Like Kronstein and Madison, Frost has been a fixture in the starting lineup at every All-Star Game.  He cruised to victory once again this year, getting over 25,000 more votes than his nearest competitor.  As the Igloos have gotten stronger over the last month or so, Frost has as well.  The tall, cool center has always been among the league’s top scorers, and his 21 goals this season place him fourth in the league.  “I thought Frosty might be getting a little tired of never getting the All-Star break off,” quipped Castor, “but he seems to like it just fine.”

D: “Mad Max” Madison, Michigan.  Last season, Madison nearly missed the All-Star Game with a lower-back injury, but recovered just in time to play in the game in front of his home crowd.  This season, Madison is in excellent health (although he missed a week early in the season with a nagging lower-body issue) and is ready to make his third straight All-Star start.  The son of an amateur boxer, Madison is renowned as one of the league’s meanest and most dangerous fighters.  But he’s not just a goon; he also handles the puck responsibly.  He’s recorded 16 points (4 goals, 12 assists) so far in the 2019 season.

RW: Nicklas Ericsson, Anchorage.  For the first time, all three members of the Igloos’ top line will be skating together in the All-Star Game.  The sweet-skating Swede makes his third All-Star appearance, and makes it to the starting lineup for the second time, beating Seattle’s Vince Mango by less than 800 votes.  Ericsson’s claim to fame is his ability to pass and set up scores by his linemates, and this season is no exception; his 36 assists make him #2 in the SHL in that category.  “I’m looking forward to these guys working their All-Star magic together,” said Castor.

 

Second Line

LW: Les Collins, Anchorage.  In a move that raised a few eyebrows around the league, Castor chose his own second-line player, Collins, instead of other top left wingers like Argent or Saskatchewan’s Troy Chamberlain.  It’s the first All-Star bid for Collins, and Castor pointed out that he is having a terrific contract year, putting up 35 points (13 goals, 22 assists) and a +14 rating (among the SHL’s top ten).  He even spent some time on Anchorage’s top line, skating beside Frost and Ericsson.  “I think Les would a top-line guy for a lot of teams,” said Castor.  “He’s done it for us.  I’d put him against the best wingers out there.”

D: Wyatt Barnes, SaskatchewanBarnes has become an All-Star regular; this is his third appearance.  The Shockers are in the thick of the playoff chase this season, and Barnes and teammate Chris Oflyng have combined to form perhaps the SHL’s most dynamic defensive pairing.  Barnes is tied for the team lead in assists with 20, and has added six goals into the bargain.  While Oflyng is an even more potent offensive force, Barnes is a lockdown defender, frustrating opponents’ zone entries and blocking shooting lanes again and again.  It’s no surprise that Barnes and Oflyng are tied for the team lead in plus-minus at +8.

C: Napoleon Beasley, SeattleEarlier in his career, Beasley was trapped on a weak Saskatchewan club, and constantly faced whispers that he only played because of his father Myron, who coached the team.  After signing with the Sailors in the offseason, Beasley is demonstrating that he is a thoroughly deserving star in his own right.  It’s a breakout season for Seattle, which would qualify for its first-ever playoff berth if the season ended today, and also for Beasley, who has put up 13 goals and 19 assists on the season so far.  It all adds up to Beasley’s first trip to the All-Star Game.

D: Sebastian Pomfret, Anchorage.  Castor certainly wasn’t shy about selecting his own players to the team; he selected three Igloos to go along with the three already in the starting lineup.  “Hey, we are the defending division champs,” he noted.  The 24-year-old Pomfret signed a 4-year, $3.6 million extension in the offseason, and he’s living up to it so far.  He’s second among Anchorage blueliners with 20 points (8 goals, 12 assists), and his +13 rating is tied for the best among Igloos defensemen.

RW: Vince Mango, Seattle.  The high-scoring winger and reality television star makes his second All-Star appearance after winning a starting spot in 2018.  Mango has long been knocked for his poor defense and his love of flashy on-ice celebrations, but with the Sailors having their best year ever, their star is finally earning the grudging respect of old-time fans.  He still contributes primarily with his offense, as he’s in the SHL’s top ten for points (37) and goals (19).  But his assist total is up, and he’s more dialed in on defense than in years past.  He remains as colorful as ever, though; he promised that he’s working on a “special one-of-a-kind goal celebration” for the All-Star contest.

 

Third Line

LW: “Flyin’ Ryan” Airston, DakotaAirston gets an All-Star nod for the second time; he was in the West’s starting lineup in 2017.  This year, he is the sole Jackalopes player to receive the honor, which is fitting given the dismal season they’ve had so far.  In spite of missing nearly three weeks with an upper-body injury, Airston has still managed to out up 25 points (11 goals, 14 assists), which places him one off the team lead.  As Dakota looks to cut payroll amid rumors of serious financial trouble, Airston is practically the only team star who’s not being shopped.

D: Bastien Chouinard, Kansas CityThe 20-year-old rookie blueliner made the cut as one of the Smoke’s two All-Star representatives.  Although Boston’s Alain Beauchesne is the consensus Rookie of the Year favorite, Chouinard may give him a run for his money.  The young Quebecois D-man is putting up surprising offensive numbers (5 goals, 19 assists) to back up a give-no-quarter defensive style that has him tied for second in the NHL in penalty minutes, with 60.  “Defensemen are a pretty rough bunch, but that guy’s legitimately scary,” said Smoke coach Randy Bergner of Chouinard.  “If I had to go down a dark alley at midnight, I’d want him next to me.”

C: Elliott Rafferty, Saskatchewan.  Many league insiders thought Rafferty’s teammate Lars Karlsson would get this spot, but Castor instead tapped Rafferty to make his All-Star debut.  Karlsson has the big contract and the superior pedigree, but Rafferty’s got the better numbers this season.  He leads the Shockers with 32 points (12 goals, 20 assists), and he’s one of only three forwards on Saskatchewan with a positive plus-minus (+3).  Rafferty’s breakout performance earned him Player of the Week honors a couple weeks before the break; that might have influenced Castor’s thinking.

D: Woody Fairwood, Seattle.  Amid a crowded field of strong two-way defensemen, Castor made a somewhat unexpected pick in tapping the 23-year-old Fairwood as another first-time All-Star.  Prior to this season, Fairwood was perhaps best known around the league for the time he sat on the opposing goalie and flung the puck into the net by hand.  But this year, he’s earning notice for his high caliber of play.  In the first half, he produced 26 points (8 goals, 18 assists).  Even more impressive, his +19 rating is second-best in the league.  “Good things happen when Woody’s on the ice,” said Sailors coach Harold Engellund.  “That’s all there is to it.”

RW: Zachary Merula, Kansas City.  Yet another All-Star newcomer, the 23-year-old Merula joins teammate Chouinard on the bottom line.  Merula had an impressive rookie season, and he looks to be on track to eclipse that performance in his sophomore year.  He is KC’s second highest point-scorer with 28 (13 goals, 15 assists).  And he doesn’t shy away from rough play, either, as his 45 penalty minutes will attest.

 

Goalies

Dirk “The Bear” Lindquist, Michigan.  Who else?  The lusciously-bearded Lundquist regularly tops the list of SHL goaltenders, both in terms of statistics and fan support.  Even though Michigan has slipped a bit after a dominant start, Lundquist remains the king of the Western crease, having almost twice as many votes as his nearest competitor.  As usual, he leads the league in wins (with 16) and in save percentage (.942).  His 1.64 goals-against average is second only to his rarely-used backup, Art Cowan.

Ty Worthington, Anchorage.  In each of the past two years, Worthington has been Lundquist’s backup on the Western squad.  Castor decided to keep the tradition going for 2019, despite considerable support for Seattle’s Rocky Goldmire, who is having a career season.  Unlike many of his Igloos teammates, who started slow and then get hot, Worthington has been strong throughout the first half.  He is tied with Hershey’s Brandon Colt for second-most goaltender wins, with 14.  His 2.38 GAA placed his among the league’s top five.

Wolves Fall Out of First, Wright Warns Against Complacency

Four weeks ago, the Michigan Gray Wolves looked unbeatable.  Literally.  Twelve games into the season, they had yet to lose (or tie) once.  It looked as though the Western title was all but assured, and the rest of the season would be a race for second place.

What a difference a month makes.  Since their 12-0-0 start, Michigan has stumbled to a 4-7-5 record.  This week, they lost three games in a row for the first time in three years, and they ended the week in second place for the first time in almost a season and a half.  The team’s performance was so concerning that coach Ron Wright took the rare step of publicly chiding his team.

The week began on Sunday in Kansas City against the struggling Smoke.  The Wolves fell behind 2-0 before rallying with a pair of goals in the third period to salvage a tie.  After the game, the players expressed disappointment in their performance.  “We definitely didn’t play our best hockey today,” said D Max Madison.  Although they had no way of knowing it at the time, it would be Michigan’s best performance of the week.

On Tuesday, they headed west to take on their strongest challenger to date, the Seattle Sailors.  The Wolves were thoroughly outplayed by their rivals.  Seattle outshot Michigan 17-7 in the first period, setting the tone for the contest.  Although netminder Dirk Lundquist stopped all 17 to keep it scoreless, the dam burst in the second as the Sailors scored three times.  In the end, the Wolves were outshot 37-23 and outscored 4-0.

The Wolves then flew coast-to-coast for an interdivision game against the New York Night on Thursday.  The Night have scuffled recently, but the Wolves found no reprieve in the Big Apple.  New York dictated the tempo of play, and although Michigan outshot them 37-36, goalie Jesse Clarkson stymied them for a second straight shutout, 3-0.

On Saturday, the Wolves showed up at Centre Citadelle to face the Quebec Tigres.  The Tigres are built in the same deliberate, defense-first mold as the Wolves, and the game was a taut and close affair.  The game remained scoreless until the third period, when Tigres RW Sindri Pentti bulled his way into the slot and jammed a rebound past Lundquist.  Unfortunately for the Wolves, they were unable to come up with the equalizer and lost 1-0.  It was their third defeat in a row and dropped them a point behind Seattle.

Ron Wright

After the Quebec loss, Wright critiqued his squad during his postgame press conference.  “I’m not going to lie, I’m a little concerned by what I’m seeing,” Wright told reporters.  “The first three weeks of the season, they were a thing of beauty.  We were tight, we were winning the battles along the boards, our passes were on target.  But I think we’ve gotten complacent.  We started believing our own headlines a little too much, acting like we’d already clinched.  The intensity level isn’t where it needs to be.”

The coach cautioned that his team can’t take the postseason for granted.  “Last season was basically a cakewalk,” Wright said.  “But this year is different.  Seattle’s playing out of their minds.  Anchorage is coming on strong.  Even Saskatchewan’s right in the mix.  We better not let it slip too far, or we might not even make the playoffs.”

Wright concluded on a hopeful note: “Fortunately, we know we’ve got plenty of talent, and we’ve got time to get things back on track.  And I think we’ll be better off having to work for it, rather than waltzing through the season.  We’ll be sharp, and we’ll need to be if we’re going to win the Vandy.”

The players generally agreed with their coach’s assessment.  “We’re not playing the kind of game we need to play,” said C Warren Marlow.  “I think we’re all pretty disappointed.  But like Coach Wright said, we’ve got time to turn it around.”

Marlow noted one key factor that might explain Michigan’s recent struggles: the absence of C Hunter Bailes, one of Michigan’s top scorers.  Bailes is currently on the disabled list with a lower-body injury, his second ailment of the season.  The Wolves have gone 4-6-1 without Bailes, and 12-1-4 with him in the lineup.  “Once we get Hunter back, we’ll be in a lot better place,” said Marlow.  “He’s the guy we need.”

Interview of the Week: Max Madison

This week’s interview is with Michigan Gray Wolves D Max Madison.

SHL Digest: We’re here this week with one of the SHL’s most ferocious blueliners, Max Madison.  Max, we appreciate your time.

Max Madison

Max Madison: Yeah, sure, no problem.

SHLD: When people talk about the meanest, toughest guys in the SHL, your name is always near the top of that list.  What do you think of that reputation?

MM: I’m proud of my reputation, because I earned it.  Everyone around the league knows that I stick up for my teammates, that I can hold my own in a fight, and that I’m a guy you don’t want to cross.

SHLD: No question about that.  When we interviewed Bruce Hogaboom last year – and he’s a pretty tough guy himself – he called you the best fighter in the league.

MM: Did he?  Coming from a guy like Boomer, that’s the highest compliment you could ever want.  There’s a handful of guys in this league who can really scrap, and he’s one of them.  So am I.

SHLD: Did you grow up wanting to fight?

MM: I did, but not in the way you might think.  I grew up in Chicago, and he was an amateur boxer.  I worshipped him.  I basically grew up in the Olympus Gym on the South Side.  I wanted to follow in Dad’s footsteps and become a boxer.

SHLD: Wow, you really must have idolized him.

MM: Damn straight.  He taught me a lot about life.  He wasn’t a big guy, but he was quick and strong as an ox.  He knocked out guys who had 50 or 60 pounds on him, easy.  He taught me how to have no fear, how to keep attacking even when you’re getting tagged.  That’s why the guys call me Mad Max, because I’m so driven and relentless.  I got that from him.

SHLD: That’s quite a legacy.

MM: No question about it.  He taught me never to give up or back down.  I would never have made it without him.

SHLD: So how did you wind up picking hockey over boxing?

MM: Well, I liked to ice-skate in the winter and play shinny with some guys in my neighborhood.  I got good enough that the hockey coach at the high school nearby spotted me and encouraged me to try out.  But I still had my heart set on being a boxer, so I asked my dad.  He said, “Trust me, son, there’s no money in boxing unless you’re Mike Tyson.  Go for hockey.”  So I did, and I never looked back.”

SHLD: And you’ve done quite well!  Unlike a lot of enforcer types, you’re also a good stick-handler and scorer.

MM: And I’m proud of that.  Don’t get me wrong; I like to fight, and that’s a key part of my game.  But I never just wanted to be a one-dimensional enforcer.  I wanted to be strong on both ends of the ice.

SHLD: Are there any young players out there that remind you of yourself?

MM: There’s one guy for sure: [Hamilton Pistols D] Hercules Mulligan.  He might be crazier than me.  He’s like a bowling ball, knocking guys down left and right.  And you can tell he loves it.  He’s a glutton for hard work and hard hits.  I love that kind of spirit.

SHLD: One more question.  Last season, your Wolves had a great regular season, only to get swept in the playoffs by the Anchorage Igloos.  You’re off to another hot start; are you looking for revenge this season?

MM: What do you think?  You better believe it.  Coach [Ron] Wright is just as driven as me, and he talked about how he couldn’t sleep for days after that series.  I couldn’t either.  We let ourselves get embarrassed, and we won’t let that happen again.  It’s Vandy or bust for us.  I’d rather eat glass than let those guys sweep us again.

SHLD: Well, thanks for a lively and honest interview, Max.  Good luck the rest of the season!

MM: I appreciate it.

Lundquist Opens Season with Back-to-Back Shutouts

The Michigan Gray Wolves have historically succeeded on the strength of their defense and the sure-handed goaltending of Dirk “The Bear” Lundquist.  As the Wolves begin their quest to dethrone the Anchorage Igloos atop the Western division, they came out firing on all cylinders, as Lundquist became the first netminder in SHL history to open the season with back-to-back shutouts.

Dirk “The Bear” Lundquist

“All hail The Bear!” crowed Wolves D “Mad Max” Madison.  “We like to talk about how nothing gets past him, but literally, nothing is getting past him right now.”

The Wolves opened the season on the road against the Saskatchewan Shockers, a team widely perceived as a rising power.  Lundquist, however, barely broke a sweat in turning aside 21 Saskatchewan shots, and LW Scot Davenport’s short-handed goal stood up as the lone tally in a 1-0 Michigan win.

On Tuesday, the Wolves traveled up north to face the rival Anchorage Igloos at Arctic Circle Arena.  Coming off of a disappointing tie against Dakota to open the season, the Igloos were determined to make a statement.  But they ran into a brick wall in the crease, as Lundquist stopped 25 Igloos blasts and C Warren Marlow banged home a slapshot from the slot in the second period to give the Wolves another 1-0 victory.

Lundquist’s streak came to an end during Thursday’s home opener against Saskatchewan, when Shockers D Chris Oflyng scored on a power play 1 minute and 41 seconds into the opening period.  Fortunately, the Wolves’ offense showed up this time in the form of four third-period goals, and Michigan rolled to a 6-2 rout.

“Talk about taking your game to the next level,” said Michigan C Hunter Bailes.  “Some of the saves he makes, I don’t understand how he does it.  He’s like Inspector Gadget, stretching out his arms and legs further than humanly possible.”

Lundquist, meanwhile, said that the Wolves’ defense deserved the real credit.  “As a goalie, the fewer high-danger shots you face, the better you look,” Lundquist told reporters.  “Our D is just incredible.  They’re really strong at protecting the home-plate area and clearing out in front of the crease, and they’re all over the ice blocking shots and denying good angles.  They make things easy for me.”

Michigan coach Ron Wright praised Lundquist’s torrid start, but was quick to point out that his netminder’s brilliance obscured the team’s early struggles on offense.  The Wolves averaged a mere 1.3 goals per game while stumbling through an uninspired preseason, and Wright called on his team to improve.

“The Bear is the best goalie in the league, no doubt, but he’s not superhuman,” Wright told reporters.  “If we’re counting on winning every game 1-0, this season isn’t going to go well for us.  As great as Lundquist is, I think we tend to use him as a security blanket sometimes.  We need more games like [Thursday’s].  We need to focus on sharpening our offensive game, so that we’re not relying on The Bear to be perfect.”

2018 SHL Division Playoff – Game 2

Eastern Division Series

QUEBEC TIGRES 2, HAMILTON PISTOLS 1

The Quebec Tigres are taking an unconventional route to success.  In Game 1, the Hamilton Pistols outshot them by a 2-to-1 margin, but Quebec still pulled out a 2-1 win in overtime thanks to the heroics of goalie Riki Tiktuunen.  In Game 2, the Tigres managed to reduce the Pistols’ volume of shots, although Quebec was still outshot.  With Tiktuunen turning in another strong game, the Tigres were able to come from behind and claim a 2-1 win that gives them a 2-0 lead in the series.

“I think all of our postseason paychecks should go to Riki,” said Quebec C Mikhail Ilyushin.  “He has been our star in this series.”

Of the 27 shots Hamilton aimed at Tiktuunen in this game, the Finnish netminder turned aside 26 of them.  The only one that eluded him occurred in the first minute of the game, when the Tigres failed to clear Pistols D Clayton “Crusher” Risch from in front of the net, and he redirected a shot from C Edz Zalmanis underneath the crossbar.

“Riki never had a shot at that one,” said Tigres coach Martin Delorme.  “Even Superman cannot stop what he cannot see.”

Faced with their first deficit of the series, the Tigres went to work trying to even the score.  But Quebec’s attempts to rally were stymied by a rash of penalties.  They spent a significant chunk of the first period killing off penalties to LW Walt Camernitz and D Laurie Workman.  Then in the second period, Tigres C Drustan Zarkovich was sent to the penalty box three separate times.

“I spent so much time in the sin bin, I thought maybe I should bring my toothbrush,” said Zarkovich.

In between penalty kills, D Richard McKinley managed to tie the game for Quebec by going five-hole on Pistols netminder Lasse Koskinen.  It was one of only six shots for the Tigres in the second period.  “Between the penalties and all, it felt like we were trying to climb out of a pit of quicksand,” said Camernitz.

Just over three and a half minutes into the third period, Camernitz fired a laser that seemed to go through Koskinen and into the net, giving Quebec the lead.  “I thought I was going to look down and find a hole in my jersey,” said Koskinen.

After Camernitz’s tally, the Tigres turned up their defense for the rest of the period, holding the Pistols to eight shots, all of which Tiktuunen turned aside.

Delorme praised his team’s effort, although he criticized them for taking too many penalties.  “We looked much more like ourselves today,” the Quebec coach said.  “As long as we can avoid taking careless calls, we will be in good shape.”

Pistols coach Keith Shields remained upbeat, although his team is now only one loss away from elimination.  “The whole mojo of this series is going to shift when we’re back in our place,” Shields told reporters.  “We’ve got to solve Tiktuunen, but I’m confident we can do that when we’ve got our crowd behind us.”

 

E Final - Game 2, Hamilton @ Quebec, Centre Citadelle

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

 
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   1   1   0   0   Workman         D      0   0   0   2   0
Frye            C      0   0   0   0  -1   Zarkovich       C      0   0   0   6   0
Risch           D      1   0   1   0   0   McKinley        D      1   0   1   0   0
Lafayette       RW     0   0   0   0  -1   Mirac           RW     0   1   1   0   1
Gunnarson       LW     0   0   0   0   0   Fisker          LW     0   0   0   0   0
Mulligan        D      0   0   0   5  -1   Ilyushin        C      0   0   0   0   1
Constantine     C      0   0   0   0   0   Jones           D      0   1   1   0   1
Werner          D      0   0   0   0  -1   Robinson        RW     0   0   0   0   0
Patterson       RW     0   0   0   0   0   MacDiarmid      LW     0   1   1   0   0
Campbell        LW     0   0   0   2   0   Pugliese        D      0   0   0   0   0
Glasco          D      0   0   0   0   0   Kalashnikov     D      0   0   0   4   0
Zalmanis        C      0   1   1   0   0   Pentti          RW     0   0   0   5   0
Soforenko       LW     0   0   0   0   0   Miller          C      0   0   0   0   0
Dyomin          D      0   0   0   0   0   Wesson          D      0   0   0   0   1
----------------------------------------   ----------------------------------------
TOTALS                 1   2   3   7  -1   TOTALS                 2   3   5  19   1

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

 
Hamilton            SH    SV    G    Sv%
----------------------------------------
Koskinen            21    19    2  0.905

Quebec              SH    SV    G    Sv%
----------------------------------------
Tiktuunen           27    26    1  0.963

 

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

GOALS:
00:59  HAM  Risch (Zalmanis, Smyth)

PENALTIES:
04:34  QUE  Camernitz 2:00 (Diving)
08:10  QUE  Workman 2:00 (Tripping)

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

GOALS:
02:51  QUE  McKinley (MacDiarmid)

PENALTIES:
00:08  QUE  Zarkovich 2:00 (Delay of Game)
03:40  QUE  Zarkovich 2:00 (Roughing)
16:58  QUE  Zarkovich 2:00 (Unsportsmanlike Conduct)

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

GOALS:
03:43  QUE  Camernitz (Jones, Mirac)

PENALTIES:
06:23  QUE  Pentti 5:00 (Fighting)
06:23  HAM  Mulligan 5:00 (Fighting)
12:32  HAM  Campbell 2:00 (Delay of Game)
13:02  QUE  Kalashnikov 2:00 (Roughing)
19:13  QUE  Kalashnikov 2:00 (Holding the Stick)


 
SHOTS
------
                   1   2   3   OT   F
Hamilton          12   7   8       27
Quebec             7   6   8       21

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

Hamilton         0 for 7
Quebec           0 for 1

 
INJURIES
--------

None

Western Division Series

ANCHORAGE IGLOOS 4, MICHIGAN GRAY WOLVES 2

Anchorage Igloos coach Sam Castor is always quick to point to his team’s depth as its greatest strength.  “Guys like Frosty and Koonsy and Ty [Worthington] get all the headlines,” Castor says, “but lots of teams have stars.  But even if your stars match up with ours, we’re still going to beat you because our second and third lines, and our bottom-pair D, is better than yours.  No other team can match up with us all the way down.”

In Game 2, the Igloos showed the truth of Castor’s statement.  Thanks to the exceptional performance of their third line and the ability to push the pace of the game, Anchorage once again stunned the Michigan Gray Wolves in their building, winning 4-2 to take a 2-0 lead in this best-of-five series.

“It’s the triumph of the scrubs,” said Igloos C Harvey Bellmore.  “We may not get a ton of ice time, but we’re making the most of it.”

Anchorage’s third line – which consists of Bellmore, LW Waldo Miranda, and RW Ben Summers – has been the difference maker so far in this series.  They’ve put up a +5 rating, and they’ve forced Wolves coach Ron Wright to use his top lines heavily in an effort to stop the bleeding.

Michigan got the early edge in this game, as Igloos LW Jerry Koons was whistled for diving within the first minute, and Wolves LW Todd Douglas cashed in on the ensuing power play for a 1-0 Michigan lead.  With the crowd at Cadillac Place in full roar, Castor decided to take a page from his Game 1 playbook and turn the contest into a track meet.  In order to do that, he turned to heavy minutes for his speedy bottom line.

“They can’t trap us if they can’t catch us,” Castor said.

Michigan initially withstood the onslaught – with the help of several Anchorage penalties – but the Igloos broke through before the end of the first period.  Just after killing off a 5-on-3 situation, D Olaf Martinsson blasted home the game-tying shot with the third line on the ice.  Six minutes later, Summers finished off an odd-man rush by slipping one between Dirk Lundquist’s pads for his third goal of the series.  After Wolves D Brooks Zabielski was called for holding the stick late in the first, Koons tipped on in on the power play to make it 3-1.  At period’s end, the arena was as silent as a library.

“They ambushed us and took us right out of the game,” admitted Wolves C Warren Marlow.  “We let the game get away from us.”

In the second period, D Fritz Kronstein scored on another power play to get the Wolves within a goal and stir up the crowd a bit.  But that was as close as they would get, and Bellmore fired one home just inside the post early in the third period to all but seal the game.  Whatever hope Michigan had of rallying in the closing minutes died after D “Mad Max” Madison and C Phoenix Cage both took penalties that Wright said were “just out of frustration.”

The Wolves, who finished with the SHL’s best record by a comfortable margin, find themselves in a most unexpected position.  If they’re going to avoid a humiliating sweep, they’ll need to win Game 3 on enemy ice.  If they’re going to advance to the Finals, they’ll need to reel off three straight wins, including two in Anchorage.

“We’ve dug ourselves into a deep hole,” said Wright.  “Obviously, it’s hurt us that [C Hunter] Bailes is out, but that’s an excuse.  We’ve let Anchorage dictate the game to us, and it’s burned us twice.  Now we need to go win the next three.  We’re capable of doing that, but we’re going to have to get control of the game if we’re going to do it.”

W Final - Game 2, Anchorage @ Michigan, Cadillac Place

                   1   2   3   OT   F
Anchorage          3   0   1        4
Michigan           1   1   0        2

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

Koons           LW     1   0   1   4   0   Douglas         LW     1   1   2   0   0
Keefe           D      0   1   1   0   1   Kronstein       D      1   1   2   2  -1
Frost           C      0   1   1   0   0   Madison         D      0   1   1   4  -1
Martinsson      D      1   0   1   4   2   Lunsford        RW     0   0   0   0   0
Ericsson        RW     0   0   0   0   0   Beruschko       LW     0   0   0   0   0
Collins         LW     0   0   0   0   0   Mudrick         D      0   0   0   0  -2
Pomfret         D      0   0   0   0   1   Marlow          C      0   1   1   0   0
Bernard         C      0   0   0   0   0   Zabielski       D      0   0   0   2  -2
Frederick       D      0   1   1   0   2   Poulin          RW     0   0   0   0   0
Montrechere     RW     0   0   0   0   0   Davenport       LW     0   0   0   0  -3
Miranda         LW     0   3   3   0   3   Bergdorf        D      0   0   0   0   0
Citrone         D      0   0   0   0   0   Knight          C      0   0   0   0   0
Calligan        D      0   0   0   6   0   Tollefson       D      0   0   0   0   0
Summers         RW     1   1   2   0   3   Denison         RW     0   0   0   0  -3
Bellmore        C      1   1   2   0   3   Cage            C      0   0   0   2  -3
----------------------------------------   ----------------------------------------
TOTALS                 4   8  12  14   3   TOTALS                 2   4   6  10  -3

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

 
Anchorage           SH    SV    G    Sv%
----------------------------------------
Worthington         23    21    2  0.913

Michigan            SH    SV    G    Sv%
----------------------------------------
Lundquist           39    35    4  0.897

 

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

GOALS:
00:42  MIC  Douglas PP (Marlow, Kronstein)
10:45  ANC  Martinsson (Frederick, Miranda)
16:50  ANC  Summers (Bellmore, Miranda)
18:52  ANC  Koons PP (Frost, Keefe)

PENALTIES:
00:32  ANC  Koons 2:00 (Diving)
01:43  ANC  Calligan 2:00 (Roughing)
07:33  MIC  Kronstein 2:00 (Tripping)
08:09  ANC  Martinsson 2:00 (Unsportsmanlike Conduct)
08:29  ANC  Koons 2:00 (Roughing)
17:19  MIC  Zabielski 2:00 (Holding the Stick)

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

GOALS:
13:24  MIC  Kronstein PP (Douglas, Madison)

PENALTIES:
09:57  ANC  Calligan 4:00 (Unsportsmanlike Conduct)
19:54  ANC  Martinsson 2:00 (Diving)

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

GOALS:
01:59  ANC  Bellmore (Summers, Miranda)

PENALTIES:
17:01  MIC  Madison 4:00 (Elbowing)
19:50  MIC  Cage 2:00 (Interference)


 
SHOTS
------
                   1   2   3   OT   F
Anchorage         18  10  11       39
Michigan          11   6   6       23

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

Anchorage        1 for 4
Michigan         2 for 6

 
INJURIES
--------

None

Old Rivals Prepare to Face Off In West Playoff

Before the season, most SHL observers took it for granted that the Michigan Gray Wolves and Anchorage Igloos would wind up facing each other in the Western playoff series.  They are widely regarded as the best teams in the division, and have taken turns winning the division since the SHL’s inception.  As it turns out, the Wolves and Igloos did make the postseason, but the race didn’t unfold quite as expected.

Michigan led the West from wire-to-wire, and were never seriously threatened along the way.  As usual, the Wolves’ success was built on its dominating, smothering defense; they allowed only 24.7 shots per game on average, more than two shots fewer than their closest competitor.  This allowed the team to thrive despite the fact that goaltender Dirk “The Bear” Lundquist wasn’t quite up to his usual exceptional standards (38-12-4, 1.69 GAA, .936 save percentage).

Ron Wright

“We’ve succeeded because we’ve adhered to our core identity,” said Wolves coach Ron Wright.  “We haven’t forgotten that greatness is purchased with blood, sweat, and hard work.  Will over skill, that’s what our team is about.”

Anchorage, meanwhile, experienced a much bumpier path to the playoffs.  For much of the season, the Igloos seemed to be suffering the hangover of  their upset loss to the Hershey Bliss in last year’s Finals.  They struggled to keep their head above the .500 waterline for the first half of the season, with the upstart competitors in Seattle and Saskatchewan nipping at their heels.  It got bad enough at one point that coach Sam Castor called out his team for their lackadaisical effort.  But they finally got their season turned around after the trading deadline, going 19-3-2 down the stretch to make the playoffs going away.

Jake Frost

“It took us a long time, too long, for us to get our heads in the right place,” said C Jake Frost, who led the team with 46 goals.  “But we know that it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.  We’ve rediscovered ourselves and our best hockey just at the right time.  We’re confident that we can match up against any other team in the league, which is good, because Michigan’s the best there is.”

On paper, the Wolves are the strong favorites in this series; they finished 14 points ahead of Anchorage, and Wright has his team focused on the goal of being the first ever to win multiple Vandys.  But there’s more to the story than a cursory glance at the standings might suggest.  Anchorage and Michigan split their regular-season series, with each club winning 3 of 4 on its own ice.

“No one in this locker room is taking this matchup for granted,” said Wolves D “Mad Max” Madison.  “We finished ahead of them, sure, but that doesn’t mean anything.  They always play their best hockey when they’re playing us, and we do the same against.  This series is going to be an all-out war, and it could swing either way.”

Hunter Bailes

If there’s one thing that might swing the series in Anchorage’s favor, it’s their health.  The Igloos will have all of their regular starters available for this series, while the Wolves suffered a major injury during the last week of the regular.  On Thursday, C Hunter Bailes exited Michigan’s 5-4 win over Saskatchewan after taking a slash to his right arm.  He was later diagnosed with an upper-body injury, and is expected to miss the entire first round of the playoffs.  Bailes’ injury is a major blow to Michigan’s offense, as he led the team in goals with 35.

Wright says that he isn’t concerned about having to face the Igloos without Bailes.  “Look, our team doesn’t rise or fall on a single guy, not Hunter or even The Bear,” the coach told reporters.  “Our success is built on total team effort, with everyone contributing.  Would I rather have him in there?  Sure. But are we supposed to give up or run away crying because Bailes is hurt?  That’s ridiculous.  We’ve got everything we need to win this series, as long as we go out there and play like we know how.”