Sailors Outlast Smoke in Crazy 8-7 Win

As the regular season winds to a close, it’s looking increasingly likely that the Seattle Sailors will make the postseason for the first time in their existence (and, ironically, in their last season in Seattle).  It also looks increasingly likely that the Kansas City Smoke will finish with the league’s worst record, which means that they’ll get the top pick in the draft.

On paper, Sunday’s game was a mismatch.  But anything can happen in a single game, and the contest turned out to be a wild see-saw affair, culminating in a frenzied third period in which the teams combined to score seven goals.  In the end, Seattle emerged with a razor-thin 8-7 victory that allowed them to hold onto first place in the West for another day.

“This was like playing shinny as a kid,” said Sailors LW Rod “Money” Argent.  “Just firewagon action back and forth, all offense.  It was crazy.”

The game started with a bang, as Argent fired a shot that beat Kansas City netminder Gus Parrish just 26 seconds into the contest.  Smoke RW Tyler Cloude answered a couple minutes with a low shot that went five-hole on Sailors goalie Rocky Goldmire.  Just over five minutes after that, Seattle RW Vince Mango tucked a slapper just under the crossbar to give his team a 2-1 edge, which it maintained for the rest of the period.

In the first minute of the second period, C Darien Picard got Kansas City back even by beating Goldmire on a breakaway.  After that, though, Seattle went on a run, aided by some bad Smoke penalties.  First, C Mike Rivera went to the box for elbowing.  Kansas City killed off the penalty, but couldn’t get the puck out of their own end, allowing RW Rodney McElvern to tip a shot home and put the Sailors back in front.  A minute after McElvern’s goal, D T.K. O’Neill hit Argent in the mouth with his stick, drawing blood and earning a double minor.  Mango made the Smoke pay, hitting pay dirt on a shot from the right faceoff circle.  A couple minutes later, RW Zachary Merula took a cheap slashing penalty in the offensive zone.  This time, it took only 36 seconds for Mango to overwhelm the exhausted KC penalty kill, scoring again to complete his hat trick.  It was now a 5-2 Seattle lead, and it seemed like the rout was on.

The plucky Smoke refused to give up, however.  With 49 seconds left in the second stanza, LW Veikko Sikanen gathered up a rebound and stuffed it home, closing the gap to two.  Then in the first couple of minutes of the third, Rivera and Merula made up for their penalties by scoring just 14 seconds apart, tying the game and stunning the crowd at Century 21 Arena.

“We couldn’t believe that it was a game again,” said Mango.  “We were sure we’d put them away, but they came back on us.”

Seattle answered back just 24 seconds after Merula’s score, as C Napoleon Beasley beat Parrish on the short side to give the Sailors the lead again.  But KC wasn’t ready to give up.  LW Tadeusz Adamczyk scored to tie it yet again, and exactly a minute later, Cloude found the back of the net to give Kansas City its first lead of the game.

“[The Smoke] were like the Black Knight in Monty Python; we cut their limbs off and they just kept coming,” said Mango.  “’It’s just a flesh wound!’”

Fortunately for the Sailors, they had one more good push left, which they deployed in the final five minutes of the game.  C Marco Venezio got behind the defense and scored on a breakway to tie it up one more time.  A mere twelve seconds later, RW Elliott Pepper stormed down the ice on an odd-man rush and scored what provide to be the winning goal.  A pair of late penalties erased whatever chance Kansas City had for a comeback.

Harold Engellund

Sailors coach Harold Engellund praised his team for its resilience.  “One of the things I appreciate about this team is the way they can take a punch and keep going,” said Engellund.  “[The Smoke] didn’t make this one easy on us, but we hung in there and got the W.  That says something about the competitive character around here.”

Critics of the Sailors often argue that their lackluster defense will prevent them from succeeding in the playoffs, and giving up seven goals to the league’s worst team certainly argues in that direction.  Engellund, however, brushed off those concerns: “The bottom line is that we did what it took to win.  Maybe it wasn’t pretty, but so what?  You don’t get points for style, just for winning.”

Sailors Go All In at Deadline

The Seattle Sailors are in a tenuous position in the Western playoff race.  The Anchorage Igloos, widely expected to be a slam-dunk playoff team, have struggled to get much above the .500 mark.  In theory, the second Western playoff spot should be up for grabs.  However, hampered by a dreadful defense, the Sailors have been unable to take advantage, and have been hovering 5 to 7 points behind Anchorage for the last month.

Jay McKay

Given the situation, Seattle essentially had two options: concede the race, or go all in.  “The race has been static for a while now,” said Sailors GM Jay McKay.  “If we stuck with the roster we had, we were going to die fast and quiet.”

Instead, McKay elected to go all in.  The Sailors made a pair of major deals to acquire a couple of big names, at a significant cost in prospects.   “We’re pushing our chips to the middle of the table,” said McKay.  “We think we’ve got the chance to do something special here.”

Lars Karlsson

Seattle’s largest acquisition was the deadline’s top prize.  C Lars Karlsson was the biggest name rumored to be on the block.  The 30-year-old center is a proven star and is having a fantastic year, having scored 19 goals and 25 assists.  But his previous team, the Dakota Jackalopes, are in the midst of a payroll purge, and Karlsson’s contract is up at the end of the season.

The Sailors had a clear need at the center position, and they targeted Karlsson from the start.  But they’d already dealt their first-round pick to Dakota before the season.  In order to rent Karlsson for the stretch run, Seattle had to part with a pair of top prospects – C Dale Wilcox and D Duncan DeShantz – as well as their second-round pick.

“Lars definitely didn’t come cheap,” said McKay.  “But he’s the kind of talent that can really move the needle.  He plugs right into our top line – which was already doing great – and the effect ripples through our entire offense.  He’s a game-changer.”

Hans Mortensen

Of course, Seattle’s offense hasn’t been the issue; it’s their leaky defense that has doomed them.  To address that, the Sailors picked up veteran D Hans Mortensen, 30, from the Kansas City Smoke.  The defender has provided airtight defense in KC and put up 17 assists in 40 games.  To land him, Seattle surrendered another prospect blueliner, T.K. O’Neill.  The 20-year-old O’Neill struggled in his SHL debut, failing to record a point in 22 games before being sent down, but he is regarded as an elite defensive prospect.

“Hans is one of those lockdown D-men that you love to have,” said McKay. “He’s a solid veteran with championship experience, and he can contribute on both ends.  He’s going to really help our playoff push.”

These two moves make Seattle a more formidable opponent, but will it be enough?  And if the Sailors miss the playoffs and Karlsson walks at the end of the season, will they regret their deadline splurge?

“I won’t regret it a bit,” said McKay.  “If you’re not going for it, really going for it, what’s the point?  Maybe this all blows up in my face and I get fired.  That’s okay.  We’d rather take a chance and miss than muddle along and do nothing.”

Sailors coach Harold Engellund, who used to coach Dakota, agrees with that assessment: “It’s really nice to be with an organization that goes all out to win, that’s not afraid to spend money and take a shot.  I’m not used to it, but I love it.”