Both Divisions Decided on Final Day

The SHL has had its share of close division races over the years.  Some of them have even gone all the way to final day of the regular season, such as 2016’s epic Washington-Hershey contest or last season’s showdown between Hamilton and Quebec.  But never before has the identity of both division winners been decided during the regular-season finale.  This season, however, the battles in both the East and West went the distance, setting up an epic slate of games on Saturday.

Out West, the defending champion Anchorage Igloos entered the last day one point ahead of the upstart Seattle Sailors.  The Sailors finished their season on the road against the Saskatchewan Shockers, while the Igloos hosted the Kansas City Smoke for their finale.  The Sailors, who had already clinched their first-ever playoff berth, expressed confidence heading into the game.  “We know what we need to do,” said RW Vince Mango, “now we just need to go out and do it.”

The Sailors got off to a fast start.  Shockers D Rusty Anderson went to penalty box just seven seconds into the game, and Sailors LW Rod “Money” Argent cashed in on the ensuing power play to give Seattle the early lead.  Later in the period, D Bud Gatecliff banged home a short from the point to make it 2-0.  The score remained that way throughout the rest of that period and the next, and it appeared the Sailors were set to get the victory they needed.

In the third period, however, Saskatchewan got their game in gear.  In the opening minutes of the period, LW Troy Chamberlain emerged from a scrum in front of the net and tucked a shot under the crossbar to put Saskatchewan on the board.  Just 24 seconds after that, C Cyril Perignon deflected a slapper past the glove of Seattle goalie “Jersey Mike” Ross to tie the score.  A half-minute later, the Sailors reclaimed the lead on a short-side blast by D Hans Mortensen.  But Saskatchewan wasn’t finished; less than three minutes after Mortensen’s tally, Anderson tied things back up with a blast from the slot that got between Ross’s pads.  Both teams kept the pressure on, combining for 26 shots in the period, but the tie persisted through the end of regulation.

Going into overtime, Seattle had a choice: play defensively to preserve the tie, or go for the win?  For the Sailors, it was no choice at all: “We wanted the W,” said Mango.  In the first minute of the extra session, Mango nearly won as he ripped slapshot that dribbled through the legs of Shockers goalie Shawn Stickel, but the puck stopped on the goal line and Stickel fell on it before anyone could jam it home.  Finally, just over two minutes in, Chamberlain got loose on a breakaway and went top shelf to beat Ross and win the game.

“Missed it by that much,” said Mango, holding his thumb and forefinger just slightly apart.

With nothing to play for, the Igloos lost 3-2 to Kansas City, but still won the division.  The celebration was fairly subdued, as Anchorage is focused on winning its second straight Vandy.  “Everyone in this room isn’t going to be satisfied unless we go all the way,” said Igloos C Jake Frost.  “Winning the division is nice, but it’s not enough.”

Meanwhile, in the East, the Hershey Bliss entered the finale a point up on the red-hot Hamilton Pistols.  The Bliss expected to have the division clinched already, as they’d entered the final week with a five-point lead.  But they proceeded to drop two of their three games on the week, while the Pistols won all three of theirs.  Still, all Hershey needed to do to ensure that the division would be theirs was to win or tie against the last-place Boston Badgers.

Unfortunately for the Bliss, even though they outshot the Badgers 40-26, they were unable to take the victory.  Hershey was stymied by a brilliant goaltending performance from Boston backup Carson Wagner.  Then, with just over five minutes left in a tie game, Bliss RW Noah Daniels was called for a controversial interference penalty on Boston’s Pascal Royal, one that left coach Chip Barber and the Bliss bench hollering in frustration; they contended that Royal should have been penalized for embellishment instead.  Their anger only grew more acute when Badgers LW Lix Darnholm scored what turned out to be the game-winning goal.

“I only hope that the division doesn’t wind up turning on that call,” said Barber after the game.  “You’d hate to see that.  It would be like biting into a Hershey’s Kiss and finding out someone hid a Lemonhead in the middle: a sour ending to what should be sweet.”

Hershey’s loss opened the door for the Pistols.  Standing in their way were their bitter rivals, the New York NightNick Foster‘s club was officially eliminated from contention earlier in the week, but they relished the opportunity to deny the Pistols the title.

“If you can’t make it to the promised land, the next best thing is stopping your enemy from getting there,” Foster said.  “That’s the hockey version of the Golden Rule.”

The game unfolded at a furious pace: both teams combined for an astounding 43 shots in the first period alone, with Hamilton taking 26 of them.  But New York goalie Sherman Carter was in top form, turning aside all those shots except one, a slapper from Pistols C Henry Constantine that hit the crossbar and went in.  Night C Tom Hoffman answered with a bouncing shot that hopped over Hamilton netminder Ron Mason‘s pad, creating a 1-1 tie that would last the rest of the period.

LW Misha Petronov gave New York its first lead just five seconds into the second period, bringing the crowd at Neon Sky Center to its feet, razzing Mason with sing-song chants.  Those chants didn’t last long, however, as Pistols D Albie Glasco tied it up a mere 16 seconds later with a shot from just inside the blueline that got past a screened Carter.  Just under two minutes after that, LW Steven Alexander fired home a slapper from his favorite spot between the faceoff circles to put Hamilton back on top.

In the third period, it took Night C Rod Remington just 30 seconds to rip a shot just above Mason’s blocker to tie things up again.  The New York fans resumed their sing-song taunts of Mason, later adding Alexander to their chants as he shanked shots or fired them just wide. The Pistols thought they had taken the lead when C Calvin Frye scored on a power play at the midpoint of the period, but Foster challenged and sit turned out that Hamilton had entered the offensive zone offside.  When the tally came off the board, the fans roared with delight. Hamilton had a few grade-A chances later in the period, but Carter kept stonewalling them, and the score remained deadlocked at the end of regulation.

In the overtime period, the Night focused on grinding the clock as much as possible, and the game ended in a 3-3 tie.  Hamilton and Hershey wound up with the same number of points, but Hershey had more total wins, so they won the title.  (The same thing happened to the Pistols last season, as they ended up in a tie with Quebec on points, but the Tigres had more victories.)

True to form, the Night celebrated as though they’d won the division.  As the game ended, the New York players dogpiled at center ice.  In the locker room, they sprayed each other with champagne and blasted victory music.  “It’s a thing of beauty, it really is,” said Foster, wiping the bubbly out of his eyes.  “For us to prevent the Nutcracker and his gang of clowns from winning the division, it warms my heart.  It really does.  If they wind up having to play Game 7 on enemy ice and they wind up losing to those Hershey softies, I hope they’ll think of me.”

The Pistols, naturally, didn’t appreciate New York’s attitude.  “I thought the way they played in overtime and then their little post-game party was totally lacking in class and sportsmanship,” said coach Keith Shields.  “But then, that’s typically of the way they operate.  Fortunately, we’ve got enough talent that we can win in the playoffs with or without home-ice advantage.  And since [the Night] will be watching the playoffs on TV once again, they might see if they can learn something.”

Alexander was more blunt than his coach.  “I believe in karma,” he told reporters, “and that’s why I’m confident that Foster and his boys will never win anything.  They’ve got a loser’s mentality; any team that celebrates like that for a game they didn’t even win, for a playoff spot that they didn’t get, is just pathetic.  Enjoy the golf course, you [jerks].”

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Interview of the Week: Misha Petronov

This week’s interview is with New York Night LW Misha Petronov.

SHL Digest: Today we’re talking to a player who’s on his way to a breakout season, Misha Petronov of the New York Night.  Misha, thanks for speaking with us.

Misha Petronov

Misha Petronov: Thank you.  I must be having a good season if you are speaking to me.

SHLD: You certainly are!  You’ve always been a steady and solid performer, but you’ve never scored more than 14 goals in a season.  But here we are, only a quarter of the way into the season, and you’ve already scored 11!  How have you reinvented yourself at age 27?

MP: Reinvented?  That is a big word!  I think is better to say I got better.  I spent the offseason getting my best shape.

SHLD: You worked on getting in shape?

MP: Yes, right.  I felt that if I got in my best shape, I could be a better player.  So that’s what I did.

SHLD: What sort of exercise program did you follow?

MP: This might sound silly.  But in my family, we have many ballet dancers.  So I practiced ballet!

SHLD: Ballet!  That’s a pretty unusual fitness regimen for a hockey player.

MP: When my teammates heard that, they made much fun of me.  But it really makes sense.  To be good at ballet, you must be both strong and flexible.  Both of those things are good for hockey.  So I work like a ballerina!

SHLD: Interesting!  So, other than your ballet training, are there any other factors that have contributed to your success?

MP: I must give thanks to Coach [Nick] Foster also.  He believes that too often, we have waited for our top line to deliver the goals, and he wants the rest of us involved.  So he went to guys like me, Trainwreck [Ivan Trujwirnek], and Cat [Sylvester Catarino], and told us: “I want you to be aggressive.  I want to give you more minutes, but you must earn them with strong and aggressive play.”  And he is good for his word.  As we have played better, he has given us minutes.  It makes us a more balanced and stronger team.

SHLD: When you signed with the Night in free agency before last season [3 years, $2.7 million], a lot of critics said that you weren’t worth that kind of money.  Do you feel pressure to live up to your contract?

MP: Pressure, yes, but good pressure.  It gives me fire, to say, “They are paying me a lot of money, so I must work hard to earn it.”  And I do.

SHLD: If you can keep up this pace, you’ll be a bargain!  Before signing with New York, you spent two seasons with Anchorage, where you won a title in 2015.  How different was it with the Igloos as opposed to with the Night?

MP: Very different!  Anchorage is cold and small and far away, almost felt like I was still in Russia. (laughs)  New York is much bigger, more entertaining, tougher.  All the songs are true.  If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.  I had a good time in Anchorage, and I liked my teammates.  But I also have much fun here.

SHLD: What’s your favorite thing in the Big Apple?

MP: I love the Bronx Zoo!  Other guys like the theater or the clubs or the restaurants, but I am very fond of animals.  Almost any time when I am in New York and not at practice or a game, I go to the zoo.

SHLD: Really?  What’s your favorite animal?

MP: I like the giraffe.  It is such a crazy-looking animal with such a long neck.  If my neck were this long, I would fall over.  But the giraffe is graceful and beautiful.  It is amazing!

SHLD: Well, thank you for a very interesting interview, Misha.  Best of luck the rest of the season!

MP: Thank you.  It is fun to be interviewed!

2015 SHL Finals – Game 6

Anchorage SmallWashington SmallANCHORAGE IGLOOS 5, WASHINGTON GALAXY 3

The SHL Finals are going the distance.  With their backs against the wall in a must-win Game 6, the Anchorage Igloos ran up the score early against the Washington Galaxy and went on to a 5-3 win, setting the stage for a winner-take-all Game 7 for tomorrow at Arctic Circle Arena.

“Today, we showed that we had the backbone of a champion,” said Igloos coach Sam Castor.  “We were aggressive and hard-nosed, and we let our superior talent shine through.  Washington’s played a great series, and they’ve pushed us to the limit.  But today’s game shows that we’re ready to respond.”

The first period of this game was highly reminiscent of Game 3.  Just as in that game, Anchorage dominated the action early on and built a 3-0 lead.  LW Jerry Koons was a man possessed for the Igloos, scoring the first two goals and driving the pace of play.

“We haven’t come this far and worked this hard all season to come up short now,” said Koons.  “I wasn’t about to let us roll over and die.”

About halfway through the first stanza, Anchorage D Olaf Martinsson forced a turnover in his own end and flipped the puck to Koons, who started a two-man breakaway with RW Nicklas Ericsson.  Koons finished with a beautiful deke before poking it between the legs of Galaxy goalie Roger Orion.

Three minutes later, the Igloos were on the power play when Koons banged home a rebound at the goal mouth off a shot from C Jake Frost to make it 2-0.  “Orion made a great save on that play,” said Castor, “but Jerry didn’t give up on the play and made sure we found the back of the net.  That’s the kind of greasy goal you need in the playoffs.”

When LW Misha Petronov tipped in another rebound to make it 3-0, the arena was rocking and the crowd was taunting Orion, who had faced only 8 shots to that point.  Galaxy coach Rodney Reagle called timeout and spoke to his netminder, but did not pull Orion from the game.

“Roger’s the guy who got us here,” said Reagle.  “If you pull a guy in that situation, you’re telegraphing that you’ve got no confidence, and I’m not about to do that at this point of the season.”

Unlike in Game 3, though, the Galaxy didn’t wait until the second period to get back in the game.  Immediately following Petronov’s goal, Washington C Drustan Zarkovich won the ensuing faceoff and started a march up the ice that led to a goal by RW Sindri Pentti, getting the Galaxy on the board.  And in the waning seconds of the first, C J.C. Marais buried a shot from the right faceoff circle to make it 3-2.

“We were right back in it!” said Washington LW Casey Thurman.  “We went into the locker room feeling great.”

The Igloos clearly learned their lesson from Game 3, however, and never let the Galaxy tie the game.  Early in the second period, Anchorage C Nile Bernard flipped a puck over a sprawling Orion and into the upper right corner of the net to put the Igloos ahead 4-2.

“I hadn’t been planning to shoot,” said Bernard, “but [Orion] overcommitted to the left side and left me with a wide open net.  I felt like I had to put it in.”

Washington did not go quietly, though.  After Igloos D Ted Keefe was sent off for slashing with 6 minutes left in the second frame, Marais flicked a wrister in off the top crossbar to get the Galaxy back within one.

That 4-3 score held up through the rest of the second period and much of the third.  Finally, with less than 5 minutes left in the game, the Igloos got an insurance goal in a most bizarre manner.  Orion turned aside a shot from RW Sven Danielsen but failed to corral the rebound.  The puck slid out to the blue line, and Keefe fired it back toward the goal.  The puck ticked off fellow D Dave Frederick’s stick and popped high in the air.  When it came down, the puck bounced off Orion’s back and into the net.

“That was just a strange play all the way around,” said Reagle.  “I think everybody sort of lost it up in the air, and then the way it came down and got in before Roger could react… it’s almost like the puck had a mind of its own, you know?”

Reagle rebuffed calls for replacing Orion in net for Game 7.  “That’s just silly,” said the Galaxy coach.  “Roger’s gotten us this far, and he’s my guy all the way.  He had a bit of a rough game today, but I’m confident he’ll be strong for us tomorrow.”

With the series tied and the deciding game at home, the Igloos are confident.  “The Vandy is within our grasp now,” said Castor.  “There’s been a lot of talk about momentum in this series, but you can forget about that now.  It’s one game for all the marbles, let the best team win.  I like our chances.”

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