2020 SHL Finals – Game 2

HAMILTON PISTOLS 5, ANCHORAGE IGLOOS 3

(Hamilton leads series, 2-0)

After dropping the opener of the SHL Finals, the Anchorage Igloos came into today’s Game 2 looking to start strong, cruise to victory, and even the series.  They got the strong start down pat; five minutes into the game, they led 3-1.  But then the spent the remaining 55 minutes watching the Hamilton Pistols slowly but surely tilt the ice in their direction, coming from behind to claim a 5-3 win and a 2-0 series lead.

“This was a tough one for us to take,” said Igloos LW Jerry Koons.  “We felt like we should have had this one, and we let it get away.”

The beginning of this game, just like Game 1, was wide open and full of scoring.  D Olaf Martinsson got Anchorage on the board just seven seconds in, with an awkward knuckling shot that eluded Pistols goalie Lasse Koskinen.  At the 42-second mark, C Calvin Frye banked one in off the crossbar to tie it.  And at 1:15, Igloos D Ted Keefe intercepted a pass and found RW Broni Zlotkin, who fired it above Koskinen’s catching glove to take a 2-1 lead.

“I don’t know what it is about these games,” said Frye.  “It’s like no one’s allowed to play D until a couple minutes into it.”

Three and a half minutes after Zhlotkin’s tally, RW Nicklas Ericsson finished an odd-man rush with a beautiful deke that got Koskinen to bite, then deposited the puck in the vacant upper-right corner of the net to give Anchorage a two-goal lead.  With the game getting out of control, Pistols LW Steven Alexander called his team out and urged them to turn the tide.

“Alex was basically screaming at us that we needed to wake up,” said Frye.  “He said, ‘We can just back in this, turn things around and bury these guys.’  And that got us going.”

Fittingly, Alexander got the rally started himself.  D Raymond Smyth hit him with a perfect pass in the neutral zone, and Alexander barreled up the ice at top speed.  He pulled off a gorgeous toe drag to shake D Tony Citrone, crashed in toward the net, and went high for the score.  Alexander then jumped into the boards and signaled to his teammates.

“He pointed and kind of waved us on like, ‘Okay, I got us started, now it’s your turn,'” said Frye.  “Alex did what he needed to light the fire under us.”

After Alexander’s goal, the game shifted in Hamilton’s favor.  For one thing, they tightened up their shoddy defense.  Anchorage had 17 shots in the first period; they had 21 in the next two periods combined.  And as the Igloos found their game stalling, the Pistols found theirs warming up.

In the second period, D Hercules Mulligan tied the game with a blast from the top of the offensive zone.  The goal was originally credited to RW Ben Summers, who was believed to have tipped it, but replays showed that the puck just took a strange bounce off the ice on its way into the net.

In the first minute of the third period, RW Claude Lafayette gave Hamilton its first lead of the game on a slapshot that leaked through Anchorage goalie Ty Worthington‘s pads and trickled over the goal line before he could stop it.  And in the middle of the third period, Alexander put a capper on the night.  He received the puck in the left faceoff circle, his favorite spot, and wound up for his trademark slapper.  Worthington readied himself to block it.  But instead of shooting, Alexander slapped a pass to Lafayette, who put it into the yawning net for an insurance tally.

Igloos coach Sam Castor swatted down a question about whether he would go to backup Curt Freeze in net after Worthington struggled in each of the first two games.  “Not even a consideration; this is Ty’s series unless he gets hurt,” said Castor.  “Has he had a couple of rough games?  Yes.  But is that on him?  No. it’s not.  Our defense has left him out to dry far too often, and that needs to change in a hurry.”

Castor also criticized his team’s power play, which is 0-for-7 so far in the series.  “We had four today, and didn’t do a thing with them,” the coach noted.  “If we convert on even one of those, it’s a different game.”

As the series shifts to Anchorage for the next three games, the Igloos know they need to raise their game if they’re going to get back into it.  “We need to control the flow of the game,” said Koons.  “We did that against Portland, but so far this series, Hamilton has dictated the game.  If we keep playing back on our heels, this is going to be a short series.  We need to be on our toes instead.”

Continue reading “2020 SHL Finals – Game 2”

2020 SHL Playoff – Game 3

Western Division Playoff (Anchorage leads, 2-1)

PORTLAND BLUEBACKS 8, ANCHORAGE IGLOOS 4

After suffering two embarrassing losses at home to open this Western final, the Portland Bluebacks had one goal for Game 3.  As RW Vince Mango put it succinctly: “We damn well better win.  We can’t get swept again.”

Mango and the Bluebacks made good on that goal.  They walked into Arctic Circle Arena and not only defeated the Anchorage Igloos, they did it convincingly, by a score of 8-4.  It was a statement win for a team that desperately needed to make a statement, to prove that they could match up with the Igloos in the postseason.

“That was the game we’ve been looking for the last two years,” said Mango.  “That was the dominating performance I knew we had in us.”

The win itself was enough of a statement, but the Bluebacks also flexed their roster depth: Each of their goals was scored by a different player. “That was a really nice touch, I thought,” said coach Harold Engellund.  “People tend to think our team is all about Vince and Eddie [Costello], but there’s so much more to us.”

In fairness, the Igloos put up more of a fight than the final score would indicate.  In spite of the fact that Portland built a 3-0 lead in the first half of the opening period, Anchorage declined to give in.  When Bluebacks D Benny Lambert was penalized for holding the stick, Igloos D Sebastian Pomfret scored on the ensuing power play to break the shutout.  Portland regained their three-goal edge just 20 seconds later on a tip-in by LW Rod “Money” Argent, but then Anchorage struck back again when LW Les Collins caught Portland goalie Jesse Clarkson out of position and buried it in the upper-left corner of the net.  And when C Jens Bunyakin scored 11 seconds into the second period, Anchorage pulled within one goal and the crowd started coming to life.

At that point, Mango called his teammates together to deliver a brief but pointed message.  “Hey, we need this,” Mango shouted.  “Let’s go out and break them.”

And that’s exactly what Portland did.  First, they broke loose on an odd-man rush, which Costello finished by going five-hole on Ty Worthington.  Next, less than a minute later D Woody Fairwood pinched along the board to thwart an attempted Anchorage clear, then passed to fellow blueliner Doron Lidjya, who banked it in off the right post.  Then just over a minute later, RW Philippe Durien stuffed home a wraparound before Worthington could seal off the post.  Suddenly it was 7-3, the crowd was silenced, and Worthington was off to the bench having stopped just 8 of 15 shots, replaced by backup Curt Freeze.

The rest of the game was a formality, with the teams trading goals, but the Igloos weren’t happy with a couple of Portland’s third-period actions.  Durien earned an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for taunting the Igloos bench, a performance that involved several obscenities as well as the grabbing of his groin.  Later in the period, in response to some chirping from Anchorage directed at Mango, LW Alphonse Gaspard fired a water bottle in the direction of the home bench, also earning an unsportsmanlike penalty.

“It’s really interesting to me that they hadn’t even won one game yet, and they were already running their mouths,” said LW Jerry Koons.  “Apparently they didn’t think they could let their play do the talking.  You’d better believe that we’re going to make a mental note of that.”

Coach Sam Castor echoed Koons’ sentiments.  “I don’t think we have to worry about finding any motivation for the next game,” he said.  “The Bluebacks were nice enough to take care of that for us.  I really appreciate that.”

W Final - Gm 3, Portland @ Anchorage, Arctic Circle Arena

                   1   2   3   OT   F
Portland           4   3   1        8
Anchorage          2   1   1        4

 
Portland              SH   G   A PTS BLK PIM +/-   Anchorage             SH   G   A PTS BLK PIM +/-

Costello        C      5   1   0   1   1   0  +2   Keefe           D      0   0   1   1   2   2  -4
Mango           RW     3   1   1   2   0   0  +2   Ericsson        RW     2   1   0   1   0   0  -2
Fairwood        D      1   0   3   3   3   0  +4   Koons           LW     2   0   1   1   0   0  -2
Lidjya          D      1   1   2   3   1   0  +4   Frost           C      5   0   1   1   0   0  -2
Gaspard         LW     1   0   1   1   2   2  +2   Pomfret         D      3   1   0   1   2   0  -4
Argent          LW     1   1   0   1   0   0  +2   Kerasov         D      0   0   1   1   2   0   0
Lambert         D      1   0   3   3   3   2   0   Hoffman         C      1   0   1   1   0   0  -2
Beasley         C      5   1   1   2   1   0  +2   Collins         LW     2   1   0   1   1   0  -2
Pepper          RW     3   1   2   3   0   0  +2   Citrone         D      2   0   0   0   0   2   0
Gallagher       D      1   0   0   0   1   0   0   Zhlotkin        F      5   0   0   0   1   0  -2
Gatecliff       D      2   0   0   0   2   0  +1   Martinsson      D      1   0   0   0   0   0  -1
Durien          RW     3   1   1   2   0   2  +1   Adamczyk        LW     2   0   0   0   0   0  -1
Mortensen       D      0   0   0   0   2   4  +1   Calligan        D      4   0   0   0   1   2  -1
Derringer       C      1   1   1   2   0   2  +1   Bunyakin        C      3   1   0   1   0   0  -1
Bannon          LW     1   0   0   0   2   0  +1   Fleury          RW     3   0   1   1   2   2  -1
------------------------------------------------   ------------------------------------------------
TOTALS                29   8  15  23  18  12   5   TOTALS                35   4   6  10  11   8  -5

Coach: Harold Engellund                            Coach: Sam Castor                               

Scratches:
POR:  McElvern, Hexton, Gauss
ANC:  Kennedy, Dyomin, LaNeige, Miranda (DL)

 
Portland            SH    SV    G    Sv%
----------------------------------------
Clarkson            35    31    4  0.886

Anchorage           SH    SV    G    Sv%
----------------------------------------
Worthington         15     8    7  0.533
Freeze              14    13    1  0.929

 

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

GOALS:
05:16  POR  Derringer (Fairwood, Durien)
08:21  POR  Pepper (Lidjya, Fairwood)
10:41  POR  Beasley (Pepper, Lambert)
15:02  ANC  Pomfret PP (Koons, Keefe)
15:22  POR  Argent (Beasley, Pepper)
16:25  ANC  Collins (Hoffman)

PENALTIES:
00:11  POR  Mortensen 2:00 (Tripping)
01:06  ANC  Fleury 2:00 (Slashing)
13:43  POR  Lambert 2:00 (Holding the Stick)

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

GOALS:
00:11  ANC  Bunyakin (Kerasov, Fleury)
01:56  POR  Costello (Mango, Gaspard)
02:54  POR  Lidjya (Fairwood)
04:09  POR  Durien (Derringer, Lambert)

PENALTIES:
04:39  ANC  Calligan 2:00 (Holding the Stick)
12:47  POR  Mortensen 2:00 (Unsportsmanlike Conduct)

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

GOALS:
00:12  POR  Mango PP (Lambert, Lidjya)
09:58  ANC  Ericsson PP (Frost)

PENALTIES:
00:10  ANC  Citrone 2:00 (High-sticking)
03:32  POR  Durien 2:00 (Unsportsmanlike Conduct)
08:48  POR  Derringer 2:00 (Roughing)
12:21  POR  Gaspard 2:00 (Unsportsmanlike Conduct)
17:47  ANC  Keefe 2:00 (Delay of Game)


 
SHOTS
------
                   1   2   3   OT   F
Portland          11   9   9       29
Anchorage         17   8  10       35

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

Portland         1 for 4
Anchorage        2 for 6

 
INJURIES
--------

None

 

Eastern Division Playoff (Hamilton leads, 2-1)

HERSHEY BLISS 4, HAMILTON PISTOLS 3

Justin Valentine is a natural-born leader.  The Hershey Bliss center has that combination of movie-star good looks, natural eloquence, and strong play that makes teammates naturally want to follow him.  And when his team faced a win-or-go-home Game 3 against the defending champion Hamilton Pistols, Valentine came up big, potting a pair of goals – including the game-winner – and contributing an assist to lead his team to a 4-3 win to stave off elimination in the Eastern final.

“Great players want the puck in big moments,” said Bliss coach Chip Barber.  “And Justin always wants the puck in those spots.  Like a good premium chocolate, he’s perfect for every occasion.”

Valentine’s first heroic moment came early in the second period.  Hershey found themselves trailing after the first, despite once again scoring the game’s first goal, a power-play tally by D Steve Cargill.  Tallies by Pistols D Raymond Smyth and LW Steven Alexander quickly put the Bliss behind, and neither the Bliss bench nor the crowd at Chocolate Center wanted to risk a multi-goal deficit.  So when D Jean-Luc Aubin found Valentine in the slot, the center wasted no time going top shelf to tie things up.

“[The Igloos] were beating me up pretty good in front of the crease,” Valentine said, “but I was determined to strike pay dirt there.”

A couple minutes into the third, Valentine threw an impressive check on Pistols C Calvin Frye to relieve him of the puck.  After corraling the biscuit, Valentine through a head-man pass to D Cedric Meloche, who found LW Lance Sweet cutting to the net.  Sweet went glove-side to out Hershey back on top.

“Everybody thinks of Justin as a scorer, but he doesn’t get enough credit for his D,” said Sweet.  “Frye’s a pretty big rig, and that was a big-boy check that Justin put on him.”

Hershey’s bliss was short-lived, as Pistols D Clayton Risch tied things up less than two minutes later.  But Valentine bided his time, waiting for an opportunity to strike again.  When Hamilton RW Claude Lafayette was sent off from cross-checking with less than nine minutes remaining, the captain had his chance.  Hershey was in its standard umbrella formation, with Valentine stationed low near the left post.  Sensing a seam in the Hamilton penalty kill, Valentine signaled Sweet to switch just as Cargill unloaded from the point.  Crossing in front of the net, Valentine was able to redirect into the top left corner of the net as Sweet screened Pistols goalie Lasse Koskinen.  That tip proved to be the winning goal.

“I knew the team needed me to deliver today,” said Valentine.  “Now we just need two more like that.”

Hamilton coach Keith Shields graciously acknowledged Hershey’s strong play, while maintaining confidence in the outcome of the series.  “We figured [the Bliss] would have a game like this in them,” Shields noted.  “They’re too good a team to go down quietly.  But we’ve got two more shots to close this out, and we’re going to do it.”

E Final - Gm 3, Hamilton @ Hershey, Chocolate Center

                   1   2   3   OT   F
Hamilton           2   0   1        3
Hershey            1   1   2        4

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

Lafayette       RW     2   0   0   0   1   2  -1   Milton          D      3   0   1   1   1   2   0
Frye            C      4   0   1   1   2   0  -1   Sweet           LW     5   1   2   3   0   0  +1
Alexander       LW     5   1   0   1   2   0  -1   Hart            RW     2   0   1   1   1   0  +1
Mulligan        D      0   0   1   1   2   0   0   Aubin           D      2   0   1   1   3   0   0
Risch           D      5   1   0   1   1   0   0   Valentine       C      8   2   1   3   0   0  +1
Smyth           D      2   1   1   2   0   2  +1   Kirkpatrick     C      4   0   0   0   0   0  -1
Summers         RW     1   0   0   0   0   0  +1   Cargill         D      2   1   1   2   0   0  -1
Venezio         C      5   0   1   1   0   0  +1   Meloche         D      3   0   1   1   1   0  -1
Campbell        LW     3   0   1   1   0   2  +1   Swindonburg     LW     2   0   0   0   1   0  -1
Hampton         D      3   0   0   0   0   2   0   Montrechere     RW     1   0   0   0   1   0  -1
Marais          C      4   0   0   0   0   0  +1   Ketterman       C      1   0   0   0   1   0  -1
Glasco          D      2   0   0   0   2   0  +1   Daniels         RW     5   0   0   0   0   0  -1
Patterson       RW     1   0   0   0   0   0  +1   Nahorniak       LW     5   0   0   0   0   0  -1
Jennings        F      1   0   1   1   0   0  +1   Minnik          D      2   0   0   0   1   0   0
Klemmer         D      0   0   0   0   0   0   0   Snelling        D      1   0   0   0   5   2   0
------------------------------------------------   ------------------------------------------------
TOTALS                38   3   6   9  10   8   1   TOTALS                46   4   8  12  15   4  -1

Coach: Keith Shields                               Coach: Chip Barber                              

Scratches:
HAM:  Bodett (INJ), Pedersen, Winston (INJ), Gunnarson (DL)
HSY:  Kulkarov, Kilborn, Lapointe

 
Hamilton            SH    SV    G    Sv%
----------------------------------------
Koskinen            46    42    4  0.913

Hershey             SH    SV    G    Sv%
----------------------------------------
Adamsson            38    35    3  0.921

 

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

GOALS:
01:35  HSY  Cargill PP (Sweet, Milton)
02:16  HAM  Smyth (Venezio, Campbell)
05:15  HAM  Alexander (Frye, Smyth)

PENALTIES:
00:57  HAM  Smyth 2:00 (Hooking)

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

GOALS:
01:03  HSY  Valentine (Aubin, Sweet)

PENALTIES:
02:44  HSY  Milton 2:00 (Slashing)

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

GOALS:
02:21  HSY  Sweet (Meloche, Valentine)
03:45  HAM  Risch (Mulligan, Jennings)
11:25  HSY  Valentine PP (Cargill, Hart)

PENALTIES:
05:07  HSY  Snelling 2:00 (Diving)
11:06  HAM  Lafayette 2:00 (Cross-checking)
11:40  HAM  Hampton 2:00 (Tripping)
19:33  HAM  Campbell 2:00 (High-sticking)


 
SHOTS
------
                   1   2   3   OT   F
Hamilton          15  11  12       38
Hershey           12  15  19       46

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

Hamilton         0 for 2
Hershey          2 for 4

 
INJURIES
--------

None

2020 SHL Eastern All-Star Roster

The roster for the 2020 Eastern Division All-Stars, as announced by coach Keith Shields, was as follows:

First Line:

LW: Steven Alexander, Hamilton.  Last year, the voting in the East was dominated by fans of the Pistols and New York Night, the latter of which hosted the game.  Without the draw of hosting and with the Night’s lackluster record this year, votes from the New York metro area dipped considerably, while backers of defending champion Hamilton came out in force to support their heroes.  Alexander was the league’s top vote-getter, earning his fourth straight trip to the game and his third appearance in the starting lineup.  Although the feisty winger’s numbers are not quite up to his career norms, he is tied for the league lead in goals with 21.

D: Clayton “Crusher” Risch, Hamilton.  Backed by the voting power of the Greater Toronto Area, Risch was the top vote-getter among Eastern defenseman, making his second All-Star appearance and his first start.  The 24-year-old is on track for a career season; he’s already scored more goals in the first half (8) than he ever has in an entire year.  He isn’t just an offensive force, either; he continues to deliver strong play in his own end.  His 73 blocks is the second-most among Eastern players.

C: Justin Valentine, Hershey.  In something of an upset, Valentine managed to hold off Hamilton’s Calvin Frye to make his first All-Star start since 2017.  Valentine is the leading man in Hershey’s famous “Love Line,” and he’s producing in line with his top season.  He’s currently in third place in goals with 20 and tied for third in points with 42.  He’s also among the top ten in plus-minus at +14, a distinction he shares with his fellow Love Liners.

D: Matt Cherner, Boston.  In another upset, Cherner surged into second place, ahead of Hershey’s Reese Milton and New York’s Dominic Sanchez, who have been the East’s starting defensemen in each previous All-Star Game.  Cherner reportedly benefited from a strong crossover vote, as fans from his previous teams in Dakota and Quebec cast ballots for him in significant numbers.  It’s his second All-Star appearance, and his debut representing the East; he showed up on the West’s roster back in 2018.  Like his fellow top-pairing blueliner Risch, Cherner has 8 goals and 28 points so far this season.

RW: Claude Lafayette, Hamilton.  The Pistols’ rabid voting base lifted Lafayette to his first ever All-Star start (and only his second overall start), appearing alongside his longtime teammate and friend Alexander.  Lafayette won his spot by less than 5,000 votes over Hershey’s Christopher Hart and New York’s Rick Nelson.  Lafayette is one of the league’s elite passers, and it’s no surprise that he leads the SHL in assists with 35.  His 42 points overall ties him with Valentine for the league’s third-highest total.

 

Second Line:

LW: Lance Sweet, Hershey.  Shields mentioned during the lineup announcement that he has a great deal of respect for the Bliss, Hamilton’s fiercest rival.  His admiration came through in his picks, as he tapped three Bliss players (in addition to starter Valentine) to the lineup.  It’s the second All-Star selection for Sweet, who also appeared in the SHL’s inaugural midseason contest in 2017.  Sweet is a highly deserving choice; he leads the league in points with 44, and is in the top 10 in both goals (16) and assists (28).

D: Raymond Smyth, Hamilton.  Shields’ respect for Hershey was topped only by his affection for his own squad; the coach selected four players from his Vandy-winning, division-leading Pistols.  The veteran Smyth, though, is no homer pick; his 30 points are tied for the highest total among SHL defensemen, and his 26 assists are tied for fifth in the league overall.  He also leads the league in plus-minus rating with +17.  It’s Smyth’s third trip to the All-Star Game, making a reappearance in the lineup after a one-year absence.

C: Calvin Frye, Hamilton.  After Frye was beaten out by Valentine for the starting center spot, there was no doubt that Shields was going to tab his star for a spot.  Frye is only of only four Eastern players to have appeared in every All-Star contest to date.  Frye is tied with his teammate Alexander for the league lead in goals with 21, and his 43 points is the second highest total in the SHL.  “I’ll bet this is the last time for a long time that Calvin isn’t the starter,” said Shields.  “If he keeps producing the way he has been, he’s going to make it impossible for the fans to ignore.  He’s just a special, special player.”

D: Hercules Mulligan, Hamilton. It’s the third straight All-Star appearance for the 22-year-old Mulligan and the third appearance for a Hamilton defenseman in this lineup.  It’s the first time since 2017 that a single team landed a trio of blueliners on the roster; Michigan was the last team to accomplish the feat. The hard-hitting Mulligan brings an extra edge of the Eastern roster; his 68 blocks is sixth in the SHL and second on the Pistols to his linemate Risch.

RW: Christopher Hart, Hershey.  Hart joins his linemates Sweet and Valentine on the East roster.  Surprisingly, Hart is the only one of the trio who has appeared in every All-Star contest, though he has never started.  Like his fellow Love Liners, Hart is in the top ten in the league in points (39), assists (26), and plus-minus (+14).  “Last year, I had to carry the Love Line banner all by myself at the game,” said Hart.  “This time, I’ll be there with both my brothers, and that’s the way it ought to be.”

 

Third Line:

LW: Magnus Gunnarson, Hamilton.  At a loaded position, Shields tapping his own player again generated some controversy around the league.  Many felt that New York’s Chase Winchester or Boston’s Casey Thurman would be a more fitting choice.  But Gunnarson is having a strong season in his own right.  He has produced 32 points (13 goals, 19 assists) at the halfway point.  And when Alexander missed several games with an injury in the first half, Gunnarson stepped in and kept the Pistols from missing a beat.  It all adds up to an All-Star debut for the 24-year-old winger.

D: Reese Milton, Hershey.  It’s the first time that Milton won’t be starting in an All-Star Game, but the Bliss blueliner keeps his string of appearances alive.  Milton’s offensive numbers (8 goals, 17 assists) are a tick below his career norms, but he remains as defensively strong as ever; his 77 blocks are the most in the East, and he maintains a solid +8 rating.

C: Alain Beauchesne, Boston.  The 22-year-old Beauchesne receives his second straight All-Star nod; his selection marks the first time that the Badgers have had more than one honoree.  This was another somewhat controversial choice: Night fans argued that Brock Manning should have gotten the call, while DC fans clamored for Harvey Bellmore.   But Shields went with the youngster, who leads Boston with 32 points (13 goals, 19 assists).

D: Richard McKinley, Quebec.  The 21-year-old blueliner is the Tigres’ lone representative this year, and he makes his debut in the All-Star game.  Quebec is suffering through considerable offensive struggles this season, but McKinley is a relatively bright spot, having recorded 17 points (5 goals, 12 assists).  He also is tied for the team lead in blocks with 65.

RW: Jefferson McNeely, Washington.  Like the Tigres, the Galaxy have only one All-Star representative.  This season, the honors go to McNeely, who will make his third appearance in the game.  He is second on the Washington roster in goals (with 11) and points (with 27).  “Honestly, I would have given it to Harvey,” said McNeely.  “But it they want me to go again, sure, I’ll go.”

 

Goalies:

Lasse Koskinen, Hamilton.  In a season when many of the East’s traditional top goalies are having down seasons, Koskinen’s solid performance and Hamilton’s strong voting base combined to earn the Pistols netminder his third straight All-Star trip and his second start.  Koskinen struggled in the opening weeks of the season, but he has improved as the season has gone along.  His 15 wins are second-most in the SHL; that achievement appears to have overshadowed his somewhat-subpar 3.14 GAA and .915 save percentage.

“Jersey Mike” Ross, New York.  With Shields in charge of choosing the East’s roster, is it a surprise that Ross is the lone Night player to make the All-Star squad?  Perhaps, perhaps not.  But the veteran goaltender, who is another first-time All-Star, has had a surprisingly strong season.  Believe it or not, Ross has the highest save percentage (.923) among starting goalies in the East.  After planned starter Sherman Carter imploded, Ross stepped in as the primary starter and has helped keep the Night afloat in the playoff race.

Pistols Get Mad, Get Even in Rout of Night

The hottest rivalry in the SHL right now is clearly the feud between the Hamilton Pistols and the New York Night.  Night coach Nick Foster has spent multiple seasons adding fuel to the fire by slinging insults at the Pistols’ arena, their fans, and star Steven Alexander.  Foster’s barbs have turned every game between the teams into a grudge match.

Last week, the Night and Pistols tangled for the first time this season at Hamilton’s Gunpowder Armory.  It proved to be a wild match full of insults, physical play, and shots galore.  In the end, the Night walked away with a 7-6 overtime win, with Foster making sure to twist the knife on his way out of town.

On Sunday, the teams held the rematch at New York’s Neon Sky Arena.  It promised to be another feud-filled game.  Most observers expected that the Night would have to answer for rookie C Norris Fletcher’s high stick to Alexander’s eye in last week’s game.  The Pistols, however, chose not to seek revenge with their fists, but with their sticks, scoring six goals in a frenetic first period on the way to a 10-5 drubbing.

Keith Shields

“The Lord reminds us that vengeance is His,” said Pistols coach Keith Shields, “but I have to admit this was pretty sweet.”

When the Pistols took the ice, they were greeted by the sounds of Craig Morgan’s “Redneck Yacht Club,” as well as the jeers of the New York faithful.  The cheers and jeers only got louder when Night RW Ivan Trujwirnek scored just 17 seconds into the game.  But Hamilton quickly flipped the script.  Just 23 seconds after Trujwirnek’s tally, Pistols RW Claude Lafayette found the upper-leftt corner of the net to tie things up.  Just over a minute late, LW Magnus Gunnarson drilled a slapper home past night netminder Sherman Carter to give Hamilton the lead.

The frantic firewagon pace of the game continued over the next several minutes, but the scoring hit a temporary lull, as Carter and the Pistols’ Lasse Koskinen both made acrobatic saves.  Just over six minutes into the period, C Rod Remington jammed home a rebound to pull back even.  That deadlock lasted a mere 11 seconds, though, before Pistols RW Ben Summers stuffed in a wraparound shot to put his team back in the lead.

Just before the midway point of the period, Pistols D Raymond Smyth forced a neutral-zone turnover and started an odd-man rush, which Alexander finished with a shot between Carter’s legs.  In the last game, the Pistols star drew a fine for a goal celebration that included a mock round of gunshots at the New York bench.  This time, Alexander dropped his stick and skated past the Night bench while taking a deep bow.

Less than a minute after Alexander’s goal, C Marco Venezio made it 5-2 by going top shelf from the slot.  D Clayton Risch closed out the scoring for the period with a deflection that a helpless Carter failed to corral.

When the clock struck zero on the opening frame, the Pistols had fired 27 shots at the New York net and scored a half-dozen times.  They’d driven Carter out of the game.  They’d also rendered the arena utterly quiet.

“We headed down the tunnel and we heard total silence,” said Lafayette.  “They were too shocked to even boo us.  It was beautiful.”

When the game resumed, a healthy chunk of the crowd did not return.  They correctly sensed that the Night were not going to rally.  And the Pistols declined to take their foot off the gas, scoring four more times against relief goalie “Jersey Mike” Ross.

The Pistols’ scoring was impressively democratic: their 10 goals were scored by nine different players, with only C Calvin Frye recording more than one.  (Frye had a chance at a hat trick during a third-period power play, but he instead passed to Smyth, who beat Ross on the short side.)  Every Hamilton player recorded at least one point.

“I think it’s a testament to what a balanced team we are,” said Shields.  “We don’t just rely on our stars.”  This could be interpreted as a shot at the Night, whose offense revolves around their star-laden top line.

After a pause, Shields added an unambiguous shot: “It’s also a testament to how fired up our whole team was after the last game.  Coach Foster is a great motivator, at least for our guys.”

For his part, Foster reacted to the shellacking with humor.  “Man, somebody really stuck a bee in their jockstraps, huh?  I guess it was mine.  I’m honored that I mean so much to them, that they went to all that trouble to whip my [expletive].  Well, congrats, you bastards!  We can’t wait to return the favor next time we’re in Tank Town, assuming their barn doesn’t collapse before then.”

Continue reading “Pistols Get Mad, Get Even in Rout of Night”