2019 SHL Finals – Game 6

HAMILTON PISTOLS 5, ANCHORAGE IGLOOS 3

(Hamilton wins, 4-2)

In the locker room before the third period of today’s Game 6, Hamilton Pistols coach Keith Shields looked for the right words to inspire his struggling team.  After forty minutes of play, the defending champions Anchorage Igloos led the Pistols 3-1.  The Igloos were just a period away from erasing Hamilton’s 3-1 series lead in the SHL Finals, setting up a winner-take-all Game 7 in Anchorage tomorrow.  The momentum was firmly on the side of the champs, and the Pistols’ hopes for the Vandy were rapidly slipping away.

“I knew I didn’t want it to go to seven,” said Shields.  “I knew our best chance to win was today, even having to come from behind.”

And so the coach, who is a devout Christian, talked to his players about the story of David and Goliath.  “The Israelites were saved because one man was brave enough to take on this giant on the other side,” the coach said.  “And with God’s strength behind him, David killed Goliath.  Who among you is brave enough to defeat our enemy?  If that’s you, step forward like David did.”

One by one, the Pistols stepped forward.  Then they went out and staged the biggest comeback in Finals history, scoring four unanswered goals to take a 5-3 win and clinch their first-ever SHL title.

The first player to answer Shields’ challenge was, unsurprisingly, LW Steven Alexander.  The winger has been Hamilton’s unquestioned leader since the beginning, a brave and ambitious player who discovered a new level to his game after tying the knot in mid-season.  He got the team going in the right direction right from the opening faceoff of the third, marching down the ice and scoring just 16 seconds into the frame.

“Coach Shields had gotten us fired up with his speech, but someone needed to get our comeback started,” said D Hercules Mulligan.  “And of course it was Alex.  That guy knows no fear.”

Alexander got things rolling, but Hamilton needed another hero.  Up stepped one of their oldest players.  33-year-old RW Kenny Patterson considered retiring after last season, before signing an extension with the Pistols to fill a hole on the second line.  And when his team needed him most today, he came through with the tying and (ultimately) winning goals.

The tying tally came on a power play, as Igloos D Tony Citrone was penalized for tripping.  Patterson stationed himself in front of the Anchorage net, absorbing hacks and slashes from defenders.  And when D Raymond Smyth fired a shot toward the net, Patterson deflected it just beyond the reach of Igloos goalie Ty Worthington and just under the crossbar.

The go-ahead goal came on a similar tip play on 5-on-5 just over two minutes after the previous one.  This time, it was D Clayton Risch firing from the blue line while Patterson stood in the slot.  The puck bounced off Patterson’s stick and knuckled past a stunned Worthington.  The Igloos protested, arguing that Patterson’s stick had been above the crossbar when it struck the puck.  Upon review, though, it was deemed a good goal.  The fans at Arctic Circle Arena booed, while the Igloos sagged on the bench.

“They couldn’t believe it,” Patterson said.  “They’d been so sure they had this one in the bag, and then we came back and they didn’t know what to do.”

RW Claude Lafayette has been a close friend of Alexander’s since childhood and shares a line with the star.  So it only seems fitting that he gave Hamilton an insurance goal with less than seven minutes left, finishing off an odd-man rush that Alexander started.  The old friends wrapped each other in an embrace and screamed in celebration, while the crowd fell into a stunned silence.

The Igloos tried to mount a rally, but the fired-up Pistols overwhelmed them.  Anchorage’s final push was thwarted when LW Jerry Koons took an ill-timed tripping penalty with three minutes remaining.  A frustrated Koons slammed his stick against the glass and buried his head in his hands as he sat in the sin bin.

“I feel like I cost us the championship,” said Koons.  “I took a stupid, stupid penalty at the worst possible time.”

As the final horn sounded, the Pistols raced toward their blue line to celebrate.  They pounded each other on the back and shouted, “We won, we won, we won!  We won!”  When Commissioner Perry Mitchell presented them with the Vandy, Alexander took a long lap around the ice, tears streaming down his cheeks as he contemplated the team’s accomplishment.

“I have lived to see our glory!” said Alexander in the locker room, as his teammates poured beer and champagne over his head.  “It’s been an amazing year for me, getting married and winning the title, and this is a new high.  When our children tell our story, they’ll tell the story of tonight.”

Shields ran around the locker room, hugging his players and doing his best to dodge the beer showers.  “Goliath is dead!” shouted the coach. “With our faith and our bravery, we stood up against our mightiest opponent and we took him down.  All hail the heroes!”

A somber Sam Castor, coach of the Igloos, congratulated the victorious Pistols.  “Make no mistake, they earned this title,” said Castor.  “It was a hard-fought series, but they were the better team in the end.  They deserve this.”

Continue reading “2019 SHL Finals – Game 6”

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Bliss, Night Get Nasty in Division Showdown

The Eastern Division race is as hot as it gets right now.  With the trading deadline coming next week, both playoff spots are up for grabs, and four of the division’s six teams have a real shot at the postseason.  With such a fierce and wide-open competition, the stakes of each game are heightened – especially when two contenders face off.

Sunday’s game between the Hershey Bliss and New York Night was a case in point.  Neither team is particularly known for playing rough; they generally focus on scoring rather than fighting.  But this time, they produced a notably chippy, nasty game in a 5-2 Hershey win.  If this is a preview of coming attractions down the stretch, the East could be in for a wild ride.

“There was a lot of hate out there on the ice today,” said Night D Dominic Sanchez.  “It was fun and scary at the same time.”

This was the back end of a home-and-home between the Night and Bliss, who entered the game tied for first place in the East.  Hershey came into the game hungry for revenge: New York had won Saturday’s game 3-2 at the Chocolate Center, handing the Bliss there fourth straight loss.

Nick Foster

And per his usual, Night coach Nick Foster rubbed salt in the wound during his postgame press conference.  Foster, who has ridiculed the Bliss as soft all season, came to the podium holding a roll of Charmin.  “I brought this because it reminds me of Hershey,” said Foster.  “It’s really soft, easy to squish, and I love wiping my [butt] with it.”

Foster’s jibe riled up the Bliss clubhouse, which made it clear that they were going to respond physically.  “We’ll show Foster who’s really soft,” one Hershey player said.

Sure enough, less than two and a half minutes into the game, Bliss D Steve Cargill dropped the gloves with New York blueliner Donald Duckworth.  The two traded blows until Cargill wrestled Duckworth to the ice – no small task given Duckworth’s rugged physique.  Both sides smacked their sticks on the boards in appreciation.  The Bliss had made their point; outside observers might have assumed that was the end of hostilities.  In fact, though, said hostilities were just beginning.

A couple minutes after the Cargill-Duckworth scrap, Bliss LW Russell Nahorniak hit Night star Brock Manning with a high stick, opening a gash next to Manning’s left eye.  Nahorniak claimed the high stick was accidental; the Night insisted it was intentional, and called for the Hershey winger to be ejected.  Nahorniak received a double minor instead.

Manning dashed into the locker room to be patched up, then returned and scored a game-tying power-play goal, then pointed at Nahorniak.  (Manning finished out the first period, but did not return to the ice after that; he also missed the following two games.)

Not to be outdone, Hershey proceeded to score a pair of goals a little more than two minutes apart.  Each time, their celebration “coincidentally” wound up in front of the Night bench.

A couple minutes after that, New York C Tom Hoffman avenged Manning by ramming the butt end of his stick into Nahorniak’s stomach in the middle of a scrum in front of the Hershey net.  That earned Hoffman a double minor penalty of his own.  The Night committed a couple more penalties before the period ended, but the score remained the same.

Tensions didn’t ease in the second period.  After only 46 seconds, Night D Andy Ruger challenged Cargill to another fight.  Cargill gladly accepted the challenge; this time, Ruger got the better end, bloodiyng Cargill rather badly.  Both players received majors for their trouble.

Less than a minute after that bout, Bliss C Vance Ketterman scored to make it 4-1.  With the competitive portion of the game essentially over, both teams turned the physicality up even further.

Night D Rocky Winkle enraged Hershey by spearing Bliss C Spencer Kirkpatrick in the groin.  This time, it was Hershey calling for Winkle to be ejected; instead, he received a double minor.  Bliss RW Remi Montrechere upset New York with a high stick that nearly caught Night C Rod Remington in the teeth.

Early in the third period, Hershey LW Lance Sweet dumped New York LW Chase Winchester into the boards with a hard cross-check.  The Night were angered that Sweet received only a two-minute penalty, instead of a major or an ejection.  On the ensuing power play, Duckworth and Winkle combined on a score; they celebration by flashing their middle fingers at the Hershey bench.  They weren’t penalized, but Bliss D Reese Milton earned an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty a little bit later for squirting his water bottle at the New York bench.

The rest of the game unfolded with a slew of hard checks and minor penalties, but no major conflagrations.  After the game ended, both teams dissolved into a fit of pushing and shoving that didn’t quite turn into a line brawl.

After the team, both teams pointed fingers at their opponents.  Bliss coach Chip Barber focused on the two Night spearing penalties.  “Butt-ending is one of the dirtiest plays in hockey, and everyone knows it,” said Barber.  “Normally, you might get two of those [penalties] in a year.  But two in one game?  That’s just ugly hockey.”

Foster, meanwhile, noted the attack against some of his top players.  “I know [the Bliss are] desperate to show me how tough they are,” the New York coach quipped, “but this is ridiculous.  They tried to take Brock’s head off, then they tried to put Chase in a wheelchair.  Okay, we get it, you’re big tough boys.  Now put your [genitals] away and play some hockey next time.”

The league declined to hand out any supplemental discipline, but Commissioner Perry Mitchell warned that they wouldn’t be so lenient next time.  “We know that emotions run high in games like this,” Mitchell said in a statement.  “But there’s a line between good hard hockey and dirty hockey, and both teams came too close to that line.  If it happens again, the league will act appropriately.”

Continue reading “Bliss, Night Get Nasty in Division Showdown”

Galaxy Announcer Makes Racist Joke About Jones

Quebec Tigres D Ward Jones, one of the SHL’s few black players, has been subject to racist taunts and controversies throughout his career.  This week, a loose-minded racial quip directed at Jones by a Washington Galaxy broadcaster triggered a firestorm around the league.

Doug Jacobson

The incident occurred during the third period of Tuesday’s Quebec-Washington tilt, when Jones got into a fight with Galaxy D Bruce Hogaboom.  The two traded blows with abandon, leading Washington radio color man Doug Jacobson to exclaim delightedly that it was “a real heavyweight bout!”

Replied play-by-play announcer Scott Cox, “Yes, these two are really going at it.”

“They’ve both got heavy hands,” said Jacobson.  “Now, we know Boomer got so strong from picking turnips back on the farm growing up.”  This is a running joke on Jacobson’s part; Hogaboom is a native of a small town on the Canadian prairie, and the announcer frequently claims that he grew up on a turnip farm.

After that, however, Jacobson crossed the line.  “Now, we know Jones didn’t grow up on a turnip farm,” the announcer said.  (Jones is a native of Chicago.)  “So he must have picked it up on the street corner.”

Cox tried to move on, noting that the referees were stepping in to break up the fight.

But Jacobson continued, “It makes sense.  Jones is fast and he’s a good fighter.  Fighting, running from the cops… those are important skills where he’s from.”

Jacobson’s comments were already attracting negative attention on Twitter while the game was still going on.  After the game, a reporter read the remarks to Jones and asked for comment.

Ward Jones

“I wish I was surprised,” Jones replied.  “Unfortunately, this is what it’s come to in this country.  If you’re black and you’re from the inner city, obviously you must have been in a gang.  It’s racist garbage, but it’s where we are.  Ever since the 2016 election, people in America have felt free to just spout opinions like that.”

Initially, Jacobson defended the quips, saying they were “not racial in any way.  The joke was about the fact that [Jones is] from Chicago.  Everyone knows there’s a lot of violence and gangs in Chicago.  That’s what the joke was about.  Hogaboom didn’t really grow up on a turnip farm either, you know.”

But as time went on, the blowback continued to mount.  SHL Commissioner Perry Mitchell denounced Jacobson’s remarks as “inappropriate and counter to the spirit of inclusiveness we strive for in this league.”  Galaxy GM Ace Adams issued an apology to Jones.  The radio station that carries Washington’s broadcasts also apologized, and then suspended Jacobson for three weeks.

After the suspension was announced, Jacobson finally expressed regret for his remarks.  “Although I didn’t mean to be offensive, I’ve now realized that I was,” the announcer said.  “I was wrong to say what I did, and to Ward and anyone else who was offended, I’m sorry.”

Jones responded to Jacobson’s apology with mixed feelings.  “Honestly, I believe him when he says he didn’t mean to be offensive,” Jones told reporters.  “The thing is, that’s the problem.  Not with him, really, but with our society.  The fact that you see a black guy from Chicago and your first thought is ‘gang member.’  Because the joke doesn’t work if you don’t expect the audience to make that association too.”

Night Troll Pistols with “Canada Night” Stunt

Last season, New York Night coach Nick Foster spent considerable time trying to ignite a rivalry with the Hamilton Pistols.  He enraged the Pistols by accusing star Steven Alexander of cheating, then doubled down by calling Hamilton’s arena a “total dump” and claiming the only thing that could improve it was “a bulldozer.”

Nick Foster

This season, Foster and the Night are taking their trolling to the next level.  New York hosted the Pistols on Tuesday, and they celebrated the occasion with a “Canada Night” promotion that left the Pistols – and their fellow countrymen – furious.

The 15,000-plus fans who showed up at Neon Sky Center received what the Night described as the “Finger of Friendship,” a red foam finger emblazoned with the slogan “Canada’s #1!”  But instead of the index finger being extended, as is typical, the giveaway item featured an upraised middle finger.  This set the tone for the evening.

During the player introductions prior to puck drop, pictures of the Pistols players flashed by to the tune of “Blame Canada,” a satirical song from “South Park.”  When Alexander’s face appeared, both the chyron and PA announcer Morty Shandler referred to him as “Steven ‘The Nutcracker’ Alexander,” referring to the mocking nickname that Foster gave the Hamilton winger last year.  The fans greeted the images of their foes with loud boos; several of them also held up their Fingers of Friendship to make their feelings abundantly clear.

The mockery of Canada in general and the Pistols in particular continued throughout the game.  Between the first and second period, the Night displayed a “Hamilton Highlights” video, which contained pictures of Pistols players falling over, getting checked into the boards and whiffing on shots, interspersed with their mug shots from the karaoke bar fight incident from earlier in the season, all scored to the parody song “Canadian Idiot” by “Weird Al” Yankovic.  At various stoppages in play, the Jumbotron showed clips from the 1995 movie “Canadian Bacon,” whose plot revolved around a fictional war between the US and Canada.  When the Pistols skated onto the ice at the start of the third period, Shandler encouraged the fans to “wave your Fingers of Friendship” at the visiting team.  The crowd gleefully complied.

The stunt seemed to backfire on the Night.  The Pistols erupted for three goals in the third period to cap off a 4-0 shutout of the Night.

In spite of their sizable win, the Pistols were irate about the “Canada Night” promotion.  Coach Keith Shields led the charge, calling the event “classless and vulgar.  It’s nothing but the same cheap punchlines over and over again.  My 5-year-old son could come up with better jokes than that.  The Canadian people have been nothing but wonderful to me and my family since we moved there, and they deserve better than this.”

Pistols RW Kenny Patterson, a former Night player, agreed with his coach.  “Xenophobia is a real problem in our society,” Patterson told reporters.  “Using another nationality as a punchline, even as a joke, is irresponsible and inappropriate.  Unfortunately, that’s all you can expect from an obnoxious and morally bankrupt organization like this one.  At least we crushed them, which is the best revenge.”

Steven Alexander

Alexander added that the Night might be getting the rivalry Foster wants, but they should be careful what they wish for.  “If [Foster] wants to be rivals so bad, that’s fine with me,” the Pistols star said.  “As we showed them today, it just gets us fired up to beat them.  But sure, we can play this game.  Foster better watch out, though.  If one of his guys winds up getting cold-cocked, that’s on him.”

For his part, Foster was delighted by the promotion.  “It’s about time somebody called out our so-called ‘neighbors to the north,’ the New York coach said in his post-game press conference.  “Everybody thinks Canada’s just this cute harmless little country, but let’s get real.  What have they given us?  They gave us Canada geese, those suburban terrorists who waddle around honking and crapping on everything.  They gave us Celine Dion.  They gave us Justin Bieber.  They even gave us round slices of ham and tried to tell us it’s bacon, for God’s sake.  Canada’s a danger to us all, and it’s about time someone called them on it.”

The league fined the Night $5,000 and Foster $1,000 for the stunt, and SHL Commissioner Perry Mitchell warned the coach and the team to cut it out.  “I’m all in favor of team rivalries, even heated ones,” said Commissioner Mitchell.  “But that’s no excuse for a promotion that’s essentially a bunch of insults about another country.  That kind of thing has no place in our league.  The SHL is a league that is inclusive and welcoming to everyone, including Canadians.”

Continue reading “Night Troll Pistols with “Canada Night” Stunt”

Frankly, Zagurski’s On-Ice Snack Draws Ire

Saskatchewan Shockers G Zeke Zagurski is not widely known around the league as a colorful character.  Within the Shockers’ locker room, however, the netminder has a reputation for being a little… well, quirky.  “Zeke marches to the beat of his own drum, that’s for sure,” said D Chris Oflyng.  “I mean, he’s not as crazy as our owner [Heinz Doofenshmirtz], but he’s his own kind of cat, definitely.”

Zeke Zagurski

Zagurski’s quirky side made a rare appearance on the ice, when the goalie was caught using one of his water bottles in a non-traditional way.

In the middle of the first period of Sunday’s season-opening game against the Michigan Gray Wolves, during a TV timeout, Zagurski reached for one of the two bottles sitting on top of his net.  Rather than squirting it into his mouth, however, the Shockers goalie unscrewed the top and shook the bottle until a foil-wrapped package fell out.  Zagurski then peeled back the foil, revealing a hot dog that he’d apparently smuggled onto the ice in the bottle.

“When we saw Zeke unscrewing the top of the bottle, we thought he was going to dump the water on his head,” said LW Troy Chamberlain.  “We were a little worried, like ‘Is he getting overheated? Is he sick?’  Then out comes this hot dog, and he starts eating it.  Then we were like, ‘Ah, that makes sense. Only Zeke would bring himself a hot dog to eat during the game.’”

Zagurski’s mid-game nosh drew the attention of Michigan’s radio broadcasting team.  “Something strange happening over in net for Saskatchewan,” said color commentator Blackie Sprowl.  “What’s Zagurski got in his hand over there?”

“Looks like it’s a… hot dog,” replied play-by-play man Philip Shelton.  “He’s eating a hot dog.  Folks, this is really happening: Zeke Zagurski is eating a hot dog while he’s on the ice.  I don’t know where it came from, but… wow.”

“I thought we were the only ones allowed to eat during a game!”  quipped Sprowl.

“So did I, but it’s snack time for Zagurski, apparently,” said Shelton.  “We can’t make this stuff up, folks.”

“He’s my hero!” said Sprowl.

Ron Wright

Wolves coach Ron Wright, on the other hand, was less amused.  He barked at referee Darren St. James to make Zagurski throw the frankfurter away.  When St. James declined to intervene, Wright lobbied St. James’ officiating partner Bernie Craig to assess the Saskatchewan netminder an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.  Like St. James, Craig refused to get involved.

Wright remained steamed about the incident after the game.  “I thought it was a disgrace,” Wright said of Zagurski’s midgame dog-scarfing.  “We’re supposed to be professionals, and this is supposed to be a serious game.  Instead, we’ve got a guy out here acting like a clown, and nobody does anything.  [Zagurski] has been in this league long enough to better.”

The coach called on the league to discipline Zagurski.  “Otherwise, why stop there?” the coach snapped.  “Why not wheel out a buffet table to center ice so we can all have a nice meal in mid-game?  Why not have Uber Eats deliver food to the benches?  If we’re going to be okay with eating food on the ice, why not let everyone in on it?  Seriously, is this a hockey game on an all-you-can-eat special?”

For his part, Zagurski (who made 35 saves, but lost 1-0) claimed to be mystified by the fuss.  “Goaltending is hard work, and I get hungry sometimes,” he told reporters.  He added that he’d been exploring his options for on-ice snacking for a while.  His original plan was to sew a pouch inside his jersey to hold some beef jerky, but “our clubhouse manager told me that would be an equipment violation,” so he opted for the hot-dog-in-water-bottle solution instead.

“Guys drink water on the ice all the time, and no one blinks an eye,” Zagurski concluded.  “I have one little hot dog, and suddenly it’s World War 3.”

Zagurski’s teammates confirmed that his appetite is indeed legendary.  “Everyone knows to hit the postgame buffet before Zeke gets to it,” said Oflyng, “or you’ll go hungry.  That guy’s an eating machine.”

The league did not discipline Zagurski, but SHL Commissioner Perry Mitchell sent a communique to the referees clarifying that goalies’ water bottles must contain nothing but H2O, and indicating that future incidents would be penalized.  “Zagurski’s actions weren’t technically in violation of the rules, but this isn’t a road we want to go down,” said Commissioner Mitchell.  “If players want to eat, they can wait until the intermission breaks or after the game.”

Zagurski agreed to abide by the commissioner’s ruling, but he asked plaintively: “Why is it a crime to be hungry?”

Continue reading “Frankly, Zagurski’s On-Ice Snack Draws Ire”

Sailors Name Hamilton’s Teichman as New GM

Last season, Seattle Sailors GM Jay McKay shot the moon at the trading deadline, moving several prized prospects to acquire C Lars Karlsson and D Hans Mortensen in a long-shot bid for a playoff spot.  When Seattle wound up missing the postseason by 22 points, McKay wound up losing his job.

Taylor Teichman

This week, the Sailors tapped Hamilton Pistols assistant GM Taylor Teichman as McKay’s replacement.  Teichman had been chiefly responsible for the Pistols’ drafts and minor-league development, and was widely regarded as the chief architect of the up-and-coming Hamilton team that made its first trip to the playoffs season.

“We identified Taylor as our #1 pick early on, and we didn’t stop until we got him,” said Sailors owner Gary Blum.  “We couldn’t be happier to have him on board to help us shape the future of our club.”

The hiring of Teichman seems to signal a shift in Seattle’s team-building strategy.  As mentioned above, McKay favored big-money acquisitions and major trades.  Given Teichman’s record in Hamilton, it seems likely that the Sailors will now look to cultivate homegrown talent.  This strategy may be complicated by the fact that Seattle has no picks in the upcoming draft and has shipped out several of its top prospects in recent deals.

“I can’t wait to get started,” Teichman told reporters.  “When I was considering this opportunity, I saw an organization with a strong base of talent, a great owner in Gary Blum, a strong coach in Harry Engellund.  This team is a lot like the Pistols from a season or two ago; we just need a few tweaks here and there to take it to the next level.”

It’s rumored Seattle’s courtship of Teichman wasn’t without controversy.  According to sources with knowledge of the situation, Hamilton initially denied the Sailors permission to speak with their assistant GM about the position.  Teichman then threatened to resign his job with the Pistols if he wasn’t either promoted to GM with the Pistols or allowed to interview for the Sailors position.  According to the same sources, SHL Commissioner Perry Mitchell ultimately had to intervene and clarify that Hamilton couldn’t prevent Teichman from interviewing unless it was stated in his contract.

Teichman declined to comment on the behind-the-scenes drama around his hiring.  “I had a great time in Hamilton, and I appreciate everyone there.  But my focus is on the future.”

The Pistols issued a brief statement that read: “We thank Taylor Teichman for his four seasons of service to the organization and his help in building a contending team for many seasons to come.  We wish him the best of luck as he takes on his new challenge with the Sailors.”

Teichman said that his top priorities would be to resolve the open questions at center (Karlsson is a free agent) and in net (Rocky Goldmire and “Jersey Mike” Ross are both signed through next season, but prospect Sonny Kashiuk looks ready for the majors).  Beyond that, he said he would look for “opportunities to replenish our minor league club and build through the draft.”

Strong Showing for Tigres at SHL Annual Awards

Starlight Hockey LeagueThe SHL’s third annual awards banquet had a definite theme.  Several of the awards went to members of the Quebec Tigres, who went from finishing in last place in 2017 to coming within a game of winning their first-ever SHL title.  “The Tigres went on a remarkable journey this season,” said SHL Commissioner Perry Mitchell.  “It’s great to see that journey recognized with these very well-deserved honors.”  As always, the awards were voted on by SHL players, coaches, and media.

The 2018 award winners are as follows:

Most Valuable Player: LW Walt Camernitz, Quebec Tigres

Camernitz signed with Quebec as a free agent this season, landing a five-year, $20 million deal.  The Tigres hoped that Camernitz would provide a spark for their stagnant offense, and he provided it in spades.  He wound up recording 31 goals and 74 points, both good enough to place him in the league’s top 10.  In addition to his stellar performance, he elevated his teammates’ games; linemates Stephane Mirac and Mikhail Ilyushin both had career seasons beside him.

“When you are a big-name free agent, there is a great weight on you to perform,” said Tigres coach Martin Delorme.  “Walt took that very seriously, and he gave us everything we could have hoped for.  I am most grateful for him.”

Other finalists for the MVP honor included Hamilton C Calvin Frye, Anchorage C Jake Frost, and Washington RW Jefferson McNeely.

Coach of the Year: Martin Delorme, Quebec Tigres

This season has been a sweet vindication for Delorme, who walked away from a Michigan team on the cusp of championship contention in order to help his hometown team get off the ground.  In only the third season of the Tigres’ existence, Delorme guided the club to the Finals and nearly to the Vandy.

“Coach Delorme has kept us together and focused on playing our best,” said Mirac.  “He doesn’t accept excuses.  But he’s also a good man to play for, and we know that he is solid behind us all the way.

Delorme beat out Hamilton’s Keith Shields. Michigan’s Ron Wright, and Anchorage’s Sam Castor to win the honor.


Rookie of the Year: 
LW Lix Darnholm, Boston Badgers

Darnholm was universally regarded as the best pure scorer in the draft, so it came as little surprise when the expansion Badgers chose the 19-year-old Swede as their franchise centerpiece with the top puck.  Although Boston had a rough debut season, Darnholm delivered on his considerable promise, scoring nearly a quarter of the Badgers’ total goals.  He led all rookies in goals with 29 and in points with 60.

“Lix is a joy to watch on the ice,” said Badgers coach Cam Prince.  “He’s a fluid skater and a sharp passer, and he has a remarkably heavy shot for a guy who’s as skinny as he is.  And he’s got a sense of the game a lot beyond his years.  I’ve guzzled a lot of Maalox coaching this team, but not because of Lix.”

Darnholm withstood a surprisingly strong challenge from Kansas City C Darien Picard to win the votes.  Also receiving consideration were Quebec D Laurie Workman, Kansas City RW Zachary Merula, and Washington G Darrell Bondurant.

Sharp Shooter Award and Commissioner’s Trophy: RW Jefferson McNeely, Washington Galaxy

The Sharp Shooter Award and the Commissioner’s Trophy are the two awards that are not given out as the result of a vote.  The Sharp Shooter Award is given to the player who finished with the highest goal total, while the Commissioner’s Trophy is bestowed on the player with the most points.  This season, for the first time ever, both awards went to the same player: McNeely, who was a shining star in a difficult season for the Galaxy. For the second straight year, Hamilton’s Steven Alexander was the runner-up for the Sharp Shooter award, finishing with one goal fewer than McNeely’s 57.

Meanwhile, the Washington winder finished the year one shy of the century mark in points, adding 42 assists to his league-leading goal total.  That gave him a comfortable eight-point margin over Hamilton’s Claude Lafayette.

“Obviously, this is a team sport, and we really want to win things as a team,” said McNeely.  “But this was a good season for me personally, and I’m glad that I’ll be able to take some positive memories away from the year.  I’d rather have a Vandy on the mantle, sure, but this is a good consolation prize.”


Goalie of the Year: 
Riki Tiktuunen, Quebec Tigres

This award was a bit of a surprise, as it was the first time that Michigan’s Dirk Lundquist didn’t take home the trophy.  In 2018, Lundquist had a bit of a down season by his usual standards, but still remained among the league’s elite, going 38-12-4 with a 1.69 GAA and a .934 save percentage.  But some combination of the Tigres’ surprising season and a desire to reward a fresh face led the voters to select Tiktuunen instead, in a close vote.

Tiktuunen had a very strong campaign, and played a key role in Quebec’s success.  On the season, Tiktuunen went 31-20-1 with a 2.03 GAA and a .930 save percentage.  The Finnish-born netminder gained a reputation around the league for his stoic, cold-blooded demeanor and his ability to avoid getting rattled in difficult situations.

“Riki’s so cool and calm that he helps keep the rest of us calm,” said teammate Richard McKinley.  “He’s like a security blanket, because you know he’s going to take care of business no matter what happens.”

Defenseman of the Year: Fritz Kronstein, Michigan Gray Wolves

This is the second straight year that a Wolves player won this honor; Kronstein’s teammate Max Madison captured the award last season.  Kronstein is not as pugilistically inclined as Madison, who is infamous for dropping the gloves at the slightest provocation.  However, Kronstein is just as capable a defender as his counterpart on Michigan’s top pairing, leading the league in blocked shots and among the top five in takeaways.

In addition to his defensive excellence, Kronstein is a strong contributor in the offensive end.  His 59 points were the second-most among SHL blueliners in 2018, and his 18 goals and +34 rating led all defensemen.  “Fritz is an amazingly dynamic young player,” said coach Ron Wright.  “He’s a strong physical presence, but he’s also surprisingly fast, and he’s an excellent scorer and passer.  He’s the total package.”

Kronstein emerged victorious out of a crowded field that included 2016 winner Raymond Smyth of Hamilton, along with Dakota’s Matt Cherner, Hershey’s Reese Milton, and New York rookie Donald Duckworth.