2018 SHL Finals – Game 7

ANCHORAGE IGLOOS 4, QUEBEC TIGRES 3

There were several points this season when it appeared that the Anchorage Igloos would fail in their quest for their second Vandy.  The team hovered around the .500 mark for much of the season.  Coach Sam Castor called his club out for a lack of effort at one point.  Even as late as the trading deadline, it wasn’t clear whether the Igloos would be able to hold on to a playoff spot.

Anchorage finished the season strong, however, and seemed prepared to rampage through the postseason.  They swept the Michigan Gray Wolves in the division playoff, then won three straight in the Finals to push the Quebec Tigres to the brink.  But in one final, cruel twist of fate, they proceeded to lose three straight to Quebec to even the series, leaving it up to a winner-take-all Game 7 at Centre Citadelle.

“I suppose we could have made it harder on ourselves,” said C Jake Frost, “but I’m not sure how.”

Fortunately, Anchorage was up to the challenge.  In a game for the ages, the Igloos rallied from behind twice with the help of some unlikely faces and squeezed out a 4-3 victory, becoming the first two-time SHL champion.

“We really went through hell to get here,” said Castor, “but that makes the victory so much sweeter.”

After being manhandled by the Tigres in Game 6, the Igloos needed to get their offense back on track in this contest.  They got off to a decent start in the first period, outshooting Quebec 11-8, but they couldn’t get one past goalie Riki Tiktuunen.  Worse yet, Castor sensed that some of his stars – particularly Frost and RW Nicklas Ericsson – were pressing a bit.

“We were definitely playing tight out there early,” said the Anchorage coach.  “I knew we needed to do something to shake things up.”

To top it all off, D Tony Citrone was penalized in the first couple minutes of the game for a slashing call that the Igloos considered highly questionable.  On the ensuing power play, Tigres RW Stephane Mirac deflected a knuckling puck just inside the post to give the home team a 1-0 lead that stood up through period’s end.

Heading into the second, Castor decided to take a gamble.  The Igloos coach decided to give more ice time to their bottom line of LW Waldo Miranda, C Harvey Bellmore, and RW Broni Zhlotkin.  That group earned themselves the nickname “The Circus Squad” both because of their penchant for practical jokes and their tendency to make on-ice mistakes.  Castor tends to limit their shifts for that reason, but he gambled that their goofy nature might be an advantage in a high-pressure game like this.

“I figured they were too dumb to get scared,” said the Igloos coach.

Castor’s hunch paid off in a big way.  Two and a half minutes into the second period, during an extended offensive shift, Bellmore drifted close to the net and redirected a shot from D Olaf Martinsson over Tiktuunen’s right pad to tie the score at 1.

The deadlock lasted less than a minute, however, as D Laurie Workman fired a slapshot that beat a screened Ty Worthington to put Quebec back in front.

Castor’s solution?  Put the Circus Squad right back out there.  And just 16 seconds after Workman’s tally, Bellmore went top-shelf on Tiktuunen to tie the score back up.  To celebrate his offensive explosion, Bellmore beat his chest and let out a Tarzan scream.

“Sometimes, you just need to send the nutcases out there,” said Castor.

Later on in the period, LW Jerry Koons got the top line on the board, finishing a breakaway by beating Tiktuunen on the glove side and giving the Igloos their first lead of the game.

“We couldn’t let the bottom line do all the work,” quipped Koons.

The Igloos weren’t quite out of the woods yet.  A minute and a half into the third period, Mirac fired a laser past Worthington for his second goal of the game, tying the score.  Once again, the Circus Squad came to the rescue.  Bellmore, trying for a hat trick, fired a shot that wound up in a scrum in front of the net.  The puck wound up bouncing to Miranda, who fed it over to Zhltokin.  The rugged winger wrestled free of his defender and slapped it home to put the Igloos ahead for good.

“If anyone predicted that Broni Zhlotkin was going to get the goal that won the Finals, I want to meet that guy,” said Castor.  “He and I are going down to the racetrack.”

Anchorage still had to weather a couple of late Quebec rushes, but Worthington was on duty and kept the Tigres from tying the score.  With about two minutes left in the game, Mirac skated behind the net and tried a wraparound shot, but Worthington got over in the nick of time and deflected it with his skate blade.

The postgame handshake line was far from the usual perfunctory routine.  Players on both side squeezed each other’s arms, thumped chests, and even hugged.  It was a gesture of mutual respect between a pair of worthy adversaries who expect to see each other again in a situation like this.

“Quebec gave us everything we could handle,” said Castor.  “Stephane and his team deserve a ton of credit.  We got the Vandy this time, but I’m sure they’ve got one ahead of them.”

For his part, Tigres coach Martin Delorme kept his focus on the future.  “We learned a lot of lessons here that will serve us well,” Delorme told reporters.  “We faced a great team and nearly beat them.  I cannot wait for next season.”

Continue reading “2018 SHL Finals – Game 7”

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2018 SHL Division Playoff – Game 2

Eastern Division Series

QUEBEC TIGRES 2, HAMILTON PISTOLS 1

The Quebec Tigres are taking an unconventional route to success.  In Game 1, the Hamilton Pistols outshot them by a 2-to-1 margin, but Quebec still pulled out a 2-1 win in overtime thanks to the heroics of goalie Riki Tiktuunen.  In Game 2, the Tigres managed to reduce the Pistols’ volume of shots, although Quebec was still outshot.  With Tiktuunen turning in another strong game, the Tigres were able to come from behind and claim a 2-1 win that gives them a 2-0 lead in the series.

“I think all of our postseason paychecks should go to Riki,” said Quebec C Mikhail Ilyushin.  “He has been our star in this series.”

Of the 27 shots Hamilton aimed at Tiktuunen in this game, the Finnish netminder turned aside 26 of them.  The only one that eluded him occurred in the first minute of the game, when the Tigres failed to clear Pistols D Clayton “Crusher” Risch from in front of the net, and he redirected a shot from C Edz Zalmanis underneath the crossbar.

“Riki never had a shot at that one,” said Tigres coach Martin Delorme.  “Even Superman cannot stop what he cannot see.”

Faced with their first deficit of the series, the Tigres went to work trying to even the score.  But Quebec’s attempts to rally were stymied by a rash of penalties.  They spent a significant chunk of the first period killing off penalties to LW Walt Camernitz and D Laurie Workman.  Then in the second period, Tigres C Drustan Zarkovich was sent to the penalty box three separate times.

“I spent so much time in the sin bin, I thought maybe I should bring my toothbrush,” said Zarkovich.

In between penalty kills, D Richard McKinley managed to tie the game for Quebec by going five-hole on Pistols netminder Lasse Koskinen.  It was one of only six shots for the Tigres in the second period.  “Between the penalties and all, it felt like we were trying to climb out of a pit of quicksand,” said Camernitz.

Just over three and a half minutes into the third period, Camernitz fired a laser that seemed to go through Koskinen and into the net, giving Quebec the lead.  “I thought I was going to look down and find a hole in my jersey,” said Koskinen.

After Camernitz’s tally, the Tigres turned up their defense for the rest of the period, holding the Pistols to eight shots, all of which Tiktuunen turned aside.

Delorme praised his team’s effort, although he criticized them for taking too many penalties.  “We looked much more like ourselves today,” the Quebec coach said.  “As long as we can avoid taking careless calls, we will be in good shape.”

Pistols coach Keith Shields remained upbeat, although his team is now only one loss away from elimination.  “The whole mojo of this series is going to shift when we’re back in our place,” Shields told reporters.  “We’ve got to solve Tiktuunen, but I’m confident we can do that when we’ve got our crowd behind us.”

 

E Final - Game 2, Hamilton @ Quebec, Centre Citadelle

                   1   2   3   OT   F
Hamilton           1   0   0        1
Quebec             0   1   1        2

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

Alexander       LW     0   0   0   0  -1   Camernitz       LW     1   0   1   2   1
Smyth           D      0   1   1   0   0   Workman         D      0   0   0   2   0
Frye            C      0   0   0   0  -1   Zarkovich       C      0   0   0   6   0
Risch           D      1   0   1   0   0   McKinley        D      1   0   1   0   0
Lafayette       RW     0   0   0   0  -1   Mirac           RW     0   1   1   0   1
Gunnarson       LW     0   0   0   0   0   Fisker          LW     0   0   0   0   0
Mulligan        D      0   0   0   5  -1   Ilyushin        C      0   0   0   0   1
Constantine     C      0   0   0   0   0   Jones           D      0   1   1   0   1
Werner          D      0   0   0   0  -1   Robinson        RW     0   0   0   0   0
Patterson       RW     0   0   0   0   0   MacDiarmid      LW     0   1   1   0   0
Campbell        LW     0   0   0   2   0   Pugliese        D      0   0   0   0   0
Glasco          D      0   0   0   0   0   Kalashnikov     D      0   0   0   4   0
Zalmanis        C      0   1   1   0   0   Pentti          RW     0   0   0   5   0
Soforenko       LW     0   0   0   0   0   Miller          C      0   0   0   0   0
Dyomin          D      0   0   0   0   0   Wesson          D      0   0   0   0   1
----------------------------------------   ----------------------------------------
TOTALS                 1   2   3   7  -1   TOTALS                 2   3   5  19   1

Scratches:
HAM:  Kratz, Jennings, Rodney
QUE:  Shovshenkov, Zhzhynov, Kane

 
Hamilton            SH    SV    G    Sv%
----------------------------------------
Koskinen            21    19    2  0.905

Quebec              SH    SV    G    Sv%
----------------------------------------
Tiktuunen           27    26    1  0.963

 

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

GOALS:
00:59  HAM  Risch (Zalmanis, Smyth)

PENALTIES:
04:34  QUE  Camernitz 2:00 (Diving)
08:10  QUE  Workman 2:00 (Tripping)

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

GOALS:
02:51  QUE  McKinley (MacDiarmid)

PENALTIES:
00:08  QUE  Zarkovich 2:00 (Delay of Game)
03:40  QUE  Zarkovich 2:00 (Roughing)
16:58  QUE  Zarkovich 2:00 (Unsportsmanlike Conduct)

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

GOALS:
03:43  QUE  Camernitz (Jones, Mirac)

PENALTIES:
06:23  QUE  Pentti 5:00 (Fighting)
06:23  HAM  Mulligan 5:00 (Fighting)
12:32  HAM  Campbell 2:00 (Delay of Game)
13:02  QUE  Kalashnikov 2:00 (Roughing)
19:13  QUE  Kalashnikov 2:00 (Holding the Stick)


 
SHOTS
------
                   1   2   3   OT   F
Hamilton          12   7   8       27
Quebec             7   6   8       21

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

Hamilton         0 for 7
Quebec           0 for 1

 
INJURIES
--------

None

Western Division Series

ANCHORAGE IGLOOS 4, MICHIGAN GRAY WOLVES 2

Anchorage Igloos coach Sam Castor is always quick to point to his team’s depth as its greatest strength.  “Guys like Frosty and Koonsy and Ty [Worthington] get all the headlines,” Castor says, “but lots of teams have stars.  But even if your stars match up with ours, we’re still going to beat you because our second and third lines, and our bottom-pair D, is better than yours.  No other team can match up with us all the way down.”

In Game 2, the Igloos showed the truth of Castor’s statement.  Thanks to the exceptional performance of their third line and the ability to push the pace of the game, Anchorage once again stunned the Michigan Gray Wolves in their building, winning 4-2 to take a 2-0 lead in this best-of-five series.

“It’s the triumph of the scrubs,” said Igloos C Harvey Bellmore.  “We may not get a ton of ice time, but we’re making the most of it.”

Anchorage’s third line – which consists of Bellmore, LW Waldo Miranda, and RW Ben Summers – has been the difference maker so far in this series.  They’ve put up a +5 rating, and they’ve forced Wolves coach Ron Wright to use his top lines heavily in an effort to stop the bleeding.

Michigan got the early edge in this game, as Igloos LW Jerry Koons was whistled for diving within the first minute, and Wolves LW Todd Douglas cashed in on the ensuing power play for a 1-0 Michigan lead.  With the crowd at Cadillac Place in full roar, Castor decided to take a page from his Game 1 playbook and turn the contest into a track meet.  In order to do that, he turned to heavy minutes for his speedy bottom line.

“They can’t trap us if they can’t catch us,” Castor said.

Michigan initially withstood the onslaught – with the help of several Anchorage penalties – but the Igloos broke through before the end of the first period.  Just after killing off a 5-on-3 situation, D Olaf Martinsson blasted home the game-tying shot with the third line on the ice.  Six minutes later, Summers finished off an odd-man rush by slipping one between Dirk Lundquist’s pads for his third goal of the series.  After Wolves D Brooks Zabielski was called for holding the stick late in the first, Koons tipped on in on the power play to make it 3-1.  At period’s end, the arena was as silent as a library.

“They ambushed us and took us right out of the game,” admitted Wolves C Warren Marlow.  “We let the game get away from us.”

In the second period, D Fritz Kronstein scored on another power play to get the Wolves within a goal and stir up the crowd a bit.  But that was as close as they would get, and Bellmore fired one home just inside the post early in the third period to all but seal the game.  Whatever hope Michigan had of rallying in the closing minutes died after D “Mad Max” Madison and C Phoenix Cage both took penalties that Wright said were “just out of frustration.”

The Wolves, who finished with the SHL’s best record by a comfortable margin, find themselves in a most unexpected position.  If they’re going to avoid a humiliating sweep, they’ll need to win Game 3 on enemy ice.  If they’re going to advance to the Finals, they’ll need to reel off three straight wins, including two in Anchorage.

“We’ve dug ourselves into a deep hole,” said Wright.  “Obviously, it’s hurt us that [C Hunter] Bailes is out, but that’s an excuse.  We’ve let Anchorage dictate the game to us, and it’s burned us twice.  Now we need to go win the next three.  We’re capable of doing that, but we’re going to have to get control of the game if we’re going to do it.”

W Final - Game 2, Anchorage @ Michigan, Cadillac Place

                   1   2   3   OT   F
Anchorage          3   0   1        4
Michigan           1   1   0        2

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

Koons           LW     1   0   1   4   0   Douglas         LW     1   1   2   0   0
Keefe           D      0   1   1   0   1   Kronstein       D      1   1   2   2  -1
Frost           C      0   1   1   0   0   Madison         D      0   1   1   4  -1
Martinsson      D      1   0   1   4   2   Lunsford        RW     0   0   0   0   0
Ericsson        RW     0   0   0   0   0   Beruschko       LW     0   0   0   0   0
Collins         LW     0   0   0   0   0   Mudrick         D      0   0   0   0  -2
Pomfret         D      0   0   0   0   1   Marlow          C      0   1   1   0   0
Bernard         C      0   0   0   0   0   Zabielski       D      0   0   0   2  -2
Frederick       D      0   1   1   0   2   Poulin          RW     0   0   0   0   0
Montrechere     RW     0   0   0   0   0   Davenport       LW     0   0   0   0  -3
Miranda         LW     0   3   3   0   3   Bergdorf        D      0   0   0   0   0
Citrone         D      0   0   0   0   0   Knight          C      0   0   0   0   0
Calligan        D      0   0   0   6   0   Tollefson       D      0   0   0   0   0
Summers         RW     1   1   2   0   3   Denison         RW     0   0   0   0  -3
Bellmore        C      1   1   2   0   3   Cage            C      0   0   0   2  -3
----------------------------------------   ----------------------------------------
TOTALS                 4   8  12  14   3   TOTALS                 2   4   6  10  -3

Scratches:
ANC:  Zhlotkin, Druzek, Trammell
MIC:  Bailes (inj), Berlinger, Bullock, Eberlein

 
Anchorage           SH    SV    G    Sv%
----------------------------------------
Worthington         23    21    2  0.913

Michigan            SH    SV    G    Sv%
----------------------------------------
Lundquist           39    35    4  0.897

 

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

GOALS:
00:42  MIC  Douglas PP (Marlow, Kronstein)
10:45  ANC  Martinsson (Frederick, Miranda)
16:50  ANC  Summers (Bellmore, Miranda)
18:52  ANC  Koons PP (Frost, Keefe)

PENALTIES:
00:32  ANC  Koons 2:00 (Diving)
01:43  ANC  Calligan 2:00 (Roughing)
07:33  MIC  Kronstein 2:00 (Tripping)
08:09  ANC  Martinsson 2:00 (Unsportsmanlike Conduct)
08:29  ANC  Koons 2:00 (Roughing)
17:19  MIC  Zabielski 2:00 (Holding the Stick)

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

GOALS:
13:24  MIC  Kronstein PP (Douglas, Madison)

PENALTIES:
09:57  ANC  Calligan 4:00 (Unsportsmanlike Conduct)
19:54  ANC  Martinsson 2:00 (Diving)

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

GOALS:
01:59  ANC  Bellmore (Summers, Miranda)

PENALTIES:
17:01  MIC  Madison 4:00 (Elbowing)
19:50  MIC  Cage 2:00 (Interference)


 
SHOTS
------
                   1   2   3   OT   F
Anchorage         18  10  11       39
Michigan          11   6   6       23

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

Anchorage        1 for 4
Michigan         2 for 6

 
INJURIES
--------

None

Frost Gives to Fight Lupus, Support Collins

Anchorage Igloos C Jake Frost is a big believer in standing up for his teammates.  This season, Frost has decided to put his money where his mouth – or rather his hockey stick – is.  In support of LW Les Collins’ sister, Frost is giving $100 to the Lupus Foundation of America for every goal he scores.

Les Collins

Collins’ sister was diagnosed with the disease back in 2015.  When that occurred, the winger wore purple armbands in solidarity with her, a gesture that initially drew a fine from the league until they discovered the meaning behind it.

The soft-spoken and intensely private Collins has been reticent to discuss his sister’s situation since then, but during the preseason, his teammates learned that her condition had worsened and she had to be hospitalized for a time.  The Igloos wanted to do something to support her; they sent her a jersey signed by the entire team, and they recorded videos encouraging her during her treatment.  But the Anchorage star decided that he wanted to do something more.

Jake Frost

“Les is like a brother to me,” said Frost.  “And although I’ve never met his sister, she’s family to me, too.  And I want to support them any way I can.”  He offered to help pay for the cost of the treatment, but Collins indicated that they were in good shape there.  So instead, Frost decided to give to the Lupus Foundation.

According to their website, the Lupus Foundation of America is “devoted to solving the mystery of lupus, one of the world’s cruelest, most unpredictable, and devastating diseases, while giving caring support to those who suffer from its brutal impact.”  The Foundation has raised over $80 million for lupus research and education, and they also host support groups for lupus patients and their families.

“I don’t need any extra motivation to score goals,” said Frost, “but it means a little more now, since I know that every time I score, I’m helping the fight [against lupus] too.”

Frost made his plan known to his teammates, but at Collins’ request he did not speak publicly about it.  A team beat reporter found out, however, and Frost confirmed it for the record.

“One thing I want to make real clear, though,” said the Igloos star.  “This is not a story about me.  This is about Les and his sister.  That’s what I’m doing this for.  This is all about taking care of my hockey family.”

Collins said that he was deeply touched by the gesture.  “It means a lot, you know, not just the money,” said the winger.  “Knowing that Jake and everybody here has that support for [my sister], it’s more than I can say in words.  We are a family here.”

Frost isn’t the only Igloos player to donate.  Upon learning of the gesture, D Tony Citrone announced that he too would give to the Lupus Foundation… $500 for every fight.  “I don’t score a lot of goals,” said Citrone.  “But I do get in lots of fights, so this is better.  Now when I’m punching a guy in the face, it’s also like I’m punching lupus in the face too.”

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 3

HERSHEY BLISS 1, ANCHORAGE IGLOOS 0

If you’d had to identify the weak link for the Hershey Bliss coming into the SHL Finals, odds are you would have pointed between the pipes.  Critics of the Bliss frequently argue that Brandon Colt is not an elite goaltender, and that he wouldn’t be able to handle a top-notch offensive squad like the Anchorage Igloos.  And after Colt was beaten 5-1 in Game 1, it looked like the critics were right.

Since then, though, Colt has been brilliant — and that’s proven essential in a series that has proven to be lower scoring than expected.  After holding Anchorage to a single goal in Hershey’s Game 2 win, Colt was even better today.  He stopped all 34 shots he faced, allowing the Bliss to claim a 1-0 win and a 2-1 lead in the series.

“I knew Brandon would bounce back after that first game, but even I never expected him to stand on his head like he has the last two games,” said Bliss coach Chip Barber.  “Getting the kind of performance we’ve got from him is like finding an extra chocolate bar in your pocket.”

For his part, Colt credits his success to staying calm and focused.  “I’ve been studying meditation and mindfulness,” said Colt.  “In the chaos and energy of a playoff game, you need to be able to find that stillness and quietness inside yourself.  I’ve really been able to pull that off in the last couple games.”

This game was more physical than the previous one, with the Igloos setting a hard-hitting tone and Hershey responding in kind.  The first period was a bit rough, with each team taking a pair of minor penalties and neither establishing much of an offensive rhythm.  “I think we were both playing a little cautious,” said Igloos D Ted Keefe.  “Feeling each other out a bit.”

The pace of play opened up a bit in the second period, with both teams getting several quality chances but failing to light the lamp, as Colt and Igloos netminder Ty Worthington both made stupendous saves.  Later on in the period, the chippiness and ferocity of the game boiled over, with Bliss D Ruslan Gromov and Igloos D Olaf Martinsson dropping the gloves and trading blows.  “That was a real heavyweight bout,” said Hershey LW Russell Nahorniak.  “Just a couple of big boppers going at it.  Real old-school stuff.”

The Bliss managed to kill off a couple of minor penalties in the penalties with the help of some ten-bell saves from Colt.  After two periods, the game remained scoreless.

The game became even more physical in the third, as Anchorage tried to knock Hershey off their game.  But the Bliss stood firm and gave as good as they got.  “We can hang with whatever kind of game you want to throw at us,” said Bliss D Reese Milton.  “You want to fly up and down and play firewagon hockey, we can do that.  You want to bang bodies and play it rough, we can do that too.”

The minutes ticked off the clock, and still the game remained 0-0.  That changed after Igloos D Tony Citrone was hit with a minor penalty for holding the stick.  On the ensuing power play, Hershey C Justin Valentine crashed the net and deflected a shot past a screened Worthington for a goal that brought the Chocolate Center to ecstasy.

As the second half of the period wore on, Gromov got into another scrap, getting into it with Citrone.  Anchorage argued that Gromov started the fight and should have received an instigator penalty, if not being ejected entirely.  Instead, both players got matching minors, drawing howls of protest from the Igloos bench.  D Hans Mortensen continued to jaw with the officials until he was finally whistled for unsportsmanlike conduct.  That forced Anchorage to kill off a penalty in the waning minutes of the game, which irritated Igloos coach Sam Castor.

“You never want to see the refs decide the game,” said Castor.  “Calling a penalty like that, that late in the game… that’s inserting yourself into the story, and I don’t think that’s right.”

After Mortensen’s penalty expired with less than two minutes remaining, the Igloos launched an all-out assault on the Hershey net.  But Colt came up strong again, and the Bliss caught a break when C Jake Frost rang a slapper off the post with 45 seconds left.

With the Bliss holding a surprise lead in the series, Valentine urged his team to keep the pressure on.  “Let’s keep our foot on the gas and see if we can close this out at home,” Valentine urged his teammates.  “We can’t let [the Igloos] off the mat.  They’re too good.”

Castor remains confident that his team can turn the series around.  “The last two games could have gone either way,” the Anchorage coach told reporters.  “It so happens that they both went the other way, but we won’t let that get us down.  We’re still the better team.”

Continue reading “2017 SHL Finals – Game 3”

2017 SHL Finals – Game 2

HERSHEY BLISS 2, ANCHORAGE IGLOOS 1 (OVERTIME)

After the Hershey Bliss were embarrassed 5-1 in the first game of the SHL Finals, many observers were ready to declare the series over.  The heavily favored Anchorage Igloos had bludgeoned the Bliss, goading them into taking foolish penalties and stonewalling their shots.  Although Bliss coach Chip Barber pointed out that it “only counts as one loss,” many wondered if Hershey would be able to recover.

Turns out that they could.  The Bliss shook off the sting of the previous game, and although it required overtime, they managed to top the Igloos 2-1, tying the series at 1-1.

“When it comes to the playoffs, you’ve got to have a short memory,” said Bliss LW Lance Sweet, who scored the game-winning goal.  “If you led a bad game get in your head, you might as well forfeit.  We weren’t going to let that happen.”

In the first game, Hershey committed four penalties in the first period and giving up three goals, digging themselves into a big hole that they were never able to climb out of.  With that in mind, Barber cautioned his team to avoid taking cheap penalties in this game.  It appeared that the Bliss hadn’t heeded their coach’s words when, less than a minute into the game, linesman Ken McGillis made a controversial offsides call that nullified a potential odd-man rush for Hershey.  A frustrated Henry Constantine slammed his stick into the boards and was assessed a two-minute penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct.

“I was so mad at myself,” said Constantine.  “I thought we’d been ripped off on a bad call, then I went and made it worse.”

But the Bliss managed to kill off the penalty, and avoided taking any others in the period, which ended with no score.  Hershey also managed to avoid taking any penalties in the second period, after which the game still remained scoreless.  Through two periods, the game was about as evenly matched as possible: both teams had taken 18 shots, committed one minor penalty, and not managed to record a goal.

“Coming into the locker room after that second period with it still 0-0 really made us feel good,” said Bliss C Justin Valentine.  “Our confidence level was rising like, ‘Hey, we can hang with these guys.  And we can win this.'”

In the third period, Hershey went on the power play two minutes in when Igloos D Olaf Martinsson received a double minor for spearing Bliss LW Russell Nahorniak.  The Bliss needed only five second to convert, with Valentine blistering a close-range shot off of Anchorage goalie Ty Worthington‘s shoulder and into the net.  “That really silenced the crowd,” said Valentine.  “They knew that the way we were both playing, that might be the only goal of the game.”

The Igloos stepped up their pace after that in an effort to tilt the ice and overwhelm the Bliss.  Hershey held strong for much of the period, but with just under four minutes remaining, Igloos C Jake Frost and LW Jerry Koons got loose on a two-man breakaway that ended with Koons going top-shelf and finding the back of the net to tie it up.  The crowd at Arctic Circle Arena exploded as their heroes received new life.

The din only got louder a couple minutes later when Bliss LW Vonnie McLearen accidentally clipped Igloos LW Ben Summers in the face and got a minor for high-sticking.  The Igloos sent Worthington to the bench for a 6-on-4 advantage.  “We knew we were really going to be tested,” said Valentine.  “We knew we needed to stand strong.”

Stand strong they did, fighting off the penalty and sending the game to overtime.  The Bliss dominated the play in overtime but couldn’t quite break through until Igloos D Hans Mortensen was whistled for slashing, putting Hershey on the power play.

The Bliss didn’t press or panic with the man advantage.  They kept control of the puck, passing it around and waiting for an opportunity.  Sweet finally saw one when Bliss D Reese Milton faked a shot and slid it over to Sweet.  With Worthington out of position, the Bliss winger was able to find the open net, ending the game and giving Hershey a much-needed victory.

After the game, Barber highly praised the work of netminder Brandon Colt.  After a rough outing in Game 1, some fans were calling for Colt to be benched in favor of backup Milo Stafford.  But the coach kept faith in his starter, and Colt rewarded him with a strong game, stopping 33 shots.

“A lot of people were saying Brandon couldn’t handle it at this level, that he melts in the clutch like a bag of Kisses in a hot car,” said Barber.  “I don’t think they’ll be saying that after tonight.  This is a wide-open series.”

Continue reading “2017 SHL Finals – Game 2”