2018 SHL Finals – Game 6

QUEBEC TIGRES 3, ANCHORAGE IGLOOS 0

In the wake of today’s Game 6, the Anchorage Igloos‘ locker room was completely silent.  After being thoroughly outplayed by the Quebec Tigres and defeated 3-0, after seeing their 3-0 series lead slip away entirely, after seeing the momentum of these Finals shift away from them, the Igloos stared at the floor and tried to process what had happened.  The team that was expecting to be hoisting its second Vandy by now, and the outcome of this game left them reeling.

“What we showed out there tonight isn’t us,” said C Jake Frost.  “If we can’t put out a better effort than that, we should just go give [the Tigres] the trophy right now.”

“We have no one to blame but ourselves for letting it get this far,” said coach Sam Castor.

From the drop of the puck, Anchorage looked confused and ill at ease.  The orange-clad crowd at Centre Citadelle generated a tremendous roar, and it clearly fueled the hometown Tigres.  Quebec completely dominated the first period, outshooting the Igloos 15-5.  “It felt like we were just stuck in quicksand out there,” said LW Jerry Koons.

Given how thoroughly Quebec controlled play in the period, it’s a bit remarkable that they ended the period with only a one-goal lead.  RW Sindri Pentti, who started the game on a hunch by coach Martin Delorme, put the puck in the next only 13 seconds in.  But Anchorage goalie Ty Worthington made a number of acrobatic saves to keep the game from getting out of hand.

Unfortunately, Worthington couldn’t hold the fort forever.  Less than two minutes into the second period, Quebec D Dmitri Kalashnikov blasted a shot from the blue line that bounced off the crossbar.  The Igloos goalie couldn’t corral the rebound, and RW Flint Robinson stuffed it home for a 2-0 lead.

“Steel is great at parking himself in front of the net and cleaning up the garbage,” said Tigres D Ward Jones.  “That’s the kind of rugged, hard-working game that we play.”

Although Quebec didn’t dominate play to quite the same extent in the second, they did manage to control the pace of the game with their suffocating defense.  Once again, they held Anchorage to a mere five shots in the period.

“Ten shots is a slow period for us typically,” said Frost.  “To get only ten shots in two periods?  That’s unheard of for us.  They just completely bottled us up.”

Continuing their pattern of early-period strikes, Tigres C Phil Miller beat Worthington high on the glove side with two minutes gone in the third to give the home team a three-goal lead and send the home crowd into orbit.  “I thought they maybe would cheer enough for the roof to fall down,” said C Drustan Zarkovich.

The desperate Igloos were finally able to generate some offensive momentum in the third; they ripped off 11 shots in the period.  But Quebec goalie Riki Tiktuunen stood firm in the crease, calmly turning aside every blast; when all was said and done, he had stopped 21 shots to complete his second shutout of the series.  Even when Tigres D Laurie Workman committed a pair of late penalties to give unwitting aid to the visitors, the Igloos were unable to convert.

“We didn’t really find our game until the third, and by then it was too late,” said Koons.

Now, if the Igloos are going to claim the Vandy they’d assumed was theirs, they will need to erase the memory of the Tigres’ three-goal third period in Game 5 to secure a come-from-behind win, and they’ll need to forget the way they were manhandled in this game.  “We need to remember that we’re the better team, and we need to play like it,” said Frost.

For their part, the Tigres say they aren’t going to take a Game 7 victory for granted, either.  “Momentum disappears the minute the puck is dropped,” said Delorme.  “Tomorrow is a one-game series, and we must treat it that way.  What came before is only the prologue to the story.”

Continue reading “2018 SHL Finals – Game 6”

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Tigres, Galaxy Make Dueling Deals

The race for the SHL’s Eastern Division remains in flux.  While the Hamilton Pistols remain the favorite to win the division, they haven’t put it away.  Meanwhile, the Quebec Tigres and Washington Galaxy have been jostling for position all season long, knowing that there is likely only room for one of them in the postseason.

The Pistols made their move at the beginning of the week, shoring up their depth amid a run of injuries.  Meanwhile, the Tigres and Galaxy waited until the final minutes before Thursday’s deadline, but each made a move designed to address shore up key areas and position themselves to punch their ticket to playoffs.

“We knew they were going to make a move,” said Galaxy GM Ace Adams of his Quebec rivals.  “And if they were going to get better, we knew we needed to keep up, and hopefully get a step ahead.”

For the Tigres, the target areas for a trade were obvious.  They wanted a better third-line center; Florian Theroux remains a fan favorite, but his stats were lackluster.  And for a team that is built on defense, Quebec was relying heavily on a trio of rookies: Laurie Workman, Richard McKinley, and Geoff Moultrie.

Doug Wesson

They addressed both needs in one deal, acquiring C Phil Miller and D Doug Wesson from the Kansas City Smoke in exchange for Moultrie and minor-league winger Aaron Knorr.

“This was the perfect deal for us,” said Tigres GM Pete Gondret.  “Kansas City had what we wanted, and the price was right.”

Wesson certainly add toughness for the Tigres; he is regularly one of the SHL leaders in penalty minutes and has been involved in several heavyweight bouts.  He is an excellent fit with Quebec and coach Martin Delorme’s scrappy, hard-checking style.  With the Smoke, he contributed 1 goal and 15 assists, in addition to 63 penalty minutes.

“I’m a two-fisted blue-collar guy, and Quebec is a two-fisted blue-collar team,” said Wesson.  “Let’s go!”

Phil Miller

With the deal, Miller continues his tour around the SHL.  The Tigres are Miller’s fifth club in four seasons; he’d ben with Saskatchewan, Dakota, and New York before being claimed by the Smoke in the expansion draft.  He rotated between the second and third lines for Kansas City, compiling 7 goals and 6 assists.

“Story of my life,” said Miller.  “Good enough that teams want me, but not good enough to keep around.”

Moultrie was the least productive of Quebec’s trio of blueline rookies, putting up 6 points in 40 games.  But at age 21, he presents considerable upside for a KC team that’s building for the future.  Knorr was the leading scorer for the Tigres’ minor-league affiliate in Maine, with 19 goals, and he scored four goals in a game last season; however, he lacked the passing and defensive skills to make him a fit with Quebec.

Charlie Brooks

The Galaxy, meanwhile, have struggled to get production from their bottom two lines, and their third defensive pairing has been a revolving door.  To address those issues, Washington picked up RW Charlie Brooks and D Scott Hexton from the Boston Badgers in exchange for D Graham Bellinger and minor-league RW Marty “Fish” Pescatelli.

“I think we got underrated value here,” said Adams.  “Charlie Brooks and Scott Hexton aren’t household names, but they’re both guys who can come in right away and help us get to the playoffs.  We’re thrilled with this pickup.”

Brooks was one of the few offensive bright spots for Boston, producing 17 goals and 19 assists on the top line across from rookie Lix Darnholm.  He’s known by the nickname “Sunny” for his cheerful disposition, which has made him a popular teammate throughout his career.

“Washington did well to land Sunny,” said Gondret; Brooks played for Quebec the last two seasons.  “He’s a great guy to have around.”

Scott Hexton

Hexton, meanwhile, is known as a solid defender who isn’t as active on offense; he posted 9 points this season with the Badgers.  It’s not clear whether he’ll replace Burt Hampton or Bruce Hogaboom on the bottom pairing, or whether the three will rotate.  Coach Rodney Reagle said that “we’ll figure that out as we go, but it’s nice to have a lot of good choices to pick from.”

Bellinger was a highly-regarded prospect when Washington drafted him last year, but he struggled to get established and fell out of favor with Reagle.  Twice in a row, he started the year with the Galaxy, only to be demoted to the minors in midseason.  The Smoke hope that more consistent playing time and a longer leash will allow him to live up to the hype.  Pescatelli is only 18 and showed some promise in the minors, scoring 5 goals and 18 assists in 41 games.

Will these deals put either team over the top?  Perhaps not; neither acquisition is a blockbuster.  But as Adams put it, “It really feels like we’ve got two teams that are about equal talent-wise.  Any little edge that we can find to come out on top, we’re gonna take it.”

Igloos Prevail Over KC In Wild OT Battle

When the Anchorage Igloos hosted the Kansas City Smoke on Friday, they were hoping for an easy win over a team on an eight-game winless streak, which would allow them to solidify their second-place standing in the West.  While the Igloos did ultimately prevail over the Smoke, it was anything but easy.  Twice, Anchorage had to rally from three-goal deficits, and needed overtime before they escaped with a wild 8-7 victory.

“Man, that was a battle we weren’t expecting!” exclaimed C Jake Frost after the game.  “We showed a lot of fight, a lot of heart, but boy, KC put a scare into us.”

The Smoke showed up ready to play.  It only took 15 seconds for LW Louis LaPlante to get on the board with his first goal of the season, a slapper past Igloos netminder Wendall Cantillon. Frost evened things up two minutes later with a shot from the right faceoff circle, but rookie C Noel Picard put the Smoke back ahead just over a minute later with a tip-in from the slot.  Midway through the first, Kansas City struck twice to take a 4-1 lead, leaving the crowd at Arctic Circle Arena in an uneasy silence.

Igloos coach Sam Castor considered lifting Cantillon at that point.  But given that it was the backup’s first action all week, the coach stayed with his goalie.  “Wendall’s got to have a chance to deal with adversity,” said Castor.  “I wanted to see how he’d react, and how the team would react.”

Anchorage rallied to Cantillon’s rescue, with RW Remi Montrechere and D “Chilly Willy” Calligan scoring to pull within one by the end of the period.  Four minutes into the second period, Montrechere struck again to tie it up and bring the crowd to its feet.

“We felt like the mommentum was going our way,” said Montrechere.  “We were in control and ready to pull away.”

As it turned out, the momentum was about to shift back to the visitors.  Three minutes after Montechere’s tally, Smoke LW Piotr Soforenko deflected a shot past Cantillon to retake the lead.  C Phil Miller went top-shelf to make it a 6-4 game at the end of the second period.

47 seconds into the third period, Kansas City D Tony Hunt notched a power-play tally to give the Smoke another three-goal lead and putting the Igloos behind the eight ball.

“We needed a jolt, and fast,” said Frost.

They got a pair of jolts in short order.  Five seconds after Hunt’s score, Montrechere blasted a shot just inside the pole to complete his hat trick.  Then, a minute later, C Broni Zhlotkin took exception to a rough hit from Hunt and dropped the gloved with him at center ice.  Although the donnybrook completed Hunt’s “Gordie Howe hat trick” (a goal, an assist, and a fight), it fired up both the Anchorage bench and the crowd.

Twenty seconds after the fight, LW Les Collins banged home a juicy rebound to pull the Igloos within one.  Six and a half minutes later, C Nile Bernard went five-hole on KC goaltender Brooks Copeland and tied it up.  Bernard jumped up against the boards in the corner as the fans banged the glass in delight.

Although the atmosphere in the arena remained near delirium for most of the third period, the Igloos couldn’t push the go-ahead goal across.  Frost and Collins each hit the post, and Copeland made a tremendous sprawling stop with three minutes left in regulation to rob Montrechere of a fourth goal.

The game went to overtime, with both teams and the fans exhausted.  “In OT, that was all adrenaline,” said Frost.  “We had no energy left.”  With a minute and a half left in the extra session, RW Nicklas Ericsson faked a pass to Frost in the slot and slid it up to the blue line, where D Ted Keefe fired a blast that hit the crossbar and went in for the game-winning goal.

Keefe’s goal delivered the Igloos their fourth straight win and their fifth in the last six games.  It also moved Anchorage seven points clear of Saskatchewan and Seattle for second place; it’s their largest lead of the season.  But Castor remains dissatisfied with his team’s performance.  “We had no business winning this game,” the coach said.  “We’ve looked a lot better this week, but we’re going to need to tighten it up on a night-to-night basis if we’re going to make the playoffs.”

Castor’s players were happier with the outcome. “Coming back from a three-goal [deficit] in a game is a game is impressive,” said Frost.  “Doing it twice in one game?  That doesn’t happen.  We’re pretty awesome!”

Hershey’s Gromov Gets Physical, Gets Suspended

Hershey Bliss D Ruslan Gromov is an old-school, hard-hitting blueliner.  His aggressive, take-no-guff approach to the game has won him both admirers and detractors.  On Saturday, in an otherwise unremarkable 5-2 win over the New York Night, Gromov’s physical play went over the line and earned him a one-game suspension.

Ruslan Gromov

Gromov has been vocal about his lack of respect for New York’s speed-and-offense-based game.  In the past, he’s said of New York’s game, “That’s not hockey; it’s figure skating.”  Almost from the drop of the puck, Gromov sought to intimidate the Night with his physical play.  He targeted one of New York’s more physical players, D Tuomas Nurmi, with a series of slashes and rough checks.  About a minute into the game, a frustrated Nurmi shoved Gromov in the chest.  Gromov responded by punching Nurmi in the side of the head.  The two wound up dropping gloves and tussling for a couple minutes before being separated and assessed matching majors.

“I do not know what his problem is,” said Nurmi of Gromov.  “He seemed like he is a crazy man.”

Later in the first period, the Night established possession in the offensive zone and began peppering shots at the Hershey net.  New York F Elmer Sigurdson, Jr. tried to set up a screen in front of the crease.  Gromov responded by drilling him in the back and riding him down to the ice, and was whistled for interference.

Early in the second period, Sigurdson tried to get even by laying a hard open-ice hit on Gromov.  The Hershey defenseman popped up and flung Sigurdson into the boards, earning another two-minute penalty for roughing.  The two seemed destined to scrap, and six minutes later, Gromov jumped Sigurdson on a faceoff and the antagonists began trading blows, resulting in another pair of fighting majors.

Gromov finally crossed the line early in the third period, when he rammed Night C Phil Miller in the stomach with the butt end of his stick.  That earned the defenseman a double minor for spearing and a game misconduct from referee Brandon Fosse.

Gromov claimed that his spearing of Miller was unintentional, but showed no remorse for his actions.  “I play a physical game,” the Bliss blueliner said.  “If the other team cannot handle that, they should not be playing hockey.”

The league wasted no time slapping Gromov with a suspension.  “While we don’t object to physical play in this league,” said SHL Commissioner Perry Mitchell, “there’s a difference between hard play and assault.  Gromov’s actions were reckless, unprovoked, and dangerous.  He could easily have injured someone with that kind of play.  We don’t want to discourage him from playing hard, but he’s got to know where to draw the line.”

Gromov appeared undaunted by the discipline.  In his first game back from the suspension, he got into two fights and racked up 12 penalty minutes.  “I only know how to play one way,” said Gromov with a shrug. “I cannot change that.”

SHL Offseason Trade Summary

The following trades took place in the offseason before Season 3:

The Quebec Tigres made a huge deal at the top of the draft after their planned choice went awry.  The Tigres had planned to take scoring winger Rod “Money” Argent with the #2 pick, addressing their major shortcomings on offense.  But after the Seattle Sailors surprisingly drafted Argent with the first pick, Quebec found themselves with no obvious choice.  So they traded down, dealing the #2 pick to the Hamilton Pistols in exchange for the #5 pick, a second-round pick, and D Dmitri Kalashnikov. Hamilton sought the #2 pick in order to grab G Lasse Koskinen, who immediately became the team’s top netminder.  While Quebec did not wind up with an impact player of Argent’s caliber, they traded quality for quantity.  With the #5 pick, they plucked RW Rupert MacDiarmid, who put up 15 goals and 39 points in juniors last year.  In Kalashnikov, the Tigres added an elite and ferocious defender, whose 109 penalty minutes were the second-most in the SHL last season.  The Tigres used the second-round selection to nab D Hal Pugliese, who took Penn Tech to the NCAA tournament three times in his collegiate career.

The Dakota Jackalopes also dealt a first-round pick, sending the #6 selection to the New York Night along with C Phil Miller in exchange for C Mike Rivera.  The trade represents a bold gamble for both teams.  For Dakota, adding Rivera augments their high-flying offense, as the Jackalopes attempt to catch up with their division rivals in Michigan and Anchorage.  Last season, Rivera banged home 23 goals and collected 39 points with New York. He is expected to anchor Dakota’s second line this year.  For New York, the trade reflects new coach Nick Foster’s desire to build a more balanced club.  Although Rivera was a strong contributor on offense, he is widely considered a defensive liability.  Miller, who put up 18 goals and 30 points between Saskatchewan and Dakota in ’16, is regarded as more of a two-way player.  With the sixth pick, the Night grabbed goaltending prospect Sherman Carter, who recorded a 2.27 GAA and a .930 save percentage in juniors last season.  In addition to drafting Carter, New York signed the top free-agent netminder, Jesse Clarkson, to complete an overhaul of one of their weakest positions.

After the draft, the Night made a pair of deals aimed at improving their third line.  First, they swapped G Oliver Richardson to the Saskatchewan Shockers for the rights to G Hector Orinoco, then sent Orinoco’s rights along with F Dill Howlter to Hamilton for winger Andrei Volodin.  Richardson, who posted a 6-10-0 mark with a 4.37 GAA for New York last season, became expendable after the Night drafted Carter and signed Clarkson.  He represents an upgrade for the Shockers, who have struggled to find a solid backup for Zeke Zagurski since the league’s inception.  Orinoco played last season in the German league, where he record a 17-11-2 record with a 3.06 GAA.  He will likely spend the season in the minors for Hamilton, barring an injury.  The 25-year-old Volodin should bring a little extra scoring punch to New York’s third line.  He scored 18 goals and 34 points for Hamilton in the 2016 season.  The 20-year-old Howlter failed to record a point in 9 games for New York last season.

The Washington Galaxy sent longtime backup goalie Gus Parrish to the Seattle Sailors in exchange for F Yann Eberlein.  The deal was a bit disappointing for the fans, as Parrish was a beloved figure in Washington, adored for his boyish enthusiasm and flair for colorful quotes.  Last season, Parrish went 7-6-0 with a 3.21 GAA as the Galaxy defended their Eastern Division title.  But after Washington signed free agent Ron Mason in the offseason, Parrish found himself without a job.  Eberlein struggled in limited action with the Sailors last year, recording 2 goals and 7 points in 34 games.  Washington hopes that the 25-year-old Swiss forward can provide a solid presence off the bench.  The Galaxy suffered from poor third-line and bench production last season, as rookies Henry Van Alpin, Barry Sullivan, and Oliver Wallington all turned in disappointing campaigns.

The Jackalopes and the Hershey Bliss made a minor deal just before the start of the season, swapping bottom-pairing defensemen.  Dakota sent Pierre Chappelle to Hershey in exchange for Scott Hexton.  The Jackalopes were looking to strengthen their blueline corps a bit, and Hexton (3 goals, 12 points last season) grades out as an above-average defender.  On the other hand, the Bliss were looking to enhance their offensive production beyond their loaded top line.  Chappelle (5 goals, 20 points last year) provides an upgraded scoring threat relative to Hexton.  The 28-year-old Montreal native is on his third team in as many seasons; Dakota picked him up from Hamilton during last offseason.