The Anchorage Igloos knew that it was now or never. In today’s Game 6 of the SHL Finals at Arctic Circle Arena, the Igloos had to win or they would be finished, suffering a stunning upset at the hands of the Hershey Bliss. The Igloos showed up with the proper sense intensity, and finally pushed across a goal in the third to win 1-0 and stave off elimination.
“We knew we needed to come out desperate,” said Igloos C Jake Frost. “We knew we needed to leave it all out there on the ice. We knew we might get beat, but it wasn’t going to be because we were outskated or outhustled. And we weren’t.”
Anchorage came out determined to push the pace and run past Hershey. This strategy had two advantages: First, with Hershey’s top scorer Justin Valentine sidelined with an injury, the Igloos suspected that the Bliss would take a while to establish a rhythm on offense. Second, since Igloos netminder Ty Worthington was also injured, Anchorage hoped that an aggressive approach would limit Hershey’s zone time and reduce the pressure on backup Riley Lattimore.
“We came out determined to dominate,” said Igloos coach Sam Castor. “We just wanted to blow the doors off them.”
Dominate they did; they outshot Hershey 21-8 in a fast-paced, high-flying period. But the period ended in a scoreless tie, as Bliss goalie Brandon Colt made a number of sterling stops to thwart the Igloos at every turn. “This series would have been over already if Brandon hadn’t been so awesome,” said Bliss D Reese Milton. “He’s really taken his game to the next level in this series.”
The game slowed down considerably in the second period, as the Igloos’ initial burst of energy wore off and Hershey was able to establish a more effective defensive rhythm. Six and a half minutes into the period, the Bliss appeared to draw first blood, as RW Noah Daniels threaded a gorgeous pass to LW Russell Nahorniak, who fired the puck home between Lattimore’s legs. But Castor challenged the goal, arguing that Hershey had entered the zone offside. The referees spent over four minutes reviewing the play, as the Igloos and their fans waited with their hearts in their throats. Finally, after an agonizing wait, head referee Laurent Villiers announced that the play was offside and waved off the goal, as the crowd roared.
“That was a huge momentum swing for us,” said Frost. “When we dominated the first period and couldn’t score, and if that had counted… it would have crushed us.”
Both teams had a power play in the period but failed to convert. After two periods, the game remained scoreless. Anchorage was outshooting Hershey 32-14, but had nothing to show for it.
“We definitely knew the stakes, but so did they,” said Igloos LW Jerry Koons. “It was a really well-played game on both sides.”
The tension in the arena amped up even further in the final period, as both teams were eager to close it out. There were no fights, no penalties, no extracurriculars, just two teams giving it their all. As the minutes ticked away and the zeroes remained on the scoreboard, both benches began to wonder if the game-winning goal would ever come.
“I don’t know if we could have handled OT,” said Koons. “I was about to have a heart attack as it was.”
Finally, with 4:18 left in the game, Anchorage C Nile Bernard fired a shot from the right faceoff circle. Colt made the save, but allowed an unusually juicy rebound. The puck skidded to D Olaf Martinsson, who gathered it up and fired it at the open half of the net. Colt reached back for it, but the puck found the twine. Martinsson dropped his stick, shouted and pumped his fists as his teammates gathered around to celebrate him.
“If you’d have asked me to bet who would get the GWG, I wouldn’t have put money on Olaf,” laughed Frost. “But he’s a pro, like everyone in here, and he came through when the spotlight found him.”
The Igloos switched to a more defensive style after Martinsson’s tally, and successfully denied the Bliss time in the offensive zone. Hershey got only one more shot off in the final four minutes of the game.
Heading into the winner-take-all Game 7, Castor said that his team is ready. “We showed today that we’ve got what it takes when the chips are down,” said the Igloos coach. “We know tomorrow’s game will be at least as intense as this, probably more. But we’re in this to win it, all the way. We won’t accept anything less.”