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 2

HAMILTON PISTOLS 5, ANCHORAGE IGLOOS 3

(Hamilton leads series, 2-0)

After dropping the opener of the SHL Finals, the Anchorage Igloos came into today’s Game 2 looking to start strong, cruise to victory, and even the series.  They got the strong start down pat; five minutes into the game, they led 3-1.  But then the spent the remaining 55 minutes watching the Hamilton Pistols slowly but surely tilt the ice in their direction, coming from behind to claim a 5-3 win and a 2-0 series lead.

“This was a tough one for us to take,” said Igloos LW Jerry Koons.  “We felt like we should have had this one, and we let it get away.”

The beginning of this game, just like Game 1, was wide open and full of scoring.  D Olaf Martinsson got Anchorage on the board just seven seconds in, with an awkward knuckling shot that eluded Pistols goalie Lasse Koskinen.  At the 42-second mark, C Calvin Frye banked one in off the crossbar to tie it.  And at 1:15, Igloos D Ted Keefe intercepted a pass and found RW Broni Zlotkin, who fired it above Koskinen’s catching glove to take a 2-1 lead.

“I don’t know what it is about these games,” said Frye.  “It’s like no one’s allowed to play D until a couple minutes into it.”

Three and a half minutes after Zhlotkin’s tally, RW Nicklas Ericsson finished an odd-man rush with a beautiful deke that got Koskinen to bite, then deposited the puck in the vacant upper-right corner of the net to give Anchorage a two-goal lead.  With the game getting out of control, Pistols LW Steven Alexander called his team out and urged them to turn the tide.

“Alex was basically screaming at us that we needed to wake up,” said Frye.  “He said, ‘We can just back in this, turn things around and bury these guys.’  And that got us going.”

Fittingly, Alexander got the rally started himself.  D Raymond Smyth hit him with a perfect pass in the neutral zone, and Alexander barreled up the ice at top speed.  He pulled off a gorgeous toe drag to shake D Tony Citrone, crashed in toward the net, and went high for the score.  Alexander then jumped into the boards and signaled to his teammates.

“He pointed and kind of waved us on like, ‘Okay, I got us started, now it’s your turn,'” said Frye.  “Alex did what he needed to light the fire under us.”

After Alexander’s goal, the game shifted in Hamilton’s favor.  For one thing, they tightened up their shoddy defense.  Anchorage had 17 shots in the first period; they had 21 in the next two periods combined.  And as the Igloos found their game stalling, the Pistols found theirs warming up.

In the second period, D Hercules Mulligan tied the game with a blast from the top of the offensive zone.  The goal was originally credited to RW Ben Summers, who was believed to have tipped it, but replays showed that the puck just took a strange bounce off the ice on its way into the net.

In the first minute of the third period, RW Claude Lafayette gave Hamilton its first lead of the game on a slapshot that leaked through Anchorage goalie Ty Worthington‘s pads and trickled over the goal line before he could stop it.  And in the middle of the third period, Alexander put a capper on the night.  He received the puck in the left faceoff circle, his favorite spot, and wound up for his trademark slapper.  Worthington readied himself to block it.  But instead of shooting, Alexander slapped a pass to Lafayette, who put it into the yawning net for an insurance tally.

Igloos coach Sam Castor swatted down a question about whether he would go to backup Curt Freeze in net after Worthington struggled in each of the first two games.  “Not even a consideration; this is Ty’s series unless he gets hurt,” said Castor.  “Has he had a couple of rough games?  Yes.  But is that on him?  No. it’s not.  Our defense has left him out to dry far too often, and that needs to change in a hurry.”

Castor also criticized his team’s power play, which is 0-for-7 so far in the series.  “We had four today, and didn’t do a thing with them,” the coach noted.  “If we convert on even one of those, it’s a different game.”

As the series shifts to Anchorage for the next three games, the Igloos know they need to raise their game if they’re going to get back into it.  “We need to control the flow of the game,” said Koons.  “We did that against Portland, but so far this series, Hamilton has dictated the game.  If we keep playing back on our heels, this is going to be a short series.  We need to be on our toes instead.”

Continue reading “2020 SHL Finals – Game 2”

2020 SHL Playoff – Game 2

Eastern Division Playoff (Hamilton leads, 2-0)

HAMILTON PISTOLS 5, HERSHEY BLISS 1

When it’s playoff time at Gunpowder Armory, it’s not a good idea to show up late.  For one thing, the games always sell out, and you wouldn’t want to have to fight your way through the raucous crowd to find your seat.  For another, you never know what you might miss.  Fans who showed up even a couple minutes late to today’s Game 2 missed a pair of power plays and three goals, as well as some of the rare competitive moments in a game that became a 5-1 Pistols blowout, bringing the defending champs within one game of a return trip to the Finals.

“We’re playing our best hockey at the perfect time,” said LW Steven Alexander.  “It feels a lot like last year, if you know what I mean.”

The game was just seven seconds old when Pistols D Hercules Mulligan went to the penalty box for interference.  Just ten seconds after that, Bliss LW Lance Sweet found the back of the net on a slapper.  It was the second straight game that Hershey scored first, and that left the home team steaming.

“We weren’t going to wait for Coach Shields to wake us up,” said C Calvin Frye.  “We wanted to take the game back before [the Bliss] started getting comfortable.”

Hamilton did just that fifty seconds into the game, when Hershey committed a costly neutral-zone turnover that led to an odd-man rush.  Frye finished it with a beautiful deke that got Bliss goalie Christien Adamsson out of position, allowing Frye to go five-hole and tie it up.  Just four seconds later, Hershey D Bruce Minnik was sent off for high-sticking.  On the power play that followed, Mulligan redeemed his earlier penalty with a blast from the blue line that beat a screamed Adamsson.

All that in the first 65 seconds.  That early flurry set the tone for a frenetic period that featured a total of 34 shots (23-11 in Hamilton’s favor) and one more goal by D Albie Glasco.

“I loved the way our guys showed up with authority and took control of the game,” said Pistols coach Keith Shields.  “Just an awesome job feeding off the energy of the crowd, tilting the ice and absolutely setting the pace.  I couldn’t have been prouder.”

After the wild first, the second period was almost shockingly silent, with no goals or penalties.  Even the famously rowdy Hamilton crowd seemed to lose its edge, at least until the Pistols scored a pair of third-period goals (from Frye and RW Ben Summers) to put the game away.  As the final minutes ticked away, the fans chanted “Back to back!  Back to back!”, already anticipating the Finals trip that feels close.

As for the Bliss, they seemed eager to put this game in the rear-view mirror and head back for the friendlier confines of Chocolate Center for a win-or-go-home Game 3.

“There’s too much talent in this locker room to count us out,” said D Reese Milton.  “When we get back home, we’ll be ready to turn this series around.”

E Final - Gm 2, Hershey @ Hamilton, Gunpowder Armory

                   1   2   3   OT   F
Hershey            1   0   0        1
Hamilton           3   0   2        5

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

Milton          D      3   0   1   1   2   0   0   Lafayette       RW     2   0   3   3   0   0  +1
Sweet           LW     4   1   0   1   1   2  -1   Frye            C      4   2   1   3   0   0  +1
Hart            RW     2   0   0   0   2   0  -1   Alexander       LW     7   0   2   2   1   0  +1
Aubin           D      0   0   0   0   0   0   0   Mulligan        D      4   1   0   1   1   2   0
Valentine       C      3   0   1   1   0   2  -1   Risch           D      3   0   0   0   3   0   0
Kirkpatrick     C      2   0   0   0   0   0  -1   Smyth           D      2   0   1   1   1   0  +3
Cargill         D      0   0   0   0   1   2  -3   Summers         RW     5   1   0   1   0   0  +1
Meloche         D      1   0   0   0   0   0  -3   Venezio         C      2   0   1   1   0   0  +1
Swindonburg     LW     2   0   0   0   1   0  -1   Campbell        LW     3   0   0   0   2   0  +1
Montrechere     RW     2   0   0   0   1   0  -1   Hampton         D      2   0   0   0   3   0   0
Ketterman       C      1   0   0   0   0   0  -1   Marais          C      2   0   1   1   0   0  +1
Daniels         RW     1   0   0   0   0   0  -1   Glasco          D      2   1   0   1   0   0  +3
Nahorniak       LW     3   0   0   0   0   0  -1   Patterson       RW     5   0   1   1   0   0  +1
Minnik          D      4   0   0   0   3   2   0   Jennings        F      2   0   0   0   1   0  +1
Kulkarov        D      0   0   0   0   0   0   0   Klemmer         D      1   0   0   0   1   0   0
------------------------------------------------   ------------------------------------------------
TOTALS                28   1   2   3  11   8  -3   TOTALS                46   5  10  15  13   2   3

Coach: Chip Barber                                 Coach: Keith Shields                            

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

 
Hershey             SH    SV    G    Sv%
----------------------------------------
Adamsson            46    41    5  0.891

Hamilton            SH    SV    G    Sv%
----------------------------------------
Koskinen            28    27    1  0.964

 

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

GOALS:
00:17  HSY  Sweet PP (Valentine, Milton)
00:50  HAM  Frye (Alexander, Lafayette)
01:05  HAM  Mulligan PP (Lafayette, Frye)
04:24  HAM  Glasco (Marais, Patterson)

PENALTIES:
00:07  HAM  Mulligan 2:00 (Interference)
00:54  HSY  Minnik 2:00 (High-sticking)
18:32  HSY  Valentine 2:00 (Holding the Stick)

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

GOALS:
None


PENALTIES:
None


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

GOALS:
02:23  HAM  Frye PP (Alexander, Lafayette)
15:06  HAM  Summers (Venezio, Smyth)

PENALTIES:
00:24  HSY  Sweet 2:00 (High-sticking)
15:35  HSY  Cargill 2:00 (Slashing)


 
SHOTS
------
                   1   2   3   OT   F
Hershey           11   8   9       28
Hamilton          23  11  12       46

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

Hershey          1 for 1
Hamilton         2 for 4

 
INJURIES
--------

None

 

Western Division Playoff (Anchorage leads, 2-0)

ANCHORAGE IGLOOS 6, PORTLAND BLUEBACKS 5

After it was all over, in the quiet and sorrowful locker room, Portland Bluebacks LW Rod “Money” Argent tried to explain what had happened.  How the Bluebacks had allowed a game that they seemed set to win slip away.  How they had managed to give up four goals in a wild third period that saw them lose their lead, then regain it, only to lose it again.  How a team that had been so strong in the regular season – especially at Willamette River Arena – could drop the first two games of this best-of-five Western final at home.  How a team that swore they’d learned the lesson of last season – a team that was dead set on winning the Vandy – could be on the verge of being eliminated in a humiliating sweep for the second straight season.

Argent stared at the floor for a good long time, then looked up at the circle of reporters around him and said, “Honestly, I can’t explain what happened.  It was so fast and so stunning.  All I know is that we can’t let it happen again.  We’ve got to fix it, now.”

Coming into the fateful third period, Portland seemed to be comfortably in control.  They’d built a 2-0 lead in the first period on goals by Argent and D Doron Lidjya.  Anchorage had rallied in the second, with C Jake Frost and LW Les Collins getting on the board, but Argent had a power play tally in between to keep the Bluebacks in front.  The home team was outshooting the Igloos 27-17.  Goalie Ty Worthington was doing his part to keep Anchorage in the game, but he was not as unbeatable as he seemed in his Game 1 shutout.  Portland seemed to be on its way to evening the series.

But the Igloos weren’t content to take the loss and rest secure at the thought of Games 3 and 4 taking place at home.  Instead, they came out aggressively, pressing the Bluebacks and forcing them into turnovers.  Seventy seconds into the third period, Frost stormed into the slot and fired a shot past Jesse Clarkson‘s blocker to tie the score.  Less than a minute after that, RW Broni Zhlotkin tipped a shot from Collins and deflected it into the upper left corner of the net, giving Anchorage its first lead of the game.

The Bluebacks and the crowd were left stunned.  Coach Harold Engellund called timeout to stabilize his reeling team.

“I told them to let it go and focus on getting that lead back,” Engellund explained after the game.  “There was plenty of time left.”

The Bluebacks seemed to head Engellund’s message.  Less than 30 seconds after Zhlotkin’s tally, RW Vince Mango got loose on a breakaway and beat Worthington on the glove side to equalize it again.  Five minutes later, C Cliff Derringer rumbled in from the wing and collected a loose puck in front of the crease, jamming it home to give Portland a 5-4 edge.  After their brief scare, the Bluebacks seemed to have regained control.

But the Igloos weren’t done.  LW Tadeusz Adamczyk parked himself in front of the Portland net during a lengthy offensive shift, and flipped a rebound just under the crossbar to even things against at the 9:28 mark.  Half a minute later, Mango made a lazy pass that Frost picked off at center ice, flicking it to D Sebastian Pomfret.  Pomfret found RW Nicklas Ericsson, who turned on the afterburners to elude Bluebacks D Woody Fairwood and fire a low liner between Clarkson’s legs to make it 6-5.

“I thought maybe I was too old to go that fast still,” joked Ericsson.  “But in the playoffs, you find the energy.”

Portland still had half the third period to catch up.  And they tried, firing shot after shot at Worthington.  They even pulled Clarkson with two and a half minutes remaining, hoping the 6-on-5 edge would deliver the tying goal.  But even though they loosed 20 official shots in the third period (along with several more that went wide or were blocked), they couldn’t best the Anchorage netminder again.

Now the Bluebacks face a daunting task: they must win three in a row – including the next two at Arctic Circle Arena – in order to make it to the Finals.

Engellund believes his team is up to the task.  “We’ve left ourselves with no room for error,” the coach told reporters.  “But sometimes, it’s when your back is up against the wall that you find the real strength inside.  I think that’s what will happen.”

As for the Igloos, they’re hoping for a fast finish.  “I think we should go for the sweep,” said Frost.  “Us old guys could use a little rest before the Finals.”

W Final - Game 2, Anchorage @ Portland, Willamette River Arena

                   1   2   3   OT   F
Anchorage          0   2   4        6
Portland           2   1   2        5

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

Keefe           D      1   0   1   1   1   0   0   Costello        C      4   0   2   2   0   0  -2
Ericsson        RW     5   1   2   3   1   0  +2   Mango           RW     7   1   0   1   0   0  -2
Koons           LW     1   0   2   2   1   0  +2   Fairwood        D      3   0   1   1   2   0   0
Frost           C      7   2   1   3   2   0  +2   Lidjya          D      4   1   0   1   0   0   0
Pomfret         D      4   0   2   2   1   0   0   Gaspard         LW     3   0   1   1   1   0  -1
Kerasov         D      2   0   0   0   1   0  -1   Argent          LW     4   2   1   3   2   0  -2
Hoffman         C      2   0   1   1   2   0  +1   Lambert         D      4   0   1   1   0   0  +1
Collins         LW     2   1   1   2   0   2  +1   Beasley         C      4   0   0   0   0   0  -1
Citrone         D      1   0   0   0   1   0  -1   Pepper          RW     3   0   2   2   0   0  -1
Zhlotkin        F      1   1   0   1   0   2  +1   Gallagher       D      0   0   0   0   2   0  +1
Martinsson      D      1   0   2   2   2   0  +4   Gatecliff       D      2   0   0   0   1   0  -4
Adamczyk        LW     1   1   0   1   1   0   0   Durien          RW     5   0   1   1   0   0   0
Calligan        D      0   0   0   0   2   0  +4   Mortensen       D      1   0   0   0   4   0  -4
Bunyakin        C      1   0   0   0   0   0   0   Derringer       C      3   1   0   1   0   0   0
Fleury          RW     0   0   0   0   1   2   0   McElvern        F      0   0   0   0   0   0   0
------------------------------------------------   ------------------------------------------------
TOTALS                29   6  12  18  16   6   3   TOTALS                47   5   9  14  12   0  -3

Coach: Sam Castor                                  Coach: Harold Engellund                         

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

 
Anchorage           SH    SV    G    Sv%
----------------------------------------
Worthington         47    42    5  0.894

Portland            SH    SV    G    Sv%
----------------------------------------
Clarkson            29    23    6  0.793

 

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

GOALS:
04:21  POR  Argent PP (Fairwood, Pepper)
07:34  POR  Lidjya (Pepper, Gaspard)

PENALTIES:
03:19  ANC  Collins 2:00 (Clipping)

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

GOALS:
00:43  ANC  Frost (Koons, Ericsson)
03:34  POR  Argent PP (Costello)
06:05  ANC  Collins (Martinsson, Hoffman)

PENALTIES:
01:59  ANC  Zhlotkin 2:00 (Delay of Game)
08:33  ANC  Fleury 2:00 (Tripping)

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

GOALS:
01:11  ANC  Frost (Ericsson, Koons)
01:53  ANC  Zhlotkin (Collins, Martinsson)
02:19  POR  Mango (Argent, Costello)
07:12  POR  Derringer (Lambert, Durien)
09:28  ANC  Adamczyk (Keefe, Pomfret)
10:01  ANC  Ericsson (Pomfret, Frost)

PENALTIES:
None



 
SHOTS
------
                   1   2   3   OT   F
Anchorage          7  10  12       29
Portland          16  11  20       47

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

Anchorage        0 for 0
Portland         2 for 3

 
INJURIES
--------

None

2020 SHL Western All-Star Roster

The roster for the Western Division in the 2020 SHL All-Star Game, which will be held on Wednesday at Kansas City’s Heartland Telecom Center, was announced today by coach Sam Castor.  The selections were as follows:

LW: Rod “Money” Argent, Portland.  The Bluebacks are hot, and they’re quickly building a strong and enthusiastic fan base.  The team’s fans showed their love in the All-Star voting, as they rivaled Hamilton in terms of the largest turnout.  Thanks to the strong support from the Rose City, the Bluebacks wound up with three starting slots.  Among those is Argent, who will appear in the All-Star game for the first time in his career.  The winger is fifth in the league in goals with 18, and has Portland’s second-highest point total with 34.  Argent is a strong two-way player, as reflected by the fact that he leads all Bluebacks forwards in blocks with 27.

D: Ted Keefe, Anchorage.  This marks the first time that a non-Michigan defenseman made the West’s starting lineup.  The strong support of Igloos fans allowed Keefe to finish with the most votes among defensemen.  Although this is Keefe’s first All-Star start, it is the third time that he’ll make an appearance in the game.   Keefe is having a strong year offensively; he is tied for the lead among SHL defenseman in goals with 11.  But it’s defense that’s his primary calling card.  Any unlucky opponent that’s been the victim of his punishing hits can attest to that; his 50 blocks on the season tell the same story.

C: Eddie Costello, Portland.  Last year, the veteran center was traded to Hamilton at the deadline, and went on to play a leading role as the Pistols won their first Vandy.  In the offseason, he signed with Portland, and has led the team to its spot atop the standings at the midway mark.  Those fans returned the favor by making Costello the top overall vote-getter in the West.  (It’s likely that he got support from his former fans in Washington and Hamilton as well.)  Costello’s 36 points are tops on his new team, while his 25 assists land him among the SHL’s top ten.  He’s no slouch defensively, either, with 26 blocks so far this season.

D: Fritz Kronstein, Michigan.  Kronstein continues his streak of All-Star starts, finishing ahead of teammates “Mad Max” Madison (a three-time starter) and Brooks Zabielski, as well as Portland’s Benny Lambert.  This comes as no surprise, in spite of the Wolves’ disappointing first half; Kronstein has started in every All-Star Game to date.  Though Michigan is not performing up to its usual standards, the German-born blueliner continues to produce on both ends, leading the team’s defensive corps with 22 points (including 10 goals, second among Wolves defensemen) and tied for the lead with 59 blocks.

RW: Vince Mango, Portland.  The colorful, high-scoring Mango secures his third All-Star berth and his second start, finishing roughly 1,500 votes ahead of Anchorage’s Nicklas Ericsson.  (It’s sweet payback for Mango; last season, Ericsson nosed him out of a starting slot by less than 800 votes.)  Mango is often regarded around the league as a one-dimensional scorer.  While his 15 goals does place him among the SHL’s top ten, Mango’s game has matured as he and the team have grown.  He has recorded 11 assists so far on the year, and he has even blocked 17 shots.  “Honestly, I never thought I’d see the day when Vince blocked a shot on purpose,” said Castor.  “He’d be afraid of mussing his hair.  But he’s clearly changed, and good for him.”

 

Second Line

LW: Jerry Koons, Anchorage.  Last year’s starter makes it this year on the second line, one of four Igloos chosen for the team by their coach.  Koons has appeared in every All-Star Game so far and has started twice.  Among all Western left-wingers, Koons is the leader in both points (with 37) and assists (with 25).  “I’m sure some people will say I’m a big homer because there are so many of our guys on the team,” said Castor.  “But you tell me which guy didn’t deserve to go.  No question about it that Jerry deserves to be there.”

D: Wyatt Barnes, Saskatchewan.  Barnes, who makes his fourth trip to the All-Star game, is the Shockers’ only representative at the All-Star game this season.  But he is no charity pick; arguably, he is the SHL’s best defenseman so far this half on both ends of the ice.  Only teammate Chris Oflyng has more points among the West’s blueliners than Barnes’ 29.  And no one in the league, in either division or at any position, has more blocks that he does, just one shy of the century mark.  “One of these days, the fans are going to wake up and realize that Barnesy should be starting in this thing,” said Oflyng.

C: Hunter Bailes, Michigan.  In spite of the Wolves’ underperformance so far this season, Castor couldn’t overlook Bailes’ solid campaign for Anchorage’s longtime rival.  Bailes is the Michigan leader in goals (with 14) and points (with 29), and his +14 rating places him within the league’s top ten.  Somewhat surprisingly for one of the league’s consistent stars, this is the first time that Bailes will be appearing in the midseason contest.  He was named to the team in 2017, but he missed the game due to injury; teammate Warren Marlow skated in his place.

D: Benny Lambert, Portland.  The Bluebacks aren’t solely represented by players who were voted in by their enthusiastic fans; Lambert is one of two Portland players chosen by Castor to accompany their starting colleagues.  This is not Lambert’s first All-Star appearance; he was Seattle’s lone representative back in the 2017 contest.  Lambert’s 71 blocks are tops on the Bluebacks, and his 16 assists are tied for second on the team among blueliners.

RW: Nicklas Ericsson, Anchorage.  After Ericsson narrowly lost the starting spot to Mango, there was little doubt that Castor would add his top-line right winger to the squad.  Ericsson is is one of five Western players who has been an All-Star every year.  He’s justifiably renowned for his skills as a passer, and he remains as sharp as ever: he’s tied for second in the league in assists with 31.  Somewhat more surprisingly, he also has more points than anyone else in the West, with 40.

 

Third Line

LW: “Flyin’ Ryan” Airston, Dakota.  Airston, the Jackalopes’ only representative, appears in his third All-Star game.  The fan-favorite winger has been named in rumor after rumor over the last couple of seasons, always supposedly on the verge of being dealt for financial reasons, but he remains in Dakota for the time being, continuing to produce as usual.  Airston leads the Jackalopes in goals with 12, and is tied for the team lead in assists with 15.  “You have to tune all that stuff out and just play your game,” said Airston.  “I think I’ve done a good job with that.”

D: Gary Hermine, Kansas City.  In a surprising pick, Castor tabbed the 22-year-old Hermine as a first-time All-Star.  The Western coach acknowledged that he gave Hermine the nod in part to give the KC crowd another Smoke player to cheer for.  “The fans deserve to see a couple of their own,” Castor said.  But Hermine is also on the team on merit; he’s put together a strong first half with 23 points (7 goals, 16 assists) and 41 blocks.

C: Tom Hoffman, Anchorage.  This pick by Castor definitely raised eyebrows around the league.  How could the coach pass over his own top-line center, Jake Frost?  How could the star who has started each previous All-Star contest miss the cut entirely?  According to Castor, the move came at Frost’s request.  “He told me, ‘Hoff’s outplaying me so far.  He deserves to go, not me,” said the coach.  “Of course, Frosty might have just wanted a few days off for a change.”  When the Igloos acquired Hoffman from New York in the offseason, the move was regarded as a cheap flyer at a position of need.  To the degree that fans knew Hoffman at all, it was as a draft bust who hadn’t lived up to his potential.  But he’s undergone a career revival in baby.  He has indeed produced more goals (12) and assists (16) than Frost so far on the year.  In addition, he leads the team in plus-minus with a +14 rating.

D: Sebastian Pomfret, Anchorage.  This spot originally belonged to Chris Oflyng of Saskatchewan, but the Shockers blueliner suffered an injury a couple games before the break.  To replace Oflyng, Castor went with a familiar face, tapping his own man Pomfret.  It’s the second straight All-Star appearance for the 25-year-old.  Pomfret is on track for a career-best season, putting up 19 points (5 goals, 14 assists) and blocking 61 shots to go with his +7 rating.

RW: Bengt Frederiksson, Kansas City.  The Swedish winger was the #1 pick in the draft, and he has completely lived up to the hype so far amid an otherwise forgettable year for the host city.  His 15 goals puts him among the league’s top ten and atop all rookies.  Similarly, his 36 points places him on the SHL leaderboard; no other freshman is within a dozen points of him.  “I am glad that I will have a chance to enjoy this honor among our fans,” said Frederiksson.

 

Goalies

Ty Worthington, Anchorage.  For the first time, Michigan’s Dirk Lundquist is not the Western starter.  And it’s not a fluke driven by the voters; in fact, Worthington has outplayed the mighty Bear so far this season.  His 2.11 GAA is third in the SHL, and his .933 save percentage leads the league.  His underlying numbers belie a 13-10-1 record, which speaks more to a lack of offensive support than anything else.  “It’s nice to see Ty get the top slot for a change,” said Castor.  “He’s earned it.”

Jesse Clarkson, Portland.  In another eyebrow-raising move, Castor elected not to pick Lundquist as Worthington’s backup.  Instead, the Western coach turned to Clarkson, making him the fifth Blueback to appear on the roster.  Clarkson was voted in as the starter of the Eastern team last season, when he played for New York.  After signing with Portland in the offseason, Clarkson rebounded from a shaky start to post his typically solid numbers.  His 16 victories lead the SHL, and he’s backing them up with a skinny 2.68 GAA and a stout .919 save percentage.