Bluebacks Stay Hot to Start Second Half

The Portland Bluebacks cruised into the All-Star break with the SHL’s best overall record and a comfortable lead in the West.  The Bluebacks’ lead over the second-place Saskatchewan Shockers was larger than Saskatchewan’s lead over last-place Kansas City.  Portland’s 119 goals was the second-highest total in the league, and their GAA had recovered from a dismal start to the middle of the pack.

In short, it was nothing but good news in Stumptown.  Their primary concern was whether the break would disrupt the team’s momentum.

Harold Engellund

“When you’re playing as well as we are, you don’t really want a break,” said Bluebacks coach Harold Engellund.  “We’re in a good rhythm right now, and we just want to keep rolling.”

Turns out they needn’t have worried.  Portland came out of the break with an undefeated week, running their winning streak to six games.  They’re now 14 points ahead of Saskatchewan, their closest competitor.  They’ve won 9 of their last 11 games and 13 of their last 17.  In short, it appears that the only race in the West might be for the second playoff spot.

“How do you like us now?” crowed Bluebacks RW Vince Mango.  “We’re playing awesome hockey, and no one’s been able to slow us down so far.  I’d say our team is looking Vandy-worthy.”

Portland’s success has been built on a powerful, high-scoring offense.  During their recent 13-3-1 run, they’ve averaged a league-leading 4.25 goals per game.  Mango and LW Rod “Money” Argent, who have scored 19 goals apiece this season, are among the league leaders in that category.

“Offensively, we’re in perfect sync,” said Argent.  “Every pass is tape-to-tape, and we’ve got an intuitive sense of where everyone’s going to be on the ice at any given moment.  Everything’s clicking just like it should be.”

The Bluebacks have been boosted by the raucous sellout crowds at Willamette River Arena; they’ve been nearly unbeatable at home, going 13-2-2 this season.  But they’ve also been dangerous away from home; 9 of their last 10 games have been on the road, and they’ve won eight of those.

“Being on the road so much lately, and with the All-Star break in the middle, it definitely threatened to disrupt our momentum,” said Engellund.  “But we haven’t missed a beat.  The boys have really stepped up and met the challenge.”

Portland has also benefitted from down years by the West’s traditional powers.  The Anchorage Igloos, the defending division champ and four-time SHL Finalist, are currently mired in an 0-7-2 slump; if the season ended today, they would miss the playoffs.  The Michigan Gray Wolves, meanwhile, have been below .500 for most of the season, and head coach Ron Wright resigned at the break.

With Anchorage and Michigan underperforming, the Bluebacks’ closest competitor is the plucky Shockers.  However, Saskatchewan is battling the injury bug; both D Chris Oflyng – one of the team’s leading scorers – and C Cyril Perignon went down with serious injuries in the week before the All-Star Game.

At least in the short term, the Bluebacks’ biggest threat may be complacency.  But Engellund vows that he will not let the team take its foot off the gas.

“We know that we haven’t won anything yet,”said the coach.  “And if I sense that the voys are slacking off, I’ll come down on them pretty hard.  But I don’t expect that it’s going to be an issue; we’ve got a professional group and they’ll hold each other accountable.”

Mango, meanwhile, is projecting his trademark confidence.  “We’re showing everyone that we’re the team to beat,” the winger told reporters.  “If you want to take us out, you’ll have to come catch us first.”

2020 SHL Western All-Star Roster

The roster for the Western Division in the 2020 SHL All-Star Game, which will be held on Wednesday at Kansas City’s Heartland Telecom Center, was announced today by coach Sam Castor.  The selections were as follows:

LW: Rod “Money” Argent, Portland.  The Bluebacks are hot, and they’re quickly building a strong and enthusiastic fan base.  The team’s fans showed their love in the All-Star voting, as they rivaled Hamilton in terms of the largest turnout.  Thanks to the strong support from the Rose City, the Bluebacks wound up with three starting slots.  Among those is Argent, who will appear in the All-Star game for the first time in his career.  The winger is fifth in the league in goals with 18, and has Portland’s second-highest point total with 34.  Argent is a strong two-way player, as reflected by the fact that he leads all Bluebacks forwards in blocks with 27.

D: Ted Keefe, Anchorage.  This marks the first time that a non-Michigan defenseman made the West’s starting lineup.  The strong support of Igloos fans allowed Keefe to finish with the most votes among defensemen.  Although this is Keefe’s first All-Star start, it is the third time that he’ll make an appearance in the game.   Keefe is having a strong year offensively; he is tied for the lead among SHL defenseman in goals with 11.  But it’s defense that’s his primary calling card.  Any unlucky opponent that’s been the victim of his punishing hits can attest to that; his 50 blocks on the season tell the same story.

C: Eddie Costello, Portland.  Last year, the veteran center was traded to Hamilton at the deadline, and went on to play a leading role as the Pistols won their first Vandy.  In the offseason, he signed with Portland, and has led the team to its spot atop the standings at the midway mark.  Those fans returned the favor by making Costello the top overall vote-getter in the West.  (It’s likely that he got support from his former fans in Washington and Hamilton as well.)  Costello’s 36 points are tops on his new team, while his 25 assists land him among the SHL’s top ten.  He’s no slouch defensively, either, with 26 blocks so far this season.

D: Fritz Kronstein, Michigan.  Kronstein continues his streak of All-Star starts, finishing ahead of teammates “Mad Max” Madison (a three-time starter) and Brooks Zabielski, as well as Portland’s Benny Lambert.  This comes as no surprise, in spite of the Wolves’ disappointing first half; Kronstein has started in every All-Star Game to date.  Though Michigan is not performing up to its usual standards, the German-born blueliner continues to produce on both ends, leading the team’s defensive corps with 22 points (including 10 goals, second among Wolves defensemen) and tied for the lead with 59 blocks.

RW: Vince Mango, Portland.  The colorful, high-scoring Mango secures his third All-Star berth and his second start, finishing roughly 1,500 votes ahead of Anchorage’s Nicklas Ericsson.  (It’s sweet payback for Mango; last season, Ericsson nosed him out of a starting slot by less than 800 votes.)  Mango is often regarded around the league as a one-dimensional scorer.  While his 15 goals does place him among the SHL’s top ten, Mango’s game has matured as he and the team have grown.  He has recorded 11 assists so far on the year, and he has even blocked 17 shots.  “Honestly, I never thought I’d see the day when Vince blocked a shot on purpose,” said Castor.  “He’d be afraid of mussing his hair.  But he’s clearly changed, and good for him.”

 

Second Line

LW: Jerry Koons, Anchorage.  Last year’s starter makes it this year on the second line, one of four Igloos chosen for the team by their coach.  Koons has appeared in every All-Star Game so far and has started twice.  Among all Western left-wingers, Koons is the leader in both points (with 37) and assists (with 25).  “I’m sure some people will say I’m a big homer because there are so many of our guys on the team,” said Castor.  “But you tell me which guy didn’t deserve to go.  No question about it that Jerry deserves to be there.”

D: Wyatt Barnes, Saskatchewan.  Barnes, who makes his fourth trip to the All-Star game, is the Shockers’ only representative at the All-Star game this season.  But he is no charity pick; arguably, he is the SHL’s best defenseman so far this half on both ends of the ice.  Only teammate Chris Oflyng has more points among the West’s blueliners than Barnes’ 29.  And no one in the league, in either division or at any position, has more blocks that he does, just one shy of the century mark.  “One of these days, the fans are going to wake up and realize that Barnesy should be starting in this thing,” said Oflyng.

C: Hunter Bailes, Michigan.  In spite of the Wolves’ underperformance so far this season, Castor couldn’t overlook Bailes’ solid campaign for Anchorage’s longtime rival.  Bailes is the Michigan leader in goals (with 14) and points (with 29), and his +14 rating places him within the league’s top ten.  Somewhat surprisingly for one of the league’s consistent stars, this is the first time that Bailes will be appearing in the midseason contest.  He was named to the team in 2017, but he missed the game due to injury; teammate Warren Marlow skated in his place.

D: Benny Lambert, Portland.  The Bluebacks aren’t solely represented by players who were voted in by their enthusiastic fans; Lambert is one of two Portland players chosen by Castor to accompany their starting colleagues.  This is not Lambert’s first All-Star appearance; he was Seattle’s lone representative back in the 2017 contest.  Lambert’s 71 blocks are tops on the Bluebacks, and his 16 assists are tied for second on the team among blueliners.

RW: Nicklas Ericsson, Anchorage.  After Ericsson narrowly lost the starting spot to Mango, there was little doubt that Castor would add his top-line right winger to the squad.  Ericsson is is one of five Western players who has been an All-Star every year.  He’s justifiably renowned for his skills as a passer, and he remains as sharp as ever: he’s tied for second in the league in assists with 31.  Somewhat more surprisingly, he also has more points than anyone else in the West, with 40.

 

Third Line

LW: “Flyin’ Ryan” Airston, Dakota.  Airston, the Jackalopes’ only representative, appears in his third All-Star game.  The fan-favorite winger has been named in rumor after rumor over the last couple of seasons, always supposedly on the verge of being dealt for financial reasons, but he remains in Dakota for the time being, continuing to produce as usual.  Airston leads the Jackalopes in goals with 12, and is tied for the team lead in assists with 15.  “You have to tune all that stuff out and just play your game,” said Airston.  “I think I’ve done a good job with that.”

D: Gary Hermine, Kansas City.  In a surprising pick, Castor tabbed the 22-year-old Hermine as a first-time All-Star.  The Western coach acknowledged that he gave Hermine the nod in part to give the KC crowd another Smoke player to cheer for.  “The fans deserve to see a couple of their own,” Castor said.  But Hermine is also on the team on merit; he’s put together a strong first half with 23 points (7 goals, 16 assists) and 41 blocks.

C: Tom Hoffman, Anchorage.  This pick by Castor definitely raised eyebrows around the league.  How could the coach pass over his own top-line center, Jake Frost?  How could the star who has started each previous All-Star contest miss the cut entirely?  According to Castor, the move came at Frost’s request.  “He told me, ‘Hoff’s outplaying me so far.  He deserves to go, not me,” said the coach.  “Of course, Frosty might have just wanted a few days off for a change.”  When the Igloos acquired Hoffman from New York in the offseason, the move was regarded as a cheap flyer at a position of need.  To the degree that fans knew Hoffman at all, it was as a draft bust who hadn’t lived up to his potential.  But he’s undergone a career revival in baby.  He has indeed produced more goals (12) and assists (16) than Frost so far on the year.  In addition, he leads the team in plus-minus with a +14 rating.

D: Sebastian Pomfret, Anchorage.  This spot originally belonged to Chris Oflyng of Saskatchewan, but the Shockers blueliner suffered an injury a couple games before the break.  To replace Oflyng, Castor went with a familiar face, tapping his own man Pomfret.  It’s the second straight All-Star appearance for the 25-year-old.  Pomfret is on track for a career-best season, putting up 19 points (5 goals, 14 assists) and blocking 61 shots to go with his +7 rating.

RW: Bengt Frederiksson, Kansas City.  The Swedish winger was the #1 pick in the draft, and he has completely lived up to the hype so far amid an otherwise forgettable year for the host city.  His 15 goals puts him among the league’s top ten and atop all rookies.  Similarly, his 36 points places him on the SHL leaderboard; no other freshman is within a dozen points of him.  “I am glad that I will have a chance to enjoy this honor among our fans,” said Frederiksson.

 

Goalies

Ty Worthington, Anchorage.  For the first time, Michigan’s Dirk Lundquist is not the Western starter.  And it’s not a fluke driven by the voters; in fact, Worthington has outplayed the mighty Bear so far this season.  His 2.11 GAA is third in the SHL, and his .933 save percentage leads the league.  His underlying numbers belie a 13-10-1 record, which speaks more to a lack of offensive support than anything else.  “It’s nice to see Ty get the top slot for a change,” said Castor.  “He’s earned it.”

Jesse Clarkson, Portland.  In another eyebrow-raising move, Castor elected not to pick Lundquist as Worthington’s backup.  Instead, the Western coach turned to Clarkson, making him the fifth Blueback to appear on the roster.  Clarkson was voted in as the starter of the Eastern team last season, when he played for New York.  After signing with Portland in the offseason, Clarkson rebounded from a shaky start to post his typically solid numbers.  His 16 victories lead the SHL, and he’s backing them up with a skinny 2.68 GAA and a stout .919 save percentage.

Bluebacks Setting the Pace Out West

As mentioned in this space last week, the Anchorage Igloos’ revival from a dismal start has attracted attention around the league and marked the squad from the far north as a top Vandy contender.  The Igloos’ win streak reached ten games before they fell to Hershey on Saturday.

While Anchorage’s run has been the #1 topic of discussion in SHL locker rooms, another Western team has quietly reeled off some wins of their own, and currently sit in front of the Igloos and everyone else atop the West: the Portland Bluebacks.

Last season, playing as the Seattle Sailors, the team made its first trip to the postseason, only to be quickly swept by the Igloos.  Since the team had never even finished above .500 before, some regression to the mean seemed possible.  It was also unclear how the move to the Rose City would affect the team.

But GM Taylor Teichman made several bold moves in the offseason to prepare the Bluebacks for another season of contention.  They came out of nowhere to win the bidding war for C Eddie Costello, strengthening a position where they were already solid.  And even though goalie Rocky Goldmire was coming off a career-best performance, Teichman dealt him to Kansas City and signed veteran Jesse Clarkson.

Vince Mango

The moves have made the Bluebacks a more balanced and dangerous club.  In previous years, the team’s fortunes have rested on the stick of their telegenic and controversial star, RW Vince Mango.  This year, however, Mango doesn’t lead the team in points; Costello does, with 24.  (Mango’s 9 goals aren’t even the most on the team; LW Rod “Money” Argent has 10.)

“I’m not in the position where I have to be the hero all the time, and that’s great,” said Mango to reporters this week.  “We’ve got lots of ways to beat you now.”

On the opposite end, Clarkson has rebounded from a slow start to post his usual strong numbers: 10-3-2, 2.76 GAA, .916 save percentage.  The veteran netminder is rarely considered among the SHL’s elite, but he has been consistent year in and year out.  Not only is Clarkson playing in front of perhaps the best team of his career, but he’s also playing close to home for the first time; he’s a native of Castle Rock, Washington, about an hour north of Portland on I-5.

“It’s great being able to play in front of my family and friends,” said Clarkson.  “The only trouble is, the team is so popular I can hardly get tickets!”

Clarkson’s not kidding: the games at Willamette River Arena have all been sellouts so far.  The energy of the crowds has clearly fueled the team; they have a sterling 9-2-1 record on home ice.  “The energy in this building is the best in the league,” said Mango.  “When it’s the third period and behind by one and we’re going on the power play, the crowd feels like it’s right on top of you.  It’s intimidating as hell, and it’s a great weapon for us.”

As brilliant as the Bluebacks have been so far, nothing is decided yet.  Anchorage remains a threat, and the Saskatchewan Shockers loom not far behind them both.  But for those who thought that last year’s success was a flash in the pan, the message is clear: think again.

“It’s been a long road to get this far, long and bumpy,” said coach Harold Engellund.  “But we’re for real now, and the rest of the league had better get used to it.  We’re not going anywhere.”

2019 SHL Division Playoff -Game 2

Eastern Division Series (Series tied, 1-1)

HAMILTON PISTOLS 8, HERSHEY BLISS 4

The Hamilton Pistols live by the credo best expressed by D Hercules Mulligan: “If you knock me down, I get the [heck] back up again.”  After the Hershey Bliss knocked the Pistols down by winning Game 1 of their playoff series and taking a two-goal lead in Game 2, the boys in red and black got back up and started swinging back hard.  They rallied to take the lead, then applied the knockout blow with a five-goal third period to seal an 8-4 win, evening up the series at a game apiece.

“When we say we’re young, scrappy, and hungry, this is what we’re talking about,” said Pistols LW Steven Alexander, who scored a hat trick in this game.  “We’ve got a great chance to win the Vandy, and we are not throwing away our shot.”

Just over six minutes into today’s game, it looked like the Bliss were well on their way to taking a 2-0 series lead, thanks to goals by LWs Russ Nahorniak and Gabriel Swindonburg.  But Alexander struck back just 12 seconds after Swindonburg’s goal, blasting a slapshot through Hershey netminder Brandon Colt.

Hamilton swung the momentum in their direction in the second period.  Five minutes into the stanza, LW Magnus Gunnarson finished a breakaway by going five-hole on Colt to tie the game.  Four minutes later, D Raymond Smyth picked off a lazy pass by Hershey D Cedric Meloche and fed it to RW Claude Lafayette, who beat Colt on the glove side to give the Pistols a lead that they wouldn’t relinquish.

It was the third, though, that turned the game into a rout.  Alexander scored his second goal 20 seconds into the period.  Five minutes later, C Calvin Frye deflected one into the back of the net to make it 5-2.  A frustrated Bliss D Joel Baldwin took a holding-the-stick penalty shortly after that, and LW Jamie Campbell scored on the power play that followed.  The teams traded goals a couple times after that, but the win was assured.

Alexander angered the Bliss by completing his hat trick on a power play with 13 seconds left to go and Hamilton up by three.  The closing seconds of the game turned into a scrum, and Hershey’s players said they would remember the disrespect.  “Him spiking the football like that, it didn’t sit well with us,” said D Reese Milton.  “I’d expect there will be more coming.”

After being rocked for all eight goals, some observers called for Colt to be benched for Game 3 in favor of backup Oliver Richardson.  Bliss coach Chip Barber said that he planned to stick with his starter.  “Brandon’s the one who got us here,” said Barber.  “And I’m not going to panic over one game.  We’re looking past it, and we’re focused on the next one.”

But with the series shifting north of the border, have the Pistols seized the momentum for good?  Coach Keith Shields thinks it’s possible.  “My guys were all the way awake in this one,” said Shields.  “If we keep playing like this, I don’t see who’s going to stop us.”

 

E Final - Game 2, Hamilton @ Hershey, Chocolate Center

                   1   2   3   OT   F
Hamilton           1   2   5        8
Hershey            2   0   2        4

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

Alexander       LW     3   1   4   0   4   Milton          D      0   3   3   0   1
Smyth           D      0   4   4   0   5   Valentine       C      1   1   2   0  -4
Frye            C      2   3   5   0   4   Baldwin         D      0   0   0   2   0
Risch           D      0   0   0   4  -1   Hart            RW     1   2   3   0  -4
Lafayette       RW     1   2   3   0   4   Nahorniak       LW     1   0   1   0  -4
Gunnarson       LW     1   0   1   0   1   Meloche         D      0   0   0   4  -5
Mulligan        D      0   0   0   0  -1   Kirkpatrick     C      0   1   1   0   1
Glasco          D      0   1   1   2   5   Montrechere     RW     0   0   0   0  -1
Patterson       RW     0   0   0   0  -1   Danielsen       LW     0   0   0   2  -1
Campbell        LW     1   0   1   0  -1   Aubin           D      0   0   0   0  -5
Dyomin          D      0   0   0   0   0   Kulkarov        D      0   0   0   0   0
Marais          C      0   1   1   2   1   Daniels         RW     0   0   0   2   1
Hampton         D      0   0   0   2   0   Ketterman       C      0   0   0   0  -1
Estabrook       F      0   0   0   0   1   Swindonburg     LW     1   0   1   2   1
Costello        C      0   1   1   0  -1   Cargill         D      0   0   0   0   1
----------------------------------------   ----------------------------------------
TOTALS                 8  13  21  10   4   TOTALS                 4   7  11  12  -4

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

 
Hamilton            SH    SV    G    Sv%
----------------------------------------
Koskinen            39    35    4  0.897

Hershey             SH    SV    G    Sv%
----------------------------------------
Colt                44    36    8  0.818

 

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

GOALS:
02:16  HSY  Nahorniak PP (Hart, Milton)
06:14  HSY  Swindonburg (Kirkpatrick)
06:26  HAM  Alexander (Frye)

PENALTIES:
00:27  HAM  Glasco 2:00 (Elbowing)
07:58  HSY  Daniels 2:00 (Cross-checking)

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

GOALS:
05:03  HAM  Gunnarson (Glasco, Marais)
09:20  HAM  Lafayette (Smyth)

PENALTIES:
01:10  HSY  Meloche 2:00 (High-sticking)
09:52  HAM  Risch 2:00 (Unsportsmanlike Conduct)

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

GOALS:
00:20  HAM  Alexander (Frye, Smyth)
05:19  HAM  Frye (Lafayette)
07:00  HAM  Campbell PP (Costello, Smyth)
07:16  HSY  Valentine (Milton, Hart)
10:59  HAM  Frye (Alexander, Smyth)
15:50  HSY  Hart PP (Milton, Valentine)
19:47  HAM  Alexander PP (Lafayette, Frye)

PENALTIES:
05:39  HSY  Baldwin 2:00 (Holding the Stick)
13:02  HSY  Swindonburg 2:00 (Cross-checking)
13:17  HAM  Marais 2:00 (Unsportsmanlike Conduct)
14:11  HAM  Hampton 2:00 (Tripping)
17:07  HSY  Meloche 2:00 (Slashing)
18:06  HSY  Danielsen 2:00 (Cross-checking)
19:55  HAM  Risch 2:00 (High-sticking)


 
SHOTS
------
                   1   2   3   OT   F
Hamilton          14  11  19       44
Hershey           18  10  11       39

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

Hamilton         2 for 6
Hershey          2 for 5

 
INJURIES
--------

None

 

Western Division Series (Anchorage leads, 2-0)

ANCHORAGE IGLOOS 5, SEATTLE SAILORS 1

The Seattle Sailors’ first-ever trip to the playoffs is threatening to be a short one.  The Sailors had no answer for the Anchorage Igloos – C Jake Frost and G Ty Worthington in particular – and they never recovered from another early deficit on the way to a 5-1 Game 2 defeat that left them one loss away from elimination.

“We’ve got to dig deep and find another level,” said Sailors LW Rod Argent, “or we’re going to die quick and quiet.”

The game unfolded at the fast pace that both the Sailors and Igloos prefer.  But Worthington was up to the challenge – making 37 saves – while Seattle’s Rocky Goldmire was not.

Anchorage coach Sam Castor lavished praise on his netminder.  “Ty always answers the bell, doesn’t he?” Castor marveled.  “When the spotlight is on and we need a big game, no one in this league does it better.  Nothing rattles him.  He makes our whole team better.”

As in Game 1, the first period set the tone for the game.  LW Waldo Miranda put the Igloos on the board when the game was less than two minutes old, potting a juicy rebound that Goldmire couldn’t control.  Sailors D Doron Lidjya evened it just before the midway point of the period, but then Frost took over.

When Seattle D Benny Lambert went to the box for cross-checking a minute and a half after Lidjya’s tally, Frost made the Sailors pay with a shot that ticked off of Goldmire’s glove and went in.  Then with less than two minutes left in the period, Frost got behind the Sailors defense and beat a helpless Goldmire to make it 3-1.

Frost made it a hat trick less than five minutes into the second, firing up the crowd and deflating the Sailors.  “After Frosty scored, I looked up and down [the Sailors’] bench, and their shoulders just sagged,” said LW Jerry Koons.  “They were beat already.”

Koons finished the scoring early in the third with a redirect of a Nicklas Ericsson slapper that found the roof of the net.  For much of the rest of the game, the crowd amused itself by serenading the dispirited Sailors with repeated choruses of “Na-Na Hey-Hey Kiss Him Goodbye.”

Seattle coach Harold Engellund predicted that his team would be rejuvenated for Game 3 as the series shifted to Century 21 Arena.  “Playing in front of our home fans, it should put a little pep in our step,” said Engellund.  “It’ll have to, or we’re going to be done.”

 

W Final - Game 2, Seattle @ Anchorage, Arctic Circle Arena

                   1   2   3   OT   F
Seattle            1   0   0        1
Anchorage          3   1   1        5

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

Argent          LW     0   1   1   2  -2   Koons           LW     1   1   2   0   2
Lambert         D      0   0   0   2   1   Keefe           D      0   0   0   0  -1
Beasley         C      0   1   1   0  -2   Frost           C      3   0   3   0   2
Lidjya          D      1   0   1   0   1   Martinsson      D      0   0   0   4  -1
Mango           RW     0   0   0   0  -2   Ericsson        RW     0   4   4   2   2
Lane            LW     0   0   0   0  -1   Collins         LW     0   0   0   0   0
Mortensen       D      0   0   0   0  -3   Bernard         C      0   0   0   0   0
Derringer       C      0   0   0   0   0   Frederick       D      0   1   1   2   3
Gatecliff       D      0   0   0   0  -1   Summers         RW     0   0   0   2   0
Pepper          RW     0   0   0   0   0   Miranda         LW     1   0   1   0   1
Gaspard         LW     0   0   0   0   0   Citrone         D      0   1   1   4   1
Venezio         C      0   0   0   0  -1   Theroux         C      0   1   1   0   1
Snelling        D      0   0   0   0  -1   Calligan        D      0   0   0   0   1
Durien          RW     0   0   0   0  -1   Fleury          RW     0   0   0   0   1
Gallagher       D      0   0   0   0  -3   Kerasov         D      0   1   1   0   3
----------------------------------------   ----------------------------------------
TOTALS                 1   2   3   4  -3   TOTALS                 5   9  14  14   3

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

 
Seattle             SH    SV    G    Sv%
----------------------------------------
Goldmire            38    33    5  0.868

Anchorage           SH    SV    G    Sv%
----------------------------------------
Worthington         37    36    1  0.973

 

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

GOALS:
01:41  ANC  Miranda (Theroux)
09:20  SEA  Lidjya (Argent, Beasley)
12:11  ANC  Frost PP (Ericsson, Koons)
18:04  ANC  Frost (Ericsson, Kerasov)

PENALTIES:
05:39  ANC  Citrone 2:00 (High-sticking)
09:27  ANC  Ericsson 2:00 (Slashing)
10:49  SEA  Lambert 2:00 (Cross-checking)

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

GOALS:
04:49  ANC  Frost (Frederick, Ericsson)

PENALTIES:
05:59  ANC Citrone 2:00 (Tripping)
09:01  ANC  Frederick 2:00 (Unsportsmanlike Conduct)
13:24  ANC  Summers 2:00 (Roughing)

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

GOALS:
01:26  ANC  Koons (Ericsson, Citrone)

PENALTIES:
11:28  ANC  Martinsson 4:00 (Spearing)
19:08  SEA  Argent 2:00 (High-sticking)


 
SHOTS
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                   1   2   3   OT   F
Seattle           13  11  13       37
Anchorage         16   9  13       38

 
POWER PLAYS
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Seattle          0 for 6
Anchorage        1 for 2

 
INJURIES
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None

Upstart Sailors Face Champion Igloos in West Playoff

For as long as there has been an SHL, the West has been a battle between two teams: the Anchorage Igloos and the Michigan Gray Wolves.  The teams have traded division titles since the beginning; last year, when the playoffs expanded to four teams, the Wolves won the regular-season title, only to be swept in the playoffs by the Igloos, who went on to win their second Vandy.

This year, for the first time, the Western playoffs include a representative that’s not one of those two teams.  The defending champion Igloos, by virtue of their usual second-half surge, made it to the postseason again, but the Wolves fell apart down the stretch and finished fourth.  Instead, the Seattle Sailors – a team that had never finished higher than fourth before – will be facing the Igloos in the Western playoff.

Vince Mango

“I think it’s a breath of fresh air for the league,” said Sailors RW Vince Mango.  “The old Michigan-Anchorage storyline had gotten a little stale.  We’re here to shake things up.”

As Mango noted, the Sailors bring some fresh faces to the postseason (D Hans Mortensen is the only member of their roster with SHL playoff experience) and a dramatically different approach from the hard-hitting, slow-paced Wolves.  Seattle has always depended on its fast-paced, high-flying offense, led by the colorful and controversial Mango (whose 45 goals were good for fifth in the league).  The Sailors scored 227 goals in the regular season, the second-highest total in the league.

In past seasons, the Sailors’ high-octane offense had been let down by an indifferent defense and mediocre goaltending.  This season, though, coach Harold Engellund has improved the team’s commitment in its own end, and it’s paid dividends.  In addition, Seattle got a career year out of netminder Rocky Goldmire (24-14-1, 2.90 GAA, .915 save percentage).  It adds up to a defense that’s not outstanding, but is good enough to support their scoring attack.

“This season’s been like Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” said Engellund.  “For once, we’re not too hot or too cold; we’re just right.”

In the other corner, Anchorage brings the experience of three previous playoff trips, as well as a roster that’s dripping with talent.  The team that’s scored more goals than Seattle this year?  The Igloos, with 233.  They have a league-leading nine players who reached double figures in goals, starting with C Jake Frost with 49.

Unlike Seattle, though, the Igloos don’t rely solely on their offense.  Their 2.49 GAA placed them third in the league, and Ty Worthington (29-15-4, 2.45, .920) remains one of the league’s elite goalies.  Anchorage is brilliant on special teams, too; their 19.3% power-play percentage is third in the league, while their 88.4% penalty kill percentage was second only to Michigan.

Jerry Koons

“This may be the best team we’ve ever had,” said LW Jerry Koons.  “Which is kind of scary to say, but it’s true.  We’ve been in the spotlight before, and we’re not going to let it shake us.

Each team is down a defender.  Seattle’s Woody Fairwood (12 goals, 30 assists, +26 in the regular season) is expected to return at some point during the series; Anchorage’s Sebastian Pomfret (10 goals, 22 assists, +13) is not.

Both teams are also facing the end of an era.  The Sailors are leaving Seattle and moving to Portland after this season; the players have dedicated this season’s run to their fans in the Emerald City.  The Igloos aren’t going anywhere, but salary cap constraints mean that several key contributors likely won’t be able to return next season.  “If we’re going to have to break up this team,” Frost said, “I’d really like for us to go out on a high note.”

So what will prove decisive in this matchup?  Will it be Anchorage’s skill and experience, or Seattle’s confidence and enthusiasm?  Will the Sailors win one for the fans they’re leaving behind, or will the Igloos produce one last run for their veteran roster?  On paper, Anchorage is the favorite.  On the ice, though, anything can happen.

“I know we’re the underdog here, because they’re the champs and they’ve been good for a lot of years,” said Sailors LW Rod Argent.  “But we’ve been proving the haters wrong all season, and we’re definitely ready to do it again.”

Engellund Praises Mango After Sailors Clinch Playoff

It’s a bright new day for the Seattle Sailors.  For the second year in a row, the Sailors began the year loudly insisting that they were going to be the team to beat in the West this year.  Last year, they were not able to back up their boasts with results.  This year, though, the Sailors were good to their word, getting off to a hot start and never looking back.  On Sunday, they beat the Dakota Jackalopes 5-0 to officially clinch their first-ever trip to the playoffs.

Harold Engellund

In the midst of a raucous locker-room celebration, coach Harold Engellund took a moment to lavish praise on his player, and particularly star Vince Mango.

According to team sources, Engellund and the coaching staff met privately with Mango before the season to challenge the star to up his game, noting that other players on the team look to him as an example.  Mango has long been criticized for his disinterest in defense and passing, but responded to the coach’s challenge to become a more well-rounded player.  He set a career high in assists with __, and he recorded a positive plus-minus rating for the first time this season.

After the team punched its playoff ticket, the coach went public with his admiration for Mango – a rare move for Engellund, who supports his players in front of reporters but tends to be fairly reserved emotionally.

“I love Vince Mango,” the coach began, clutching a bottle of champagne.  “He really rose to the challenge this season, and he’s the main reason we’re here now.  Before the season, we talked to him about playing hard on both ends of the ice.  Scoring is where the glory and the glamor is, but that’s not how you win hockey games.  And Vince took those words to heart, boy howdy.  He’s less focused on glory and glamor this season, and more on hard work and consistent effort, and it’s paid off big time.  And the rest of the team fell in line right behind him, like I knew they would.  Vince has shown that you can be a hockey star and a TV star at the same time.  I love the guy!”

The “TV star” remark referenced the fact that Mango began producing a reality show called “Meet the Mangos” with his girlfriend last season.  The bulk of the show’s filming took place during the offseason, and Mango has been careful to schedule his promotional appearances to avoid missing practices and team events.  While Engellund wasn’t wild about the show to begin with, his attitude has thawed since Mango has shown that he can thrive on the ice while meeting his commitments to the show.

Vince Mango

For his part, Mango expressed similarly warm feelings toward his coach.  “Coach Engellund is an old-school guy, but he’s been patient with the TV stuff, and he’s really taught me a lot about how to up my game to the next level,” said Mango.  “He’s been like a father to me this season.  I’ve found a way to build my brand while performing at a high level on the ice.  But at the end of the day, I’ve got my eyes on the Vandy.  That’s what I want more than anything, and we wouldn’t have a shot at it without Coach Engellund leading the way.”  Mango then poured champagne over his coach’s head.

Mango’s teammates agreed that the friction that once existed between the coach and the star virtually evaporated this season, and credited that to the team’s winning ways.  “Yeah, things were a little rough last year,” said Sailors LW Rod “Money” Argent.  “But that’s normal.  The way last season unfolded, we should have been mad.  Now we’re in the playoffs, and we’re all best friends again.  The best thing for chemistry is winning.”

Now that the wins are coming, Engellund and Mango seem to be the best of friends.  But will that warmth be enough to get Seattle past the mighty Anchorage Igloos in the division playoff?  Only time will tell.

Both Divisions Decided on Final Day

The SHL has had its share of close division races over the years.  Some of them have even gone all the way to final day of the regular season, such as 2016’s epic Washington-Hershey contest or last season’s showdown between Hamilton and Quebec.  But never before has the identity of both division winners been decided during the regular-season finale.  This season, however, the battles in both the East and West went the distance, setting up an epic slate of games on Saturday.

Out West, the defending champion Anchorage Igloos entered the last day one point ahead of the upstart Seattle Sailors.  The Sailors finished their season on the road against the Saskatchewan Shockers, while the Igloos hosted the Kansas City Smoke for their finale.  The Sailors, who had already clinched their first-ever playoff berth, expressed confidence heading into the game.  “We know what we need to do,” said RW Vince Mango, “now we just need to go out and do it.”

The Sailors got off to a fast start.  Shockers D Rusty Anderson went to penalty box just seven seconds into the game, and Sailors LW Rod “Money” Argent cashed in on the ensuing power play to give Seattle the early lead.  Later in the period, D Bud Gatecliff banged home a short from the point to make it 2-0.  The score remained that way throughout the rest of that period and the next, and it appeared the Sailors were set to get the victory they needed.

In the third period, however, Saskatchewan got their game in gear.  In the opening minutes of the period, LW Troy Chamberlain emerged from a scrum in front of the net and tucked a shot under the crossbar to put Saskatchewan on the board.  Just 24 seconds after that, C Cyril Perignon deflected a slapper past the glove of Seattle goalie “Jersey Mike” Ross to tie the score.  A half-minute later, the Sailors reclaimed the lead on a short-side blast by D Hans Mortensen.  But Saskatchewan wasn’t finished; less than three minutes after Mortensen’s tally, Anderson tied things back up with a blast from the slot that got between Ross’s pads.  Both teams kept the pressure on, combining for 26 shots in the period, but the tie persisted through the end of regulation.

Going into overtime, Seattle had a choice: play defensively to preserve the tie, or go for the win?  For the Sailors, it was no choice at all: “We wanted the W,” said Mango.  In the first minute of the extra session, Mango nearly won as he ripped slapshot that dribbled through the legs of Shockers goalie Shawn Stickel, but the puck stopped on the goal line and Stickel fell on it before anyone could jam it home.  Finally, just over two minutes in, Chamberlain got loose on a breakaway and went top shelf to beat Ross and win the game.

“Missed it by that much,” said Mango, holding his thumb and forefinger just slightly apart.

With nothing to play for, the Igloos lost 3-2 to Kansas City, but still won the division.  The celebration was fairly subdued, as Anchorage is focused on winning its second straight Vandy.  “Everyone in this room isn’t going to be satisfied unless we go all the way,” said Igloos C Jake Frost.  “Winning the division is nice, but it’s not enough.”

Meanwhile, in the East, the Hershey Bliss entered the finale a point up on the red-hot Hamilton Pistols.  The Bliss expected to have the division clinched already, as they’d entered the final week with a five-point lead.  But they proceeded to drop two of their three games on the week, while the Pistols won all three of theirs.  Still, all Hershey needed to do to ensure that the division would be theirs was to win or tie against the last-place Boston Badgers.

Unfortunately for the Bliss, even though they outshot the Badgers 40-26, they were unable to take the victory.  Hershey was stymied by a brilliant goaltending performance from Boston backup Carson Wagner.  Then, with just over five minutes left in a tie game, Bliss RW Noah Daniels was called for a controversial interference penalty on Boston’s Pascal Royal, one that left coach Chip Barber and the Bliss bench hollering in frustration; they contended that Royal should have been penalized for embellishment instead.  Their anger only grew more acute when Badgers LW Lix Darnholm scored what turned out to be the game-winning goal.

“I only hope that the division doesn’t wind up turning on that call,” said Barber after the game.  “You’d hate to see that.  It would be like biting into a Hershey’s Kiss and finding out someone hid a Lemonhead in the middle: a sour ending to what should be sweet.”

Hershey’s loss opened the door for the Pistols.  Standing in their way were their bitter rivals, the New York NightNick Foster‘s club was officially eliminated from contention earlier in the week, but they relished the opportunity to deny the Pistols the title.

“If you can’t make it to the promised land, the next best thing is stopping your enemy from getting there,” Foster said.  “That’s the hockey version of the Golden Rule.”

The game unfolded at a furious pace: both teams combined for an astounding 43 shots in the first period alone, with Hamilton taking 26 of them.  But New York goalie Sherman Carter was in top form, turning aside all those shots except one, a slapper from Pistols C Henry Constantine that hit the crossbar and went in.  Night C Tom Hoffman answered with a bouncing shot that hopped over Hamilton netminder Ron Mason‘s pad, creating a 1-1 tie that would last the rest of the period.

LW Misha Petronov gave New York its first lead just five seconds into the second period, bringing the crowd at Neon Sky Center to its feet, razzing Mason with sing-song chants.  Those chants didn’t last long, however, as Pistols D Albie Glasco tied it up a mere 16 seconds later with a shot from just inside the blueline that got past a screened Carter.  Just under two minutes after that, LW Steven Alexander fired home a slapper from his favorite spot between the faceoff circles to put Hamilton back on top.

In the third period, it took Night C Rod Remington just 30 seconds to rip a shot just above Mason’s blocker to tie things up again.  The New York fans resumed their sing-song taunts of Mason, later adding Alexander to their chants as he shanked shots or fired them just wide. The Pistols thought they had taken the lead when C Calvin Frye scored on a power play at the midpoint of the period, but Foster challenged and sit turned out that Hamilton had entered the offensive zone offside.  When the tally came off the board, the fans roared with delight. Hamilton had a few grade-A chances later in the period, but Carter kept stonewalling them, and the score remained deadlocked at the end of regulation.

In the overtime period, the Night focused on grinding the clock as much as possible, and the game ended in a 3-3 tie.  Hamilton and Hershey wound up with the same number of points, but Hershey had more total wins, so they won the title.  (The same thing happened to the Pistols last season, as they ended up in a tie with Quebec on points, but the Tigres had more victories.)

True to form, the Night celebrated as though they’d won the division.  As the game ended, the New York players dogpiled at center ice.  In the locker room, they sprayed each other with champagne and blasted victory music.  “It’s a thing of beauty, it really is,” said Foster, wiping the bubbly out of his eyes.  “For us to prevent the Nutcracker and his gang of clowns from winning the division, it warms my heart.  It really does.  If they wind up having to play Game 7 on enemy ice and they wind up losing to those Hershey softies, I hope they’ll think of me.”

The Pistols, naturally, didn’t appreciate New York’s attitude.  “I thought the way they played in overtime and then their little post-game party was totally lacking in class and sportsmanship,” said coach Keith Shields.  “But then, that’s typically of the way they operate.  Fortunately, we’ve got enough talent that we can win in the playoffs with or without home-ice advantage.  And since [the Night] will be watching the playoffs on TV once again, they might see if they can learn something.”

Alexander was more blunt than his coach.  “I believe in karma,” he told reporters, “and that’s why I’m confident that Foster and his boys will never win anything.  They’ve got a loser’s mentality; any team that celebrates like that for a game they didn’t even win, for a playoff spot that they didn’t get, is just pathetic.  Enjoy the golf course, you [jerks].”