2019 SHL Division Playoff – Game 1

Western Division Series (Anchorage leads, 1-0)

ANCHORAGE IGLOOS 2, SEATTLE SAILORS 0

Seattle Sailors RW Vince Mango didn’t waste words when diagnosing his team’s loss to the Anchorage Igloos in Game 1 of the Western division series.

“It was the refs,” said Mango.  “We lost this game because of crappy officiating.”

What got Mango so hot and bothered?  Seattle had a couple of questionable calls against them in the opening minutes of the game, and Anchorage converted on the subsequent power plays, putting the Sailors in a hole they never dug out of in a 2-0 loss.

The first controversial call came during the opening puck drop.  Sailors D Hans Mortensen, jockeying for position with Igloos counterpart Dave Frederick, accidentally jabbed Frederick in the midsection.  Referee Scott Pritchard immediately sent Mortensen to the box with a double minor for spearing, a call that sparked outrage on the Seattle bench.

“There’s always bumping and jostling that goes on during faceoff,” said Mango.  “Sending a guy to the box on the opening faceoff, for incidental contact?  You’ve got to be kidding me.”

The early penalty allowed the Igloos to start the game on offense, and the Sailors struggled to clear the puck out of their end.  Igloos C Jake Frost ultimately fired a shot from the slot that found the upper-left corner of the net, putting Anchorage on top.

Just over a minute later, with the Sailors still fuming over the initial penalty, C Marco Venezio received a minor for elbowing LW Waldo Miranda.  Seattle players thought that the supposed infraction was weak at best, and that Miranda should have been called for embellishment instead.

“They went behind the net, and Marco barely grazed [Miranda], but [Miranda] snapped his head back and got the call,” said Mango.  “Completely ridiculous.”

Less than a minute into that power play, Igloos LW Jerry Koons fired a severe-angle shot that snuck between Seattle goalie Rocky Goldmire’s body and the post for another goal.

Seattle received two more minor penalties in the period, which they successfully killed off.  All in all, the Sailors spent much of the opening frame on the penalty kill, a key reason that they were outshot 16-7 in the period.  Although they weren’t penalized in either of the other two periods, they never managed to mount a successful pushback.  Anchorage goalie Ty Worthington easily turned aside all 28 shots he faced.

Coach Harold Engellund agreed with Mango that the calls played a role, but added that the Sailors deserved the blame for their defeat.

“Mentally, we just took ourselves out of the game,” said Engellund.  “We had a couple bad penalties against us early in the game and got in a hole, and we spent the rest of the night being mad at the refs instead of playing hockey.  When you’re in the playoffs, there’s no time to feel sorry for yourself.”

Igloos coach Sam Castor regarded the Sailors’ fury with amusement.  “As soon as I saw that [the Sailors] were spending their time arguing with the officials instead of trying to score, I put the W in my mental scorebook,” Castor said.  “Honestly, I hope they never get over it.”

“For what it’s worth, I thought the officiating was very fair,” the Igloos coach said with a sly grin.

 

W Final - Game 1, Seattle @ Anchorage, Arctic Circle Arena

                   1   2   3   OT   F
Seattle            0   0   0        0
Anchorage          2   0   0        2

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

Argent          LW     0   0   0   0   0   Koons           LW     1   0   1   0   0
Lambert         D      0   0   0   0   0   Keefe           D      0   1   1   2   0
Beasley         C      0   0   0   0   0   Frost           C      1   0   1   0   0
Lidjya          D      0   0   0   0   0   Martinsson      D      0   0   0   0   0
Mango           RW     0   0   0   0   0   Ericsson        RW     0   2   2   0   0
Lane            LW     0   0   0   0   0   Collins         LW     0   0   0   0   0
Mortensen       D      0   0   0   4   0   Bernard         C      0   0   0   0   0
Derringer       C      0   0   0   0   0   Frederick       D      0   0   0   0   0
Gatecliff       D      0   0   0   2   0   Summers         RW     0   0   0   0   0
Pepper          RW     0   0   0   4   0   Miranda         LW     0   0   0   2   0
Gaspard         LW     0   0   0   0   0   Citrone         D      0   0   0   0   0
Venezio         C      0   0   0   2   0   Theroux         C      0   0   0   0   0
Snelling        D      0   0   0   0   0   Calligan        D      0   0   0   0   0
Durien          RW     0   0   0   0   0   Fleury          RW     0   0   0   0   0
Gallagher       D      0   0   0   0   0   Kerasov         D      0   1   1   0   0
----------------------------------------   ----------------------------------------
TOTALS                 0   0   0  12   0   TOTALS                 2   4   6   4   0

Scratches:
SEA:  Fairwood, Bacon, McElvern
ANC:  Pomfret (DL), Kennedy, Zhlotkin

 
Seattle             SH    SV    G    Sv%
----------------------------------------
Goldmire            36    34    2  0.944

Anchorage           SH    SV    G    Sv%
----------------------------------------
Worthington         28    28    0  1.000

 

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

GOALS:
01:45  ANC  Frost PP (Ericsson, Kerasov)
04:15  ANC  Koons PP (Keefe, Ericsson)

PENALTIES:
00:00  SEA  Mortensen 4:00 (Spearing)
03:18  SEA  Venezio 2:00 (Elbowing)
13:08  SEA  Gatecliff 2:00 (Elbowing)
18:28  SEA  Pepper 4:00 (Spearing)

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

GOALS:
None


PENALTIES:
11:40  ANC  Keefe 2:00 (Interference)
14:24  ANC  Miranda 2:00 (Diving)

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

GOALS:
None


PENALTIES:
None



 
SHOTS
------
                   1   2   3   OT   F
Seattle            7   9  12       28
Anchorage         16   9  11       36

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

Seattle          0 for 2
Anchorage        2 for 4

 
INJURIES
--------

None

 

Eastern Division Playoff (Hershey leads, 1-0)

HERSHEY BLISS 3, HAMILTON PISTOLS 1

Coming into the Eastern playoff against the Hamilton Pistols, Hershey Bliss C Justin Valentine predicted that the series would go the distance, noting that the teams were very evenly matched.  “The key to winning this series is going to be taking one game at a time,” Valentine said.

The Bliss took their first step forward in today’s Game 1, making the most of their opportunities and withstanding a late Hamilton charge to secure a 3-1 win in front of a sellout crowd at Chocolate Center.

“I thought we did a great job today,” said Valentine.  “We didn’t get too fancy, we just played good, straight-ahead hockey and didn’t screw anything up.  Seems simple, but in the playoffs, nothing is.”

The Bliss came out strong in the first period, outshooting the Pistols 15-8.  Hamilton goalie Lasse Koskinen was sharp, turning aside most of Hershey’s blasts.  He was pierced once in the first, though, when LW Gabriel Swindonburg crashed the net and made a slap-pass to D Reese Milton, who jammed it home just inside the left post.

Early in the second period, Hershey took advantage of a rare Hamilton miscue to double their lead.  D Albie Glasco collected the puck in the defensive end, and fired a headman pass to center ice to start a breakout.  Swindonburg anticipated the pass and picked it off, starting an odd-man rush that RW Noah Daniels finished by beating a sprawling Koskinen up high.

But Hamilton hung tough, and when Bliss C Vance Ketterman was sent off for high-sticking in the closing minutes of the second, Pistols LW Steven Alexander scored on the ensuing power play to cut the deficit in half.

The Pistols turned up the intensity in the third, and Hershey found themselves in a tough spot midway through the period when they took a pair of penalties just 29 seconds apart.  During the 5-on-3, C Calvin Frye nearly scored the game-tying goal, but his shot pinged off the crossbar.  The Bliss fought off the penalty kill, and a couple minutes later, Ketterman added a little insurance with a wrap-around shot that got past Koskinen.

Despite the loss, Pistols coach Keith Shields remained upbeat.  “We had nothing to be ashamed of in the way we played today,” Shields said.  “We basically played dead-even, but a couple of the breaks went their way.  If they’d gone our way, we probably get the win.  I know my guys will be playing hungry tomorrow, but if we keep playing as well as we did today, we should be good.”

 

E Final - Game 1, Hamilton @ Hershey, Chocolate Center

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

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

Alexander       LW     1   0   1   0   0   Milton          D      1   0   1   0   1
Smyth           D      0   0   0   0  -1   Valentine       C      0   0   0   0   0
Frye            C      0   1   1   0   0   Baldwin         D      0   0   0   0   1
Risch           D      0   0   0   0  -1   Hart            RW     0   0   0   0   0
Lafayette       RW     0   1   1   0   0   Nahorniak       LW     0   0   0   0   0
Gunnarson       LW     0   0   0   2  -1   Meloche         D      0   0   0   0   1
Mulligan        D      0   0   0   0  -1   Kirkpatrick     C      0   1   1   2   2
Glasco          D      0   0   0   0  -1   Montrechere     RW     0   0   0   0   1
Patterson       RW     0   0   0   0  -2   Danielsen       LW     0   1   1   2   1
Campbell        LW     0   0   0   0  -2   Aubin           D      0   0   0   0   1
Dyomin          D      0   0   0   0  -1   Kulkarov        D      0   1   1   0   1
Marais          C      0   0   0   0  -1   Daniels         RW     1   0   1   2   2
Hampton         D      0   0   0   0  -1   Ketterman       C      1   0   1   4   1
Estabrook       F      0   0   0   0  -1   Swindonburg     LW     0   2   2   0   2
Costello        C      0   0   0   0  -2   Cargill         D      0   1   1   0   1
----------------------------------------   ----------------------------------------
TOTALS                 1   2   3   2  -3   TOTALS                 3   6   9  10   3

Scratches:
HAM:  Constantine, Baker (DL), Klemmer
HSY:  Minnik, Chappelle, Lapointe, Sweet (DL)

 
Hamilton            SH    SV    G    Sv%
----------------------------------------
Koskinen            32    29    3  0.906

Hershey             SH    SV    G    Sv%
----------------------------------------
Colt                30    29    1  0.967

 

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

GOALS:
10:24  HSY  Milton (Swindonburg, Cargill)

PENALTIES:
16:50  HAM  Gunnarson 2:00 (Holding the Stick)

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

GOALS:
01:18  HSY  Daniels (Kirkpatrick, Swindonburg)
17:40  HAM  Alexander PP (Frye, Lafayette)

PENALTIES:
05:46  HSY  Kirkpatrick 2:00 (Interference)
17:14  HSY  Ketterman 4:00 (High-sticking)

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

GOALS:
14:50  HSY  Ketterman (Kulkarov, Danielsen)

PENALTIES:
10:21  HSY  Daniels 2:00 (Slashing)
10:50  HSY  Danielsen 2:00 (Tripping)


 
SHOTS
------
                   1   2   3   OT   F
Hamilton           8  10  12       30
Hershey           15   8   9       32

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

Hamilton         1 for 4
Hershey          0 for 1

 
INJURIES
--------

None

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].”

Shockers Dealt Tough Loss Amid Tight West Race

At the midway point of the season, both the East and West divisions are more competitive than usual.  Four clubs in each division have a real shot at the playoffs; on the flip side, no team is so dominant that their postseason trip is essentially certain.  It’s anybody’s game, and that’s exciting for the fans, as almost every game has potential playoff ramifications.

On the other hand, it can be frustrating for the teams, especially when stretches of strong play don’t create any separation in the standings.  And when a team suffers a particularly tough loss, it stings even more knowing that the line between making the playoffs and watching them on TV appears so thin.

Just ask the Saskatchewan Shockers.  Under the guidance of new coach Morris Thompson, they’re playing smart, strong, disciplined hockey.  They’ve posted their best first-half record ever.  And yet, they’re mired in fourth place, remaining close but agonizingly far for a playoff spot.  Sasktchewan’s precarious position made Thursday’s mystifying loss, in which they played well against the Hershey Bliss only to lose in a 5-0 blowout, a truly bitter pill to swallow.

“I know it’s weird to say this about a game we lost by 5, but I thought we were the better team in a lot of the game,” said Shockers LW Troy Chamberlain.  “This game was just really weird.”

It’s hard to say whether Chamberlain’s claim that Saskatchewan was “the better team” holds water, but they definitely dominated the first period.  The Shockers came out firing, dictating the pace of play.  Aided by a pair of power plays, they outshot the Bliss 19-11.  “I thought we should have been up 2-0 or 3-0 after that,” said Chamberlain.

Instead, the game remained scoreless, thanks to Hershey goalie Brandon Colt.  He isn’t usually considered among the league’s top goalies, but he played like one on Thursday.  He made a dramatic kick-out save on a power-play blast by Chamberlain, bringing the crowd at Chocolate Center to its feet.  He also made a brilliant stop in the closing minutes of the period, robbing C Elliott Rafferty on a breakaway.  The Shockers also suffered some poor luck; on their two power plays in the period, they rang three shots off the posts.

Saskatchewan again got the better of the play to start the second, only to see Colt stymie them again and again.  Just after the nine-minute mark of the period, the Shockers got their third power play of the night when Bliss C Vance Ketterman was whistled for cross-checking.  Saskatchewan failed to convert yet again, managing only one shot, and the momentum seemed to shift toward the home team.

The game remained scoreless until late in the second.  With 2:31 remaining, Hershey RW Noah Daniels deflected a blast from D Steve Cargill and bounced it past Shockers goalie Zeke Zagurski into the net.  It was a fluke goal, but after seeing so many of their shots stopped, spirits sagged on the Saskatchewan bench.

“We couldn’t understand how we were losing when we’d played so much better,” said Rafferty.

In the third, the Shockers pushed hard in the early going, only to come up empty yet again.  Bliss C Justin Valentine banged home a rebound just until 7 minutes in to make it 2-0.  D Bruce Minnik went to the sin bin a couple minutes later, giving Saskatchewan its fourth power play of the game.  By this time, the Shockers were stressing out, shanking shots left and right and missing out on quality chances.

Twenty second after the power play ended, Bliss LW Lance Sweet and RW Christopher Hart broke out on an odd-man rush, and Hart beat Zagurski to give Hershey a three-goal edge.

The dam seemed to burst after that; the Shockers all but gave up, and Hershey scored twice more before the game mercifully ended.

The frustration in the Shockers locker room was palpable after the game.  Rafferty, who was denied at least three times by brilliant Colt saves, smashed his stick to pieces against his stool.  Zagurski opted for a different approach; he went into the shower with his equipment still on, sitting in soaked silence.

To make matters worse, the three teams ahead of Saskatchewan in the West standings (Michigan, Seattle, and Anchorage) all lost, costing the Shockers a rare chance to gain ground.

“In any season, there’s always going to be a few games you wish you could have back,” said Thompson.  “But this one was a knife to the gut.  When you get a 6-0 edge in power plays, you really need to win it.  This one really stings.”

Continue reading “Shockers Dealt Tough Loss Amid Tight West Race”

Bliss Run Wild At Sheetz as Season Ends

The Hershey Bliss saw their disappointing season wind to an end this week.  The players have long since resigned themselves to the fact that they won’t have a chance to defend their title.  As a result, they weren’t consumed by sadness or anger as the regular season drew to a close; rather, they were possessed by a feeling that C Justin Valentine described as “a really deep, deep weirdness.”  That weirdness boiled over on Saturday in a most unusual rest stop.

All of Hershey’s games this week were on the road, so the team spent the week flying from one Eastern city to another, including two separate trips across the border and back.  “We were all pretty punchy this week,” admitted Bliss C Spencer Kirkpatrick.  On Thursday night, they flew back in from Quebec.  Rather than heading to Washington, site of Saturday’s finale, the Bliss went home to Hershey to participate in an autograph session scheduled at a local mall on Friday.

Then on Saturday morning, the team boarded a bus down to DC.  “Somehow, it felt like our season in a nutshell,” said Valentine.  “Instead of getting ready for the playoffs, here we are rolling through the countryside in a bus, on our way to a meaningless game against our supposed rivals, who aren’t making the playoffs either.  I think something kind of snapped for us on that ride.”

When the bus got to Thurmont, Maryland, the team insisted on stopping.  The bus pulled into the Sheetz just off of US Route 15, and the team descended on the convenience store.  “We get a lot of buses through here,” said Sheetz clerk Alvin Clark, “but something about the way these guys came in told me they were going to be trouble.”

As the Bliss wandered the aisles, they began behaving (in Valentine’s words) like “a bunch of four-year-olds on a sugar high.”  Valentine and his fellow “Love Line” mates Lance Sweet and Christopher Hart grabbed sodas out of the case, snuck up on their teammates, and poured the sodas over their heads.  The team’s defensemen grabbed a 24-pack of beer and engaged in a drinking contest.  Kirkpatrick and RW Noah Daniels monopolized the Made-to-Order food screens, trying to top each other with increasingly elaborate custom orders.

LW Trevor Green cleaned out the store’s entire supply of jerky, reasoning that “maybe we’ll get in a crash, and this will buy us a day or two before we have to resort to cannibalism.”  Meanwhile, RW Sven Danielsen (known as the team’s “den mother”) bought one of every medicine on the shelf, saying that “you can’t be too careful on the road.”

Goalie Brandon Colt took things to another level when he grabbed a couple of donuts out of the pastry case and used them to play Frisbee with his backup, Milo Stafford.  The pair knocked over display racks left and right as they dove for donuts.

Chip Barber

After about 15 minutes of this madness, coach “Chocolate Chip” Barber (wondering where his team had gone) came into the store.  As he took in the chaos around him, the coach’s eyes bulged and the veins on his forehead throbbed.  “What the hell is going on here?!” Barber shouted, as his players froze.  After a couple of them mumbled attempts at an explanation, the coach held help his hand.  “Never mind, I don’t want to know.  You’ve got two minutes to clean this up and get out of here.”

The players sighed and obeyed the coach’s orders.  Just as the bus was about to pull away, however, Stafford came running out of the store, hollering after his colleagues.  As he got on the bus, Stafford explained that he’d found something he had to buy.  He reached into his pocket and pulled out an inflatable water toy in the shape of a rubber duck.  “I love rubber ducks!” Stafford said by way of explanation.

“I don’t know if I’m a coach or a zookeeper,” sighed Barber.  “Those guys were basically looting that poor store.  And they didn’t even grab any chocolate bars!”

Somehow, in spite of all the craziness of the morning, Hershey managed to win the game that night, defeating rival Washington 4-3 in overtime.  For the Bliss, it was a day to remember at the end of a season to forget.  “It was a cathartic experience, and I’m glad we did it,” said Sweet.  “Even though they’ll probably never let us in that Sheetz again.”

2017 SHL Finals – Game 6

ANCHORAGE IGLOOS 1, HERSHEY BLISS 0

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.”

Continue reading “2017 SHL Finals – Game 6”

2017 SHL Finals – Game 1

ANCHORAGE IGLOOS 5, HERSHEY BLISS 1

The Anchorage Igloos entered the Vandenberg Cup Finals as heavy favorites.  The “favorite” label can come with considerable pressure in the playoffs, as anything can happen in a short series.  In Game 1, at least, the Igloos didn’t let the pressure get to them, as they scored three goals in the first period and cruised to a 5-1 win over the Hershey Bliss.

“If all the games are this easy, it’ll be a short series,” said Anchorage RW Nicklas Ericsson, who had a goal and two assists.  “But we know they won’t all be this easy.”

The Bliss put themselves in trouble in the first period, committing four penalties.  The Igloos took advantage, scoring a pair of power-play goals.  Four minutes into the game, Hershey D Nikolai Kulkarov was whistled for hooking when he brought down Anchorage C Derek Humplik in order to prevent a breakaway.  Igloos C Jake Frost buried a slapshot from the top of the faceoff circle to make it 1-0.  Late in the period, Bliss C Henry Constantine flipped the puck over the glass for a delay of game penalty.  Before they could kill it off, D Joel Baldwin tried to draw a tripping call, but was called for embellishment.  Igloos RW Remi Montrechere cashed in during the waning seconds of the period, putting a rebound home past a sprawled Brandon Colt.  In between, LW Les Collins scored during 5-on-5 play, and the Igloos went to the locker room with a 3-0 edge, depsite being outshot 19-8.  The crowd at Arctic Circle Arena razzed the visiting Bliss on their way into the locker room.

“We were a little shell-shocked,” said Bliss C Justin Valentine of the first 20 minutes.  “We’d dominated long stretches of play, but look at the scoreboard and they were wiping the floor with us.”

In the second period, Baldwin tried to fire up his struggling team by starting a pair of fights.  In mid-period, he responded to a rough check by RW Tony Citrone by throwing hands with him.  Late in the period, he scrapped with Collins after the two traded jabs during a faceoff.

“I felt like we needed to shake things up,” said Baldwin.  “And I thought a good fight or two might change the momentum.”

Baldwin’s fisticuffs failed to spark Hershey, however, as Anchorage LW Jerry Koons scored the only goal of the period, yet another power-play tally.

Bliss LW Noah Daniels salvaged some dignity for his team, scoring four and a half minutes into the third period to foil Anchorage netminder Ty Worthington‘s shutout bid.  But Ericsson put one more home for the Igloos to restore their four-goal advantage, and that’s how the game ended.

Hershey coach Chip Barber was crestfallen after the game.  “Not the way that we wanted to start this series,” Barber told reporters.  “This loss was as bitter as biting into a chunk of backer’s chocolate.  But it only counts as one loss, thank goodness.”

Barber highlighted a couple of areas for his team to improve on in Game 2.  “Obviously, we’ve got to cut down on the penalties,” the Bliss coach said.  “Against a team this good, you can’t give them extra chances.  And we’ve got to find ways to get some more pucks past Worthington.”  The Igloos goalie made 38 saves in the game.

Continue reading “2017 SHL Finals – Game 1”

SHL Player of the Week – Week 10

Noah Daniels

The SHL selected Hershey Bliss RW Noah Daniels as its Player of the Week.  Daniels had a 10-point week (7 goals, 3 assists), a particularly remarkable feat for a player who came into the week having scored only 25 points on the season.  Thanks to Daniels’ hard work, the Bliss went 4-1-0 on the week and jumped back into first place in the East.

On Sunday, Daniels turned in his first career hat trick, contributing to Hershey’s 7-1 pummeling of Hamilton.  (More on that game here.)  On Tuesday, the winger scored two more goals and added three assists as the Bliss shredded Quebec 9-2.  And on Friday, Daniels scored two more to help Hershey tip New York 4-3.

“Noah’s a real fighter,” said Bliss coach “Chocolate Chip” Barber.  “He may not be the biggest or most gifted player out there, but he’s out there working hard every shift and clawing for every opportunity.  He’s made himself a player, and he deserves all the recognition he can get.”