The Anchorage Igloos have a message for the rest of the Western Division: They’re still the reigning division champs, and the core of the team that’s made five trips to the SHL Finals and claimed two Vandys is still intact. They don’t intend to relinquish their crown without a fight, and they demonstrated their fight this week with a couple big statement wins on the road.
Like their divisional colleagues, the Igloos just finished a swing through the East that took them up to the All-Star break. On Sunday, they rolled into Gunpowder Armory for a faceoff with the Hamilton Pistols, the team that’s beaten the Igloos in the last two Finals. Anchorage proceeded to flatten the Pistols 7-1. After the game, the Igloos’ locker room was buoyant, as the team celebrated a signature victory. Little did they realize it wouldn’t even be their biggest win of the week.
Following the poleaxing of the Pistols, the Igloos flew south to the Big Apple to take on the New York Night. A couple New York players brashly predicted victory in Tuesday’s contest. “Anchorage is full of old dudes,” said Night RW Rick “The Stick” Nelson. “This game is after their bedtime, so we’ll tuck them in and tell them night-night after we crush them.”
As it turned out, the Igloos made Nelson eat his words in dramatic fashion, as they scored six times in the first period and rolled to an 11-2 rout. It’s the first double-digit score in the SHL this season.
“All the statheads out there have been worried about our negative goal differential,” said Anchorage coach Sam Castor. “Guess that’s not a problem anymore, huh?”
The Igloos got off to a flying start, as LW Jerry Koons went top shelf to put the visitors ahead just 43 seconds into the game. The Night drew a power play two and a half minutes later, but Anchorage killed it off easily, holding New York to a single shot. About a minute after the power play ended, Igloos D Laszlo Cierny picked off a sloppy pass from Nelson and flicked a headman pass to RW Nicklas Ericsson, who streaked up the ice. Ericsson faked a slapshot before dropping the puck back to Cierny, who buried it for a 2-0 Anchorage lead.
After a couple minutes of back and forth action, Nelson found himself with a wide-open net. By the time he wound up and fired his shot, though, Koons was able to slide over and smother it. Koons then popped up, corralled the puck, and fed it to Ericsson. This time, the Swedish winger went coast-to-coast and finished it himself, putting the Igloos up by three.
Less than a minute after Ericsson’s tally, Night D Rocky Winkle was penalized for interference after he got a bit overaggressive in a scrum in front of the Anchorage. On the ensuing power play, LW Les Collins jammed one home from the slot to make it a 4-0 game.
The Igloos weren’t done pouring it on. With 6:13 remaining in the period, C Jake Frost deflected a shot from Cierny just inside the left post for yet another tally. Less than a minute later, Frost started a 3-on-2 rush that became a 3-on-1 when Nelson fell down at center ice. After a few tac-tac-toe passes, Ericsson sniped it home to push the lead to 6-0.
Nelson managed to salvage a shred of dignity for himself and his team late in the period, as he scored to break the shutout. However, when Nelson proceeded to celebrate by dropping his stick and thumping his chest as though he’d just scored the game-winner, his teammates refused his high-five attempt.
“We’re down 6-1, man,” said C Brock Manning after the game. “Maybe pull back on the celly a bit.”
After the first period, New York made a change in net, replacing starter Sherman Carter with backup “Jersey Mike” Ross. The switch made no apparent difference to the Igloos, who continued to score virtually at will. They beat Ross twice in the second period and three times in the third before the horn mercifully sounded.
In their postgame interviews, several Anchorage players made reference to Nelson’s pre-game boasts. “I’ve got to hand it to Ricky,” said Frost. “It can be hard for old dudes like us to get up for every game on a long road trip like this. But after he ran his mouth, it gave us all the motivation we needed. Thanks, Rick!”
“Normally, we’d be all worn out after scoring six in one period, especially since it’s past our bedtime and all,” added Koons. “But sticking it to Rick the Stick is a powerful incentive, so somehow we were able to keep pouring it on.”
Nelson finished the game with a mind-boggling -6 plus/minus rating. He left the arena without speaking to reporters.
“A coach needs a lot of tools to get through a season,” said Night coach Flim Dahlgren. “Apparently, I need to add some duct tape to my toolkit, so I can put it over Rick’s mouth the next time Anchorage comes to town.”