East Captures First All-Star Win

Traditionally, the West has been considered the stronger of the SHL’s two divisions.  In recent seasons, however, the East has been getting stronger.  They’ve won two of the last three Vandys.  During the most recent round of interdivisional play leading into the break, the Easthad a winning percentage above the .600 mark.  One thing the East had never done, however, was win an All-Star Game.  This year, they hoped to walk into the Kansas City Smoke‘s Heartland Telecom Center and skate away with the win.

Apparently, the fourth time was the charm.  Powered by a hat trick from Hershey Bliss RW Christopher Hart, the East dominated the first two periods and survived a late rally from the West to claim a 5-3 victory.

“Finally, victory is ours!” shouted Hamilton Pistols RW Claude Lafayette, who handed out celebratory cigars to his teammates after the game.  “We’ve been waiting a while for this one.”

As befits Kansas City’s reputation for music, the pregame skate was accompanied by a string of songs with ties to the city.  The tunes spanned the decades, from Big Joe Turner and Charlie Parker to modern-day blues guitarist Samantha Fish.  During player introductions, the Western team skated out to Wilbert Harrison’s “Goin’ to Kansas City,” while the Eastern squad emerged to the theme from “Rawhide,” a nod to the city’s connections to the livestock industry.

Eastern coach Keith Shields was determined that his team get off to a strong start.  Last year, the West scored three times in as many minutes, essentially burying the East’s hope of victory.  “I wanted to do to [the West] what they did to us last time,” said Shields.  And that is essentially what his team did.

Hart opened the scoring just under two minutes into the game, streaking to the net and redirecting a shot from Pistols C Calvin Frye over sprawling Western goalie Ty Worthington.  Approximately one hundred seconds later, Frye got a goal of his own when Worthington allowed a juicy rebound on a shot by Hershey’s Lance Sweet and Frye stuffed it home on the short side.  Then around the six-minute mark, Hart and Sweet got loose on a breakaway, just as if they were on the Love Line back in Hershey.  Sweet faked a slapshot and passed it to Hart, who went top shelf to make it 3-0.

“The boys ran the game plan to perfection,” said Shields.  “I loved it!”

The West got one back on a strike from the slot by Michigan Gray Wolves C Hunter Bailes, but they closed out the first period trailing by two.  But lest the three-time champs get any ideas about rallying, the East got back on the scoring train at the start of the second.  Pistols LW Steven Alexander got on the board on a thundering slapper from the left faceoff circle to restore the East’s three-goal lead.  Then two and a half minutes later, Hart struck again, this time on a power-play wraparound shot that slipped between Worthington’s pad and the pole.

Even though the home team now trailed 5-1, the fans tossed their hats onto the ice to honor Hart’s achievement.  One of them was a cowboy hat; Sweet picked that one up and slapped it on Hart’s head.  The Hershey wing let loose with a “Yeehaw!” and fired his invisible six-shooters into the air.

West coach Sam Castor wasn’t willing to give up, in spite of the sizable deficit, and he directed his team to play a more wide-open style in the third period.  The East responded in kind, and the result was a frantic frame in which the teams combined for 47 shots.  The West’s relief goalie, the Portland Bluebacks‘ Jesse Clarkson, turned aside all 27 Eastern shots.  The Western offense, on the other hand, had more success against the East’s backup netminder, Mike Ross of the New York Night.  Less than four minutes into the final period, the West narrowed the deficit to two with goals from D Sebastian Pomfret and C Tom Hoffman, teammates on Castor’s Anchorage Igloos.  But Ross stopped the West’s remaining shots, and the East kept the action in the other end for long stretches over the last ten minutes, sealing their victory.

Hart’s three-goal performance made him the unanimous choice for All-Star MVP honors.  As a reward for the selection, the Bliss star received a Kia Seltos SUV, along with a gift package of barbecue sauces from some of Kansas City’s best-known joints.  “The last time we were in KC, I tried burnt ends for the first time,” said Hart.  “I’m looking forward to making some ‘cue of my own at home.”

In the victorious Eastern locker room, the players smoked their cigars and doused each other with beer and hard seltzer.  “Don’t mess with the Beast Division, baby!” shouted Alexander.  “The world turned upside down!”

The East will try to make it two in a row next year on home ice, as next year’s game is north of the border at Quebec’s Centre Citadelle.

Continue reading “East Captures First All-Star Win”

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.

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.”

2019 SHL Week 16 Transactions

  • On Wednesday, the Anchorage Igloos placed D Sebastian Pomfret on the injured list.  Pomfret suffered a lower-body injury after being upended by a rough check during Tuesday’s 5-1 loss to Michigan.  The loss of the 24-year-old blueliner is a tough blow for Anchorage; he produced 32 points (10 goals, 22 assists) and a +13 rating during the regular season.  He is certain to miss the divisional round of the playoffs, and it is unclear whether he might be able to return for the Finals.  Anchorage replaced Pomfret on the postseason roster with D Laszlo Cierny.  The 20-year-old rookie had a strong season with the Igloos’ farm club in Minnesota, putting up 36 points (9 goals, 27 assists).

2019 SHL Western All-Star Roster

The roster for the Western Division in the 2019 SHL All-Star Game, as announced by coach Sam Castor, was as follows:

First Line

LW: Jerry Koons, AnchorageKoons receives his third All-Star selection, and was voted into the starting lineup for the second time, winning by about 10,000 votes over Seattle’s Rod Argent.  Last season, Koons won All-Star MVP honors after scoring a pair of goals in the West’s 9-2 rout.  The Igloos have been red-hot lately, and Koons has been a key driver of their surge.  He’s in the league’s top 10 in points (38) and assists (24).

D: Fritz Kronstein, Michigan.  There are apparently three certainties in life: death, taxes, and the election of the Wolves’ top defensive pairing to the All-Star Game.  Kronstein and teammate Max Madison will the West’s starting defensive pair for the third straight season.  For the second straight year, Kronstein received the most votes of any defenseman in the West.  The 26-year-old continues to be among the SHL’s best two-way blueliners; he’s among the league’s top 10 in assists with 26, and has a solid +11 rating to boot.  In addition, he retains his reputation as a heavy hitter and ferocious fighter when challenged.

C: Jake Frost, Anchorage.  Like Kronstein and Madison, Frost has been a fixture in the starting lineup at every All-Star Game.  He cruised to victory once again this year, getting over 25,000 more votes than his nearest competitor.  As the Igloos have gotten stronger over the last month or so, Frost has as well.  The tall, cool center has always been among the league’s top scorers, and his 21 goals this season place him fourth in the league.  “I thought Frosty might be getting a little tired of never getting the All-Star break off,” quipped Castor, “but he seems to like it just fine.”

D: “Mad Max” Madison, Michigan.  Last season, Madison nearly missed the All-Star Game with a lower-back injury, but recovered just in time to play in the game in front of his home crowd.  This season, Madison is in excellent health (although he missed a week early in the season with a nagging lower-body issue) and is ready to make his third straight All-Star start.  The son of an amateur boxer, Madison is renowned as one of the league’s meanest and most dangerous fighters.  But he’s not just a goon; he also handles the puck responsibly.  He’s recorded 16 points (4 goals, 12 assists) so far in the 2019 season.

RW: Nicklas Ericsson, Anchorage.  For the first time, all three members of the Igloos’ top line will be skating together in the All-Star Game.  The sweet-skating Swede makes his third All-Star appearance, and makes it to the starting lineup for the second time, beating Seattle’s Vince Mango by less than 800 votes.  Ericsson’s claim to fame is his ability to pass and set up scores by his linemates, and this season is no exception; his 36 assists make him #2 in the SHL in that category.  “I’m looking forward to these guys working their All-Star magic together,” said Castor.

 

Second Line

LW: Les Collins, Anchorage.  In a move that raised a few eyebrows around the league, Castor chose his own second-line player, Collins, instead of other top left wingers like Argent or Saskatchewan’s Troy Chamberlain.  It’s the first All-Star bid for Collins, and Castor pointed out that he is having a terrific contract year, putting up 35 points (13 goals, 22 assists) and a +14 rating (among the SHL’s top ten).  He even spent some time on Anchorage’s top line, skating beside Frost and Ericsson.  “I think Les would a top-line guy for a lot of teams,” said Castor.  “He’s done it for us.  I’d put him against the best wingers out there.”

D: Wyatt Barnes, SaskatchewanBarnes has become an All-Star regular; this is his third appearance.  The Shockers are in the thick of the playoff chase this season, and Barnes and teammate Chris Oflyng have combined to form perhaps the SHL’s most dynamic defensive pairing.  Barnes is tied for the team lead in assists with 20, and has added six goals into the bargain.  While Oflyng is an even more potent offensive force, Barnes is a lockdown defender, frustrating opponents’ zone entries and blocking shooting lanes again and again.  It’s no surprise that Barnes and Oflyng are tied for the team lead in plus-minus at +8.

C: Napoleon Beasley, SeattleEarlier in his career, Beasley was trapped on a weak Saskatchewan club, and constantly faced whispers that he only played because of his father Myron, who coached the team.  After signing with the Sailors in the offseason, Beasley is demonstrating that he is a thoroughly deserving star in his own right.  It’s a breakout season for Seattle, which would qualify for its first-ever playoff berth if the season ended today, and also for Beasley, who has put up 13 goals and 19 assists on the season so far.  It all adds up to Beasley’s first trip to the All-Star Game.

D: Sebastian Pomfret, Anchorage.  Castor certainly wasn’t shy about selecting his own players to the team; he selected three Igloos to go along with the three already in the starting lineup.  “Hey, we are the defending division champs,” he noted.  The 24-year-old Pomfret signed a 4-year, $3.6 million extension in the offseason, and he’s living up to it so far.  He’s second among Anchorage blueliners with 20 points (8 goals, 12 assists), and his +13 rating is tied for the best among Igloos defensemen.

RW: Vince Mango, Seattle.  The high-scoring winger and reality television star makes his second All-Star appearance after winning a starting spot in 2018.  Mango has long been knocked for his poor defense and his love of flashy on-ice celebrations, but with the Sailors having their best year ever, their star is finally earning the grudging respect of old-time fans.  He still contributes primarily with his offense, as he’s in the SHL’s top ten for points (37) and goals (19).  But his assist total is up, and he’s more dialed in on defense than in years past.  He remains as colorful as ever, though; he promised that he’s working on a “special one-of-a-kind goal celebration” for the All-Star contest.

 

Third Line

LW: “Flyin’ Ryan” Airston, DakotaAirston gets an All-Star nod for the second time; he was in the West’s starting lineup in 2017.  This year, he is the sole Jackalopes player to receive the honor, which is fitting given the dismal season they’ve had so far.  In spite of missing nearly three weeks with an upper-body injury, Airston has still managed to out up 25 points (11 goals, 14 assists), which places him one off the team lead.  As Dakota looks to cut payroll amid rumors of serious financial trouble, Airston is practically the only team star who’s not being shopped.

D: Bastien Chouinard, Kansas CityThe 20-year-old rookie blueliner made the cut as one of the Smoke’s two All-Star representatives.  Although Boston’s Alain Beauchesne is the consensus Rookie of the Year favorite, Chouinard may give him a run for his money.  The young Quebecois D-man is putting up surprising offensive numbers (5 goals, 19 assists) to back up a give-no-quarter defensive style that has him tied for second in the NHL in penalty minutes, with 60.  “Defensemen are a pretty rough bunch, but that guy’s legitimately scary,” said Smoke coach Randy Bergner of Chouinard.  “If I had to go down a dark alley at midnight, I’d want him next to me.”

C: Elliott Rafferty, Saskatchewan.  Many league insiders thought Rafferty’s teammate Lars Karlsson would get this spot, but Castor instead tapped Rafferty to make his All-Star debut.  Karlsson has the big contract and the superior pedigree, but Rafferty’s got the better numbers this season.  He leads the Shockers with 32 points (12 goals, 20 assists), and he’s one of only three forwards on Saskatchewan with a positive plus-minus (+3).  Rafferty’s breakout performance earned him Player of the Week honors a couple weeks before the break; that might have influenced Castor’s thinking.

D: Woody Fairwood, Seattle.  Amid a crowded field of strong two-way defensemen, Castor made a somewhat unexpected pick in tapping the 23-year-old Fairwood as another first-time All-Star.  Prior to this season, Fairwood was perhaps best known around the league for the time he sat on the opposing goalie and flung the puck into the net by hand.  But this year, he’s earning notice for his high caliber of play.  In the first half, he produced 26 points (8 goals, 18 assists).  Even more impressive, his +19 rating is second-best in the league.  “Good things happen when Woody’s on the ice,” said Sailors coach Harold Engellund.  “That’s all there is to it.”

RW: Zachary Merula, Kansas City.  Yet another All-Star newcomer, the 23-year-old Merula joins teammate Chouinard on the bottom line.  Merula had an impressive rookie season, and he looks to be on track to eclipse that performance in his sophomore year.  He is KC’s second highest point-scorer with 28 (13 goals, 15 assists).  And he doesn’t shy away from rough play, either, as his 45 penalty minutes will attest.

 

Goalies

Dirk “The Bear” Lindquist, Michigan.  Who else?  The lusciously-bearded Lundquist regularly tops the list of SHL goaltenders, both in terms of statistics and fan support.  Even though Michigan has slipped a bit after a dominant start, Lundquist remains the king of the Western crease, having almost twice as many votes as his nearest competitor.  As usual, he leads the league in wins (with 16) and in save percentage (.942).  His 1.64 goals-against average is second only to his rarely-used backup, Art Cowan.

Ty Worthington, Anchorage.  In each of the past two years, Worthington has been Lundquist’s backup on the Western squad.  Castor decided to keep the tradition going for 2019, despite considerable support for Seattle’s Rocky Goldmire, who is having a career season.  Unlike many of his Igloos teammates, who started slow and then get hot, Worthington has been strong throughout the first half.  He is tied with Hershey’s Brandon Colt for second-most goaltender wins, with 14.  His 2.38 GAA placed his among the league’s top five.

2018 SHL Division Playoff – Game 3

Western Division Series

ANCHORAGE IGLOOS 5, MICHIGAN GRAY WOLVES 1

Even though the Anchorage Igloos won the first two games of their best-of-five series against the Michigan Gray Wolves on the road and were all but certain to advance to the SHL Finals, C Jake Frost had one message for his teammates before today’s Game 3.  “I want us to go out and take care of business tonight,” Frost said.  “There’s a damn good team over in the other locker room, and we shouldn’t give them a chance to get back in it.  Let’s end it now.”

End it the Igloos did, and in blowout fashion.  They shelled Wolves goalie Dirk Lundquist – Frost, who scored twice, led the way – and came away with a 5-1 win, completing a stunning sweep that few would have predicted before the series began.

“They were geared up for a fight, and we weren’t,” said Michigan RW Oskar Denison.  “They ran us right off the ice.”

Throughout the series, Anchorage thrived by playing at a faster pace than Michigan could handle.
In Game 3, the Wolves were determined to prevent the first-period ambush that they’d suffered in the first two contests.  They succeeded in limiting the Igloos to 12 shots in the period, and emerged with a scoreless tie – the first time all series that they didn’t trail after the opening stanza.

“We hadn’t let them tilt the ice on us,” Wolves C Warren Marlow said of the first period.  “But we knew we needed to go out and score a couple, and seize the momentum.”

Unfortunately for Michigan, the Igloos quickly turned the tide in their favor in the second period.  About three minutes in, LW Les Collins won the race for a loose puck at center ice, and he and RW Remi Montrechere sped up the ice on a breakaway.  Montrechere finished the rush with a beautiful shot in the upper right corner of the net to make it 1-0.

“That goal was huge,” said Igloos coach Sam Castor.  “It lit up the crowd, lit up our bench, got everybody going.”

A few minutes later, the Anchorage third line – which tormented the Wolves all series – struck again.  They set up an extended shift in the offensive zone and ran Michigan ragged.  After almost two full minutes of zone time, LW Waldo Miranda buried a slapper for a two-goal lead.

The frustrated Wolves took a couple penalties in quick succession.  They killed off the ensuing 5-on-3 situation, but struggled to get the puck out of their own end.  Finally, Frost fired a bullet that deflected off of Lundquist’s glove and into the net, giving Anchorage a 3-0 advantage.  The fans at Arctic Circle Arena began serenading Lundquist’s name as a sing-song taunt.

“You could just see [the Wolves’] heads sagging on the bench after that,” said Frost.  “I think we broke them right there.”

It was bad enough that Michigan coach Ron Wright considered pulling his elite netminder.  “I wanted to spare him,” said the coach.  “But I knew that yanking him would basically be waving the white flag, and I wasn’t going to do that.”

Lundquist stayed in the game, and three minutes into the third, Frost beat him again on a deflection that went under his blocker.

“I failed my teammates, in this game and in this series,” said the Wolves goaltender.  “My team needed me to be at my best, and I wasn’t.”

The Wolves finally played with speed and desperation after that, but it was far too late.  RW Benoit Poulin finally broke the shutout midway through the third, pushing the puck over the goal line after a scrum in front of the crease.  But Igloos RW Nicklas Ericsson struck back on the power play a minute and a half later to restore Anchorage’s four-goal edge.

During the postgame celebration, the Igloos seemed a bit shocked at their conquest.  “We told ourselves all along that we matched up great with [the Wolves],” said D Sebastian Pomfret.  “But we weren’t expecting it to be… this easy.”

Castor lauded his team for a heroic effort.  “I told my boys that if we were going to win this, we’d have to give them hell,” Castor told reporters.  “And we did just that.  We gave them hell for three straight games.  I couldn’t be prouder.”

He did note that the Igloos would be moving on to the the Finals without Montechere, who exited in the third period with an upper-body injury and is expected to miss the rest of the season.  “Now we’ve got to go win the Vandy for Remi,” Castor said.

Wright, meanwhile, was somber as he contemplated his team’s loss.  “Congratulations to Anchorage for playing a terrific series,” the Michigan coach said.  “They really took it to us.  We failed in every aspect of the game, and I take responsibility for that.  We seemed to think we were bulletproof because we had a good regular season.  Well, now we’ll have all offseason to think about how we came up short, and how we can come back stronger next year.”

W Final - Game 3, Michigan @ Anchorage, Arctic Circle Arena

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

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

Douglas         LW     0   0   0   0  -1   Koons           LW     0   2   2   4   1
Kronstein       D      0   0   0   2  -3   Keefe           D      0   2   2   2   3
Madison         D      0   0   0   0  -3   Frost           C      2   0   2   0   1
Lunsford        RW     0   0   0   0  -1   Martinsson      D      0   1   1   0   0
Beruschko       LW     0   0   0   2  -1   Ericsson        RW     1   2   3   0   1
Mudrick         D      0   1   1   2   0   Collins         LW     0   1   1   2   1
Marlow          C      0   1   1   0  -1   Pomfret         D      0   1   1   0   3
Zabielski       D      0   0   0   2   0   Bernard         C      0   0   0   4   1
Poulin          RW     1   0   1   0  -1   Frederick       D      0   0   0   2   0
Davenport       LW     0   0   0   0  -1   Montrechere     RW     1   0   1   0   1
Bergdorf        D      0   0   0   0   0   Miranda         LW     1   0   1   0   1
Knight          C      0   0   0   0  -1   Citrone         D      0   0   0   0   0
Tollefson       D      0   0   0   2   0   Calligan        D      0   0   0   2   0
Denison         RW     0   0   0   2  -1   Summers         RW     0   0   0   0   1
Cage            C      0   0   0   0  -1   Bellmore        C      0   1   1   0   1
----------------------------------------   ----------------------------------------
TOTALS                 1   2   3  12  -3   TOTALS                 5  10  15  16   3

Scratches:
MIC:  Bailes (inj), Berlinger, Bullock, Eberlein
ANC:  Zhlotkin, Druzek, Trammell

 
Michigan            SH    SV    G    Sv%
----------------------------------------
Lundquist           38    33    5  0.868

Anchorage           SH    SV    G    Sv%
----------------------------------------
Worthington         32    31    1  0.969

 

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

GOALS:
None


PENALTIES:
03:33  MIC  Mudrick 2:00 (Elbowing)
04:51  ANC  Koons 4:00 (Elbowing)
15:03  ANC  Bernard 4:00 (Unsportsmanlike Conduct)
16:45  ANC  Collins 2:00 (Slashing)
17:55  MIC  Denison 2:00 (Interference)

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

GOALS:
02:51  ANC  Montrechere (Collins, Keefe)
07:09  ANC  Miranda (Bellmore, Martinsson)
11:00  ANC  Frost (Ericsson, Koons)

PENALTIES:
03:22  ANC  Keefe 2:00 (Hooking)
07:43  MIC  Tollefson 2:00 (Cross-checking)
07:54  MIC  Kronstein 2:00 (Interference)
13:56  ANC  Calligan 2:00 (Roughing)
16:02  ANC  Frederick 2:00 (Cross-checking)

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

GOALS:
03:06  ANC  Frost (Koons, Ericsson)
11:05  MIC  Poulin (Marlow, Mudrick)
12:30  ANC  Ericsson PP (Keefe, Pomfret)

PENALTIES:
07:09  MIC  Zabielski 2:00 (Slashing)
12:10  MIC  Beruschko 2:00 (Elbowing)


 
SHOTS
------
                   1   2   3   OT   F
Michigan           9   8  15       32
Anchorage         12  12  14       38

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

Michigan         0 for 6
Anchorage        1 for 6

 
INJURIES
--------

Remi Montrechere (ANC) -- Upper-body  10 games
Max Madison (MIC) -- Lower-body  7 games

 

Eastern Division Series

HAMILTON PISTOLS 4, QUEBEC TIGRES 3 (DOUBLE OT)

The Hamilton Pistols certainly didn’t make things easy on themselves in a must-win Game 3.  They had to rally from behind twice, and then required more than a period and a half of extra time.  But when the end finally came after a long hard slog, the Pistols notched a 4-3 victory over the Quebec Tigres, staving off elimination in their series.

“You’ve got to give the boys credit,” said Hamilton coach Keith Shields.  “They got knocked to the canvas a couple times, but they got up and kept battling, by golly!”

The Tigres knocked the Pistols back on their heels early.  Hamilton D Albie Glasco took a tripping penalty 17 seconds into the game, and Quebec RW Rupert MacDiarmid made them pay with a blast from the top of the faceoff circle.  Even though the Pistols outshot the Tigres 13-9 in the first, they couldn’t pierce Tiktuunen.

“It seemed like that guy was eight feet tall out there,” said Pistols C Calvin Frye.  “We tried everything we could to get it by him, and he just shut us down.”

That finally changed in a crazy stretch at the beginning of the second period.  After Pistols D Craig Werner was sent off for slashing, MacDiarmid banged home another power-play goal to make it 2-0.  The lightly-regarded MacDiarmid has tormented Hamilton in this series, with three goals and an assist so far.

No sooner had Quebec built a two-goal edge than it vanished in a puff of smoke.  Pistols LW Steven Alexander went top-shelf on Tiktuunen 53 seconds after MacDiarmid’s tally to end the shutout.  Seconds later, Tigres LW Walt Camernitz was whistled for slashing, and Alexander beat Tiktuunen on the short side to tie the game.

The second period slowed down after that, although Camernitz added another power play tally with six minutes left in the period to put Quebec back on top.

“Even though we were behind going into the third, we felt confident,” said Alexander.  “We’d proven that Tiktuunen was human.”

The crowd at Gunpowder Armory was full-throated in support of their heroes, rattling the rafters with their cheers.  The Pistols opened the period on the power play and four seconds into the frame, Tigres D Dmitri Kalashnikov was sent off for interference, giving Hamilton a two-man advantage.  Frye wasted no time putting the puck between Tiktuunen’s legs to tie it up again.

“I honestly thought the building was going to come down, the fans went so crazy,” said Frye.

The rest of the period was a tense but scoreless affair.  The Pistols killed off a couple of late penalties to preserve the tie, and the fans roared their approval.

In overtime, Hamilton relied on the crowd’s raucous support to give them energy.  Camernitz nearly ended the game – and Hamilton’s season – three minutes in, when he fired a shot from the slot that got past Pistols netminder Lasse Koskinen.  But the shot pinged off the post and came to rest in the crease, when Koskinen covered it before the Tigres could poke it in.

“The way that shot somehow didn’t get over the line, that was an act of God,” said Shields.  “No other way around it.”

The game went to a second overtime, and the pace of the game slowed considerably, as both teams looked dead on their skates.  But again, the crowd’s energy fed the Pistols.  “The fans really picked us up there,” said Alexander.  “We couldn’t have done this without them.”

When Tigres D Laurie Workman was called for slashing twelve minutes into the second overtime, the fans somehow cranked the fury up to another level.  Amid the maelstrom, Pistols LW Magnus Gunnarson fired a shot that made it through a crowd and past a screened Tiktuunen for the game-winning goal.

Workman’s penalty was one of 10 called on the Tigres in the game, and coach Martin Delorme cautioned his team that they need to improve in this area.  “When we take this many penalties, we are doing [the Pistols’] work for them,” Delorme said.

Shields, meanwhile, wants the fans to bring the same enthusiasm for Game 4.  “I want to say to our fans, you guys did a great job tonight,” the Pistols coach said.  “I want you all to go home, rest up, and come back strong for the next one.  We need that kind of energy in the building again.”

E Final - Game 3, Quebec @ Hamilton, Gunpowder Armory

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

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

Camernitz       LW     1   0   1   4  -1   Alexander       LW     2   0   2   0   1
Workman         D      0   0   0   2   0   Smyth           D      0   1   1   2   0
Zarkovich       C      0   0   0   0   0   Frye            C      1   0   1   0   1
McKinley        D      0   0   0   0   0   Risch           D      0   2   2   0   0
Mirac           RW     0   1   1   2  -1   Lafayette       RW     0   2   2   0   1
Fisker          LW     0   1   1   0   0   Gunnarson       LW     1   0   1   0   0
Ilyushin        C      0   1   1   0  -1   Mulligan        D      0   0   0   4   0
Jones           D      0   1   1   0   0   Constantine     C      0   1   1   0   0
Robinson        RW     0   0   0   0   0   Werner          D      0   0   0   4   0
MacDiarmid      LW     2   0   2   2   0   Patterson       RW     0   1   1   0   0
Pugliese        D      0   0   0   0  -1   Campbell        LW     0   0   0   0   0
Kalashnikov     D      0   0   0   6  -1   Glasco          D      0   0   0   2   1
Pentti          RW     0   0   0   0   0   Zalmanis        C      0   0   0   0   0
Miller          C      0   1   1   2   0   Soforenko       LW     0   0   0   0   0
Wesson          D      0   0   0   2   0   Dyomin          D      0   1   1   0   1
----------------------------------------   ----------------------------------------
TOTALS                 3   5   8  20  -1   TOTALS                 4   8  12  12   1

Scratches:
QUE:  Shovshenkov, Zhzhynov, Kane
HAM:  Kratz, Jennings, Rodney

Quebec              SH    SV    G    Sv%
----------------------------------------
Tiktuunen           41    37    4  0.902

Hamilton            SH    SV    G    Sv%
----------------------------------------
Koskinen            41    38    3  0.927


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

GOALS:
00:27  QUE  MacDiarmid PP (Fisker)

PENALTIES:
00:17  HAM  Glasco 2:00 (Tripping)
07:34  QUE  Kalashnikov 2:00 (Tripping)
07:45  QUE  Mirac 2:00 (Interference)
17:25  QUE  Kalashnikov 2:00 (Cross-checking)
18:27  HAM  Mulligan 2:00 (Hooking)

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

GOALS:
00:56  QUE  MacDiarmid PP (Jones, Miller)
01:49  HAM  Alexander (Dyomin, Lafayette)
02:54  HAM  Alexander PP (Smyth, Risch)
14:06  QUE  Camernitz PP (Ilyushin, Mirac)

PENALTIES:
00:29  HAM  Werner 2:00 (Slashing)
02:10  QUE  Camernitz 2:00 (Slashing)
06:06  QUE  MacDiarmid 2:00 (Roughing)
09:28  QUE  Miller 2:00 (Elbowing)
14:04  HAM  Werner 2:00 (Clipping)
18:53  QUE  Wesson 2:00 (Tripping)

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

GOALS:
00:10  HAM  Frye PP (Lafayette, Risch)

PENALTIES:
00:04  QUE  Kalashnikov 2:00 (Interference)
11:04  HAM  Smyth 2:00 (Slashing)
19:09  HAM  Mulligan 2:00 (Tripping)

First Overtime
--------------

GOALS:
None

PENALTIES:
10:14  QUE  Camernitz 2:00 (Interference)

First Overtime
--------------

GOALS:
12:49  HAM  Gunnarson PP (Constantine, Patterson)

PENALTIES:
12:00  QUE  Workman 2:00 (Slashing)

SHOTS
------
                   1   2   3  1OT  2OT   F
Quebec             9   9   9   10    4  41
Hamilton          13   8   8    8    4  41

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

Quebec           3 for 6
Hamilton         3 for 10

INJURIES
--------

None

 

Change of the Guard Seems Imminent in SHL’s Last Week

Going into the final week of the 2017 SHL season, neither division race is terribly close, unlike the last couple of seasons.  Barring a seismic shift in the coming week, we aren’t going to see anything as dramatic as the 2016’s Hershey-Washington last-game showdown for the division.  Nonetheless, even if things unfold as expected, the results will still have their share of surprises.  As it stands, neither of last year’s Finals opponents will make a return trip this season.

In the West, the Michigan Gray Wolves head into the season’s final week trailing the Anchorage Igloos by 6 points.  The Wolves and Igloos have been the division powers since the league’s inception, so it’s no surprise that they will finish one-two yet again.  But the Wolves have been unable to make up the ground they lost when top scorers Hunter Bailes and Warren Marlow went down with injuries in midseason.  “We’ve fought hard all year, and I know we’re going to keep battling to the end,” said Wolves RW Gordon Lunsford.  “But we’re in a difficult spot right now.”

Michigan’s best chance to narrow the gap came on Wednesday, when they faced the Igloos at Arctic Circle Arena.  The game was a true heavyweight clash, as the Wolves stifled Anchorage’s league-best offense, with the Igloos responding in kind.  After two scoreless periods, Michigan actually drew first blood seven minutes into the third, when Lunsford dented the twine on a hard slapshot between Anchorage goalie Ty Worthington‘s legs.  “That got us fired up,” said Lunsford.  “We thought this was the goal that was going to set us on a run to take the division.”

But with just over a minute left in the game, the Igloos tied the game on a fluky goal by D Sebastian Pomfret, who flicked a rebound that bounced off the back of Michigan netminder Dirk Lundquist back and into the goal.  That sent the game to overtime, where Wolves C Wesley Knight committed a tough holding-the-stick penalty.  15 seconds into the power play, Igloos LW Les Collins beat Lundquist stick-side to seal a 2-1 win.

“That was a back-breaker,” admitted Lunsford.  “To go from thinking you’re on the road to the division to feeling like you’re on the brink of elimination… it’s a kick in the gut, no question.”

As surprising as the West race has been, things have been even more shocking in the East.  The Washington Galaxy have won the division in each of the last two seasons and established themselves as the class of the division.  When they caught fire out of the All-Star Break, winning 10 in a row and snatching first place away from the Hershey Bliss, it looked like they were set up to run to yet another title.  It hasn’t unfolded that way, though, as the Bliss have grabbed the lead right back over the last couple of weeks.

And while Hershey has played well, the race in the East has been a story of Washington collapse.  The Galaxy have dropped 11 of 15 over the last three weeks, and they head into the final week of the season 8 points back of the Bliss.  For a team with a reputation for stepping it up in the second half, their dismal performance has been completely unexpected.  “We can’t figure it out,” said LW Casey Thurman.  “We know we can do better than this, but it’s kind of like we’re stepping on the gas and there’s nothing there.”

Certainly, the Galaxy’s using scoring punch has been absent during their recent skid.  They’ve fallen from sixth in the league in goals scored to second-to-last, ahead of only Quebec.  Several of their stars, including Thurman (2 goals in the last 15 games), C Eddie Costello (3 goals), RW Jefferson McNeely (3 goals), and C J.C. Marais (2 goals), have been in slumps.  But the offense hasn’t been the only culprit.  The normally stout defense, which allowed fewer than two and a half goals per game over the first two-thirds of the season, has allowed over three per game during their slide.  Backup goalie Ron Mason has lost his last five starts.  Their special units have flatlined over the last three weeks, with their power play dropping from a league-leading 24.1% success rate to a middle-of-the-pack 19.6%, and their penalty kill going from 82.9% efficiency to 78.8%.  “It’s like it’s all falling apart at once,” said Costello.

For the Bliss, who have heard over and over that they’re too soft, too sloppy, or too star-dependent to beat the Galaxy, the turnabout has been pretty sweet.  “We’ve taken a lot of crap over the years about how we can never win the big one, or how Washington’s got our number,” said Bliss C Justin Valentine.  “We’ve never bought into that story, but we knew we were were going to keep hearing it until we proved it.”  On Saturday, Hershey came into Constellation Center and walloped Washington 5-1.  “That one definitely felt good,” said Valentine.  “To be able to go into their building and shut them down like that… it gave us confidence that this isn’t going to be like the other years.  It’s a new era for us.”