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].”

2019 SHL Week 11 Transactions

  • On Monday, the Quebec Tigres activated D Ward Jones from the disabled list.  Jones had missed more than a month with an upper-body that he suffered before the All-Star break.  To make room for Jones on the active roster, the Tigres reassigned D Serge Rimbaud to their farm team in Maine.  The 18-year-old Rimbaud appeared in 13 games with Quebec, recording 8 assists and a +1 rating.
  • Also on Monday, the Hamilton Pistols placed goaltender Lasse Koskinen on the disabled list.  Koskinen suffered an upper-body injury during Sunday’s 7-4 win over New York.  He is expected to miss 2 to 3 weeks, a serious blow for a Pistols team that is trying to snatch a playoff spot in the East.  To replace Koskinen, the Pistols called up Hector Orinoco from their affiliate in Oshawa.  The 23-year-old Orinoco has gone 13-11-0 with a 2.69 GAA and a .902 save percentage with Oshawa this season.
  • On Tuesday, the Tigres placed LW Stellan Fisker on the disabled list.  Fisker suffered an upper-body injury during the Tigres’ 3-0 win over Hershey.  He is expected to miss 3 to 4 weeks.  To replace Fisker on the roster, the Tigres called up LW Carl Bleyer from their farm team in Maine.  Bleyer has put up 26 points (8 goals, 18 assists) with the Moose on the year.
  • Wednesday was the trading deadline. The following trades were consummated at the deadline:
    • The New York Night traded RW Mickey Simpson, D Andy Ruger, and a 3rd-round draft pick to the Washington Galaxy for RW Nori Takoyaki.  (More details here.)  After making the trade, the Night promoted D Craig Werner from their farm team in Utah and signed D Sheldon Harville to a minor-league contract.
    • The Galaxy traded Ruger to the Kansas City Smoke in exchange for a 3rd-round pick.
    • The Michigan Gray Wolves traded RW Cleo Rodgers, G Gus Parrish, and a 2nd-round pick to the Smoke in exchange for LW Kevin Starkey and D Scott Hexton.  (More details here.) After the trade, Kansas City called up Parrish and LW Veikko Sikanen from their CHL affiliate in Omaha, and demoted G Jim Fleetwood to Omaha. They also released G Toby Kemper.  Meanwhile, Michigan released D Igor Shovshenkov, demoted F Yann Eberlein to their affiliate in Cleveland, and signed Kemper to a minor-league deal.
    • The Saskatchewan Shockers traded C Tanner Brooks to the Dakota Jackalopes in exchange for D Rusty Anderson. (More details here.) After the trade, the Shockers demoted D Valeri Nistrumov to their farm team in Virginia.  They also released D Knute Skoeglin and signed F Marvin Cascio to a minor-league deal.
    • The Hamilton Pistols traded C Pat Collistone, D Buster Kratz, and a 1st-round pick to the Galaxy in exchange for C Eddie Costello.  (More details here.) After the trade, the Pistols called up D Russ Klemmer from their CHL affiliate in Oshawa, and demoted RW Michael Jennings to Oshawa.  They also signed D Gresham Sourwine to a minor-league contract.  The Galaxy demoted Kratz to their affiliate in Baltimore and promoted C Tucker Barnhill from Baltimore.  They also released D Sheldon Harville.
    • The Quebec Tigres traded D Kirby Hanlon, C Jacob Cunniff, and a 1st-round pick to the Jackalopes in exchange for D Matt Cherner.  (More details here.) After the trade, Dakota released RW Omar Zdurchek; Quebec then signed him to a minor-league deal.
    • Finally, the Seattle Sailors traded D Serkan Mratic to the Galaxy for D Stan Gallagher.  (More details here.)
  • On Saturday, the Jackalopes activated D Rodney Black from the injured list.  Black, who was sidelined in only his second SHL game, missed two and a half weeks with an upper-body injury. Since Dakota was one player short of the roster limit, they did not make a corresponding move.
  • Also on Saturday, the Hershey Bliss placed LW Lance Sweet on long-term injured reserve.  Sweet was carried off the ice on a stretcher after being crunched into the boards late in the second period during Saturday’s 6-3 win over Saskatchewan.  Sweet underwent surgery on his right leg, and is expected to be out for the rest of the season.  To fill Sweet’s roster spot, Hershey called up D Seth Dowd from their CHL affiliate in Milwaukee.  The 33-year-old Dowd, who last played in the SHL in 2016, recorded 27 points with Milwaukee this season.

Jackalopes Slice Payroll Again, Deal Cherner, Anderson

One of the ongoing storylines in the SHL over the last couple of seasons has been the Dakota Jackalopes’ financial stability.  The Jackalopes have steadily pared payroll over the last couple of seasons, to the point that observers around the league have wondered whether the team will survive.  Those rumors bubbled up early this season when Dakota dealt netminder Dennis Wampler a few weeks after signing him to a sizable free-agent deal.  They swirled again a couple weeks later when goalie Christien Adamsson ripped the team as “cheap” in a postgame rant.

With the trading deadline arriving this week, the Jackalopes were expected to consider trades that would reduce their payroll even further.  They did just that, trading both of their top-pairing defenseman north of the border: Matt Cherner was dealt to the Quebec Tigres, while Rusty Anderson was sent to the surging Saskatchewan Shockers.

Predictably, the trades set off another round of rumors that the Jackalopes are in financial trouble.  GM Paul Mindegaard stoutly rebuffed those rumors while announcing the deals to the press.  “Neither of these was a dump deal,” said Mindegaard.  “These are hockey trades, and we think they’re going to make us stronger in the long run.”

Mindegaard noted that both Cherner and Anderson will be free agents in this offseason, and that Dakota had concluded that they couldn’t resign either player.  “We’ve been in talks with Matt’s and Rusty’s agents for a while now, but we’ve recognized there isn’t a fit there,” the Dakota GM stated.  “And we’re not competing for a playoff spot, so we made the difficult decision to make these trades and get some value back.”

The trade of Cherner was particularly hard on both the player and the fans.  The defenseman has been with Dakota since the SHL’s inception, and he has developed over time into one of the league’s top two-way defensemen.  Cherner has also been vocal about his desire to stay with the Jackalopes.  When news of the deal came down, he broke down in front of reporters.

“I’ve really been hoping there was a way that this wouldn’t happen,” Cherner said.  “Playing for this team in front of these fans has been a real joy.  This has become my home.  I guess I’ve seen the writing on the wall for a while, but now that it’s here, I just – just can’t… sorry, I have to stop now.”

In exchange for Cherner, the Tigres sent D Kirby Hanlon, C Jacob Cunniff, and their first-round pick to Dakota.  The 21-year-old Hanlon is having a solid rookie season with Quebec, putting up 16 points (3 goals, 13 assists).  Cunniff, also 21, has been a steady contributor with Quebec’s CHL affiliate (12 goals, 20 assists on the season), and he addresses a position of need for the Jackalopes, who are very weak in the middle.

“Matt’s one of the best defensemen in the league, and we weren’t going to let him go for cheap,” said Mindegaard.  “We got two very promising young guys – a quality blueliner and a top prospect center – plus a first.  I’ll stand behind that.”

Quebec, meanwhile, views Cherner as just the shot in the arm they need to make up ground in the East playoff race.  “Our identity is built around defense first,” said Tigres GM Pete Gondret.  “We’ve struggled a bit with keeping guys healthy, but we’ve added the best player available at the deadline.  I can’t wait to see what he achieves with us.”

To acquire Anderson, the Shockers parted with C Tanner Brooks.  The 22-year-old appeared in the CHL All-Star game; he’s known as strong on defense, and his offensive game has blossomed this season.  He’s widely regarded as the best center who hadn’t yet made the SHL.

“Tanner is a player we’ve coveted for a long time,” said Mindegaard.  “Between him and Jake Cunniff, we’ve gotten a lot stronger in our weakest area.  We’ve taken a step back on the blueline, but we have a lot of defensive prospects in the pipeline.”

This is the first time Saskatchewan has been a buyer at the deadline, and GM Cooper Matthews appreciates his haul.  “Rusty Anderson fits right in with our blueline corps, and strengthens us in an area where we’re already strong,” Matthews told reporters.  “It was a tough decision to part with Tanner, and I know I probably made [the Jackalopes] crazy going back and forth on that.  But we see an opportunity here, and we’re going for it.”

It must be noted that with the deals, the Jackalopes shaved about $2 million off of a payroll that was already second-lowest in the league.  Mindegaard stressed that he plans to work quickly to sign extensions with their newly-acquired players, as well as key members of their existing team.  “

“We’re not going broke, folks,” said the Dakota GM.  “Sorry to disappoint you, but it’s fake news.”

Bellmore Causes Ruckus at Dakota Faith Day

This week, the Dakota Jackalopes held a “Faith Day” celebration, which is a fairly common occurrence in the SHL and in other leagues.  This particular celebration, however, was anything but common, thanks to C Harvey Bellmore.  The quirky center, who has a reputation as a jokester, crashed the ceremony and put on a performance that startled and angered the fans and left the team scrambling to apologize and make amends.

Tuesday’s ceremony during the Jackalopes’ game against the Michigan Gray Wolves initially unfolded according to plan.  A local gospel choir sang the national anthem and performed a concert after the game.  The Jackalopes’ team chaplain led several players and the hundreds of fans in attendance in a prayer circle.

The highlight of the event came when several Dakota players stepped up to talk about their belief and how it helps them in their athletic careers.  Ds Rusty Anderson and Terry Hendricks and netminder Christien Adamsson all gave their testimony and talked about how their faith in Jesus Christ strengthened their lives on and off the ice. Their speeches were received warmly by the fans, with frequent applause and several shouted “amens.”

Harvey Bellmore

Once the other players had said their piece, Bellmore stepped forward and asked to speak.  He had not been scheduled to appear, but the emcee, Lutheran pastor Mark Emerlein, invited him to come forward.

Bellmore began by saying, “I’ve never really talked about my faith before, but I felt like this was the right time for me to do it.  My father was a gambler and my mother was a bartender, so it’s fair to say that Satan was my nanny.”  Some fans murmured agreement.  “But that’s all changed.  Now, the source of all my strength, my courage, everything that makes me the man I am today comes from right here.”  At this point, Bellmore reached into his pocket.  The fans assumed he was pulling out a Bible, but what he actually withdrew was a hip flask.  He took a hearty swig as the fans began buzzing with confusion.

“That’s right, folks, my religion is booze!” Bellmore shouted.  “Whenever I run into a rough patch in my life, or when I need a little something extra to get the winning goal or go after that fine-looking chick in the bar… I reach for the bottle!  That’s all the faith I need!”

The center continued, “Let me tell you what else I believe.”  Bellmore then launched into Crash Davis’ famous (and obscene) speech from the movie Bull Durham.  When he got to the part about “long, slow, deep, soft, wet kisses that last three days,” Emerlein and Anderson escorted him away as the fans booed.

GM Paul Mindegaard apologized profusely to the fans, many of whom called or emailed the Jackalopes front office to express their displeasure.  “Obviously, the point of Faith Day is to celebrate faith and belief, not to ridicule it,” said Mindegaard.  “On behalf of the organization, I apologize to everyone who was there and all our fans who believe.  Harvey Bellmore likes to make jokes, but this one was over the line, and he knows that.”  In addition, the team suspended him for their next game against the Saskatchewan Shockers.

When asked if he was offended by Bellmore’s antics, Anderson laughed.  “Nah, I get it.  Harvey’s Harvey,” said the Dakota blueliner.  “He’s a total screwball.  Coo-coo bananas, you know?  He didn’t mean anything by it.  But yeah, he really ruffled some feathers out there.  Hoo boy.”

Some speculated that Bellmore’s stunt was an attempt to get the rebuilding Jackalopes to trade him.  Bellmore denied this, and sounded a mildly penitent note after the suspension was announced.  “They told me I was a bad boy, and that I made a lot of people mad,” said the center.  “And I feel bad about that, I really do.  I wasn’t trying to make fun of anyone’s beliefs.”

He then went on to question the focus of the event.  “But I thought that Faith Day was missing some other perspectives.  I mean, all the people who talked were Christians.  They’re not the only ones with faith, right?  I mean, nobody got up and talked about how being Jewish or Muslim or whatever made them better at sports.  So I thought I’d come in with a different opinion.  But I realize now it was dumb. They told me it was dumb, which makes sense, because I’m dumb.  So don’t listen to me, okay?”

Engellund On Hot Seat Again

Groundhog Day seems to be coming early for the Dakota Jackalopes and coach Harold Engellund this season.  Last year, Dakota came into the season with high expectations.  But when they stumbled out of the gate with a sub-.500 record, Engellund’s job was reported to be in jeopardy.  Shortly thereafter, the team rallied around their coach and went on a winning streak, and Engellund was spared.  This season, the Jackalopes spent heavily on trades and free agents and again came into the season expecting great things.  But they’re off to a sub-.500 start again, and Engellund is reportedly on the hot seat… again.

Harold Engellund

“The sense here is that ownership has spent a lot of money building a contender,” said a team source.  “And we’re still seeing average results.  At some point, you’ve got to start wondering if Harold is the coach that can get us to the next level.”

After the Jackalopes allowed six goals in the third period in a 7-4 loss to Anchorage, Engellund was asked about his job security.  “It’s not like I’m not used to this,” said the coach.  “This is a results-based business, and we’re not having the kind of results that would make me secure.  I know that the only way you stop the rumors is by winning.”

Prior to the season, the Jackalopes made perhaps more moves to improve than any other team in the league.  They bolstered their already-potent offense by trading for C Mike Rivera from New York, and aimed to shore up their defense by signing Rusty Anderson from Washington and acquiring Scott Hexton from Hershey.

The results?  Dakota’s offense has been even better than last year; their 104 goals are the most in the league.  Rivera (7 goals, 20 assists) has fit right in with the Jackalopes’ fast-paced attack.  But the defense, if anything, has taken a step back.  They’ve allowed 94 goals (they allowed 86 through this point last year).  The blueline corps itself has posted similar stats to last season; it’s the goaltending that has slipped a notch.

Last season, one of the points of contention between Engellund and the Dakota front office revolved around the net.  Engellund reportedly preferred veteran Jesse Clarkson, while the front office wanted prospect Christien Adamsson to get more playing time.  The team wound up trading Clarkson at the deadline, clearing the way for Adamsson (in conjunction with another youngster, Buzz Carson, who came over in the Clarkson deal).  The duo has combined to post an .899 save percentage; only cellar-dwelling Seattle is worse.

It all adds up to a so-so team, which is not what small-market Dakota wants to see.  The team is reportedly losing money at a concerning rate, and if the team isn’t going to challenge for the Vandy in its current form, ownership would like to tighten its belt and cut payroll.  Others within the front office, though, think that the Jackalopes can contend with the current roster, and that Engellund isn’t a strong enough leader to get the most out of the team.

Engellund remains popular with the players, a definite point in his favor.  But some in the organization feel that he is too close to the players, and is unwilling to call them out or push them hard.

“I don’t think there’s any magic bullet here,” said the coach.  “It’s a tough division, and Michigan and Anchorage set a high bar.  But that’s the bar we’ve got to clear.”

Asked if he was tired of the constant speculation about his employment status, Engellund said, “Well, yeah, it gets old.  At some point, you want to fish or cut bait.  But that’s how it is in this line of work.  There’s no tenure in coaching, no life appointment.  You do the job or you’re out the door.”

Jackalopes LW “Flyin’ Ryan” Airston strongly defended his coach this week.  “If you ask around the locker room, you’ll find out in a hurry that we’re all behind Coach Engellund 100%,” said Airston.  “Every one of us is happy that he’s in charge.  I’m sick of these rumors coming out of nowhere that Coach Engellund needs to go.  If the front office isn’t happy, they should man up and say it in public.  And don’t point the finger at Coach Engellund.  He’s not the problem.”

But Engellund himself said it best: It’s a results-based business.  As long as ownership expects a championship contender and the Jackalopes don’t deliver, the coach and players alike will be on the hot seat.

2016 SHL Finals – Game 4

Michigan SmallWashington SmallMICHIGAN GRAY WOLVES 3, WASHINGTON GALAXY 2 (OT)

Whatever else you might say Game 4 of the SHL Finals, it finished off with a bang.  The first three games of the series have followed a familiar pattern: two periods of tense, grinding, defense-first play, followed by a third period of wide-open firewagon hockey.  In Game 4, the high-flying action was compressed into the final 5 minutes, as a slow-paced game turned frenetic at the end.  It took more than the allotted 60 minutes, but ultimately the Michigan Gray Wolves, thanks to a little-used reserve, pulled out a 3-2 overtime victory over the Washington Galaxy.  Michigan moved within a single win of the Vandy, but it came at a steep cost, as the Wolves lost a key offensive playmaker in C Warren Marlow.

“We got the W, and that’s what counts the most,” said Michigan coach Ron Wright.  “But losing Warren… that’s a real blow.”

The Wolves notched their win thanks to a little-used reserve.  Under ordinary circumstances, F Isaac Preston wouldn’t be expected to play at all in the Finals.  He played in only 17 games this season, recording 3 assists and no goals.  But when LW Vladimir Beruschko suffered an injury in the last week of the season, Preston was thrust into a starting spot.

“My first priority was, don’t embarrass myself or the team,” said Preston.

The reserve forward made very little impact through the first three games.  But in this game, Preston came through when it counted.  About a minute into overtime, Michigan D Bjorn Tollefson faked a slapshot from the left faceoff circle.  He got Galaxy G Roger Orion to commit, then slid a pass over to Preston.  With a wide-open net, Preston buried the game-winning shot under the crossbar.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been that open, not even in practice,” said Preston.  “If I’d missed it, I’m pretty sure my teammates would have beaten me to death.

Preston’s winner capped a flurry in the final five minutes of frenzied action, which stood in stark contrast to most of the play up to that point.  Michigan struggled all game to enter the zone and get shots on net, much as Washington had done in the first two games.  Michigan got off only 20 shots in the entire game, including a season-low four in a brutal second period.  “It’s like they watched our game film from the first two and turned our own game plan against us,” said Wolves C Hunter Bailes.

The Galaxy, meanwhile, were able to generate more offense, but had a devil of a time getting pucks past Wolves goalie Dirk Lundquist.  “You can’t fake him out, you can’t sneak one under him, you can’t fool him, nothing,” said Galaxy LW Casey Thurman.  “I think he must be able to read minds or something.”

Late in the first period, Washington C Eddie Costello beat Lundquist on a breakaway to give the Galaxy the lead.  Early in the third, Bailes struck on the power play to tie it up.  But that was it for offense… at least until the final five minutes.

With three and a half minutes left in regulation, Galaxy LW Walt Camernitz accidentally caught Marlow under the eye with a high stick.  On the resulting power play, Wolves C Wesley Knight deflected a slapshot past Orion to put Michigan ahead 2-1.

“That’s on me,” said Camernitz.  “In that situation, late in a close game, I can’t take a penalty like that.  Got to maintain better control of my stick.”

A disconsolate silence fell over Constellation Center, as the Galaxy seemed doomed to a heartbreaking defeat.  But in the waning seconds of the game, Washington launched a final desperate rush.  A Thurman slapshot got lost in a scrum in front of the net.  The puck bounced between bodies as Lundquist tried to get a glove on it.  Finally, with four seconds left, the puck squirted behind Lundquist and over the goal line.  Wright challenged the goal, claiming that a Galaxy player had kicked it in.  After several minutes of review, the referees upheld the goal, as the crowd exploded with delight. Costello got credit for the tally.

Fortunately for the Wolves, they prevailed in overtime, although with a cost.  Marlow made the initial pass that led to Michigan’s winning goal, but he paid for it when Galaxy D Rusty Anderson laid a devastating hit on him and Marlow’s head hit the ice.  After the game, he entered the league’s concussion protocol.  Wright sounded doubtful that his second-line center would be able to return in the series.

“We’ll have to reevaluate him tomorrow and see where things stand,” said the coach.

The Galaxy suffered a loss as well, with D Leonard Wright being sidelined after taking a rough open-ice hit.  He suffered an upper-body injury, and Washington coach Rodney Reagle confirmed that he is likely to miss the rest of the series.

The Galaxy face an uphill battle, having to win the next three games in a row with half of their top defensive pairing on the shelf.  “I’ve already got Bartlett’s Book of Inspiring Sports Cliches by my bedside,” said Reagle.  “I’ll be working on my big speech tomorrow morning.”

Continue reading “2016 SHL Finals – Game 4”

2016 SHL Finals – Game 3

Washington SmallMichigan SmallWASHINGTON GALAXY 2, MICHIGAN GRAY WOLVES 1

This is a game that the Washington Galaxy needed to win.  In the first two games of the SHL Finals, the Galaxy’s offense had been completely shut down by the defense of the Michigan Gray Wolves and their red-hot goalie, Dirk “The Bear” Lundquist.  For Game 3, the action shifted back to Constellation Center, and Washington hoped that the energy of the home crowd would ignite their offense.  They got what they needed, barely, squeaking out a 2-1 win that cut Michigan’s lead in the series to one game.

“That’s our kind of game!” said Galaxy RW Jefferson McNeely, who scored both of the home team’s goals.  “Those last two games, it just feels like we’ve been skating into a wall at the blue line.  Today we broke through, and we proved to ourselves that we can do it.  I think the momentum of this series is shifting.”

The first half of this game resembled Game 2, with both Lundquist and Washington netminder Roger Orion in top form and keeping it scoreless. Even then, though, there was an obvious difference.  Whereas Michigan dominated play in the first two periods of the last game, Washington had the better of things in this contest, outshooting Michigan 21-12 over the first two frames.  “We’d been letting them push us around, especially between the blue lines,” said Galaxy D Rusty Anderson.  “In this game, we decided to see if we could use our speed to our advantage, outrace their checks a bit.  And it worked.”

The Galaxy beat Lundquist for the first time all series with less than four minutes left in the second, as McNeely and LW Casey Thurman sprung loose on a breakaway, with McNeely beating the Wolves goalie stick-side.  “He was definitely in our heads a bit,” admitted the Galaxy star.  “Getting one by him was huge for us psychologically.  It’s like, ‘Hey, we can win this thing.'”

In another parallel to Game 2, both teams picked up their offense in the final period, combining for 28 shots.  With the Galaxy clinging to their 1-0 lead, the arena was buzzing with excitement, but the fans’ cheers had a nervous edge.  “We knew Michigan was saving their best for the end, and we had to be ready to match it,” said McNeely.

Sure enough, a little more than halfway through the period, Wolves LW Jorma Seppa fired a shot through traffic that tipped off of C Hunter Bailes‘ stick and bounced between Orion’s legs, tying the score.  “Lucky bastards,” said Anderson.  “They fling a lousy slapper that bounces off like five different guys and dribbles into the net.”  But although Michigan’s strike silenced the crowd, it didn’t dampen the Galaxy’s enthusiasm.

Washington got its break less than a minute later when Wolves D Frank Mudrick got tangled up with Galaxy RW Nori Takoyaki and was whistled for a tripping minor.  Michigan coach Ron Wright protested the call vigorously, but to no avail.  Michigan managed to kill off the penalty, but Washington kept the puck in the offensive end after Mudrick exited the penalty box, and McNeely blasted home the go-ahead tally from the right faceoff circle.

“They’d been crashing down on me during the whole PP, and I wasn’t getting any good looks,” said McNeely.  “But then the puck took a lucky bounce over to me and I was wide open, and I didn’t miss.”

The Galaxy weren’t quite out of the woods, as Anderson took a cross-checking call with a minute and a half left in the game.  But Washington managed to fight off the Wolves’ last gasp and held on for the win.

“That was fun!” said Washington coach Rodney Reagle.  “That was like Hoosiers, only the hockey version.  I ought to look into optioning the movie rights for that game.  I hope I can get Tom Hanks to play me.”

The Galaxy have a chance to tie the series tomorrow in Game 4, while the Wolves will look to grab a commanding 3-1 lead.

Continue reading “2016 SHL Finals – Game 3”