(Hamilton wins series, 4-1)
As the Hamilton Pistols prepared for a potential Finals-clinching Game 5, LW Steven Alexander stood in the middle of the visiting locker room and made a brief but powerful statement.
“This ends tonight,” said Alexander of the series. “When we go back to Hamilton, I don’t want to play more hockey. I want to be able to go party and celebrate with our friends. Who’s with me?”
The other Pistols shouted their assent. Then they went out and dominated the Anchorage Igloos, cruising to a 5-1 win and becoming the first team in SHL history to win back-to-back championships.
“Double Vandys, baby!” crowed Alexander after the game. “We’ve started a revolution in the SHL. The old empires are falling, and now it’s our time!”
The first period was competitive, as the Igloos – fighting for their playoff lives – came out fast. They outshot Hamilton 16-7 in the opening stanza. But thanks to Lasse Koskinen‘s strong goaltending and a couple of quality shots, the Pistols came away with a lead after 20 minutes.
The Igloos took the first six shots of the game, but couldn’t get any of them behind Koskinen. When the Pistols finally got some offensive zone time about five minutes in, it didn’t take RW Claude Lafayette long to score the game’s first goal with a fierce snipe that snuck in between Igloos goalie Ty Worthington‘s left arm and torso.
That initial lead was short-lived; Igloos C Jens Bunyakin scored the equalizer just 30 seconds later. But the Pistols didn’t let that slow them down. Later in the period, Anchorage was setting up for another extended offensive shift when Pistols D Albie Glasco managed to poke-check the puck away from Igloos LW Jerry Koons and over the blue line. That set up a Hamilton jailbreak, which ended with a gorgeous drop pass to C Calvin Frye, who stashed it in the upper left corner of the net to make it a 2-1 game.
“Even though [the Igloos] got most of the shots in the first, we still came out ahead,” said Frye. “We felt confident at that point that we were going to take it.”
Over the final 40 minutes, the Pistols slowly squeezed the life out of both the Igloos offense and the fans at Arctic Circle Arena as they steadily added to their lead. Anchorage had as many shots in the first as they did over the rest of the game.
“I have to hand it to them,” said Igloos C Jake Frost of his victorious opponent. “They could have tried to trap and sit on their lead, but they didn’t. They really took it to us.”
Hamilton added two more goals in the second period, one early in the period on a slapshot by D Clayton Risch, and another late in the period on a tip-in at the doorstep by C J.C. Marais.
Alexander, naturally, put the capper on things early in the third with a blast from his favorite spot at the edge of the left faceoff circle. The feisty winger dropped his stick and thrust his arms in the air, then skated over to the waiting embrace of his teammates. As the Pistols celebrated, their whoops and hollers echoed in the rafter of the painfully quiet arena.
After Alexander’s score, it was just a matter of letting the time wind off the clock. As the minutes ticked away, several Igloos stars on the bench covered their heads with towels, either to hide their emotions or so they didn’t have to watch. Others sat, staring blankly into the distance as their championship hopes withered away.
When the final horn sounded, though, the Igloos raised their sticks in the air in tribute to their fans. And the crowd gave their fallen heroes a standing ovation. They even saved some applause for the winning Pistols, who acknowledged the tribute before heading down to the locker room to celebrate.
The post-game scene was a boisterous, jubilant celebration. The Pistols smoked cigars and poured champagne over themselves and each other. Players swayed arm-in-arm, singing old drinking songs off key in between swigs of beer and whiskey.
“I can’t think of a group of guys I’d rather go to war with,” crowed Alexander. “These are my friends, my teammates, my comrades in arms. Next year, let’s go for a three-peat!”
Coach Keith Shields, tie askew and suit jacket missing, celebrated his players. “In victory, the glory always goes to God,” said Shields, “but these boys worked so hard for this all season, and they deserve this celebration. It’s been my honor and privilege to share it with them!”
In the home locker room, Igloos coach Sam Castor paid tribute to the champions. “They just outplayed us,” Castor said. “It’s not often that I have to say that, but it’s true. It was a good, clean. well-played series, but they outplayed us. and they deserved the Vandy. It’s a tough pill for us to swallow, but it gives us a little extra fuel for next season.”