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.

Igloos Rebound, but Keefe Fears Complacency

In recent seasons, the Anchorage Igloos have mastered the art of the slow start.  For the last three years, the Igloos have stumbled out of the gate, prompting a round of stories about whether the team’s reign at the top of the Western Division was finally over.

In 2018, the Igloos were 12-13-0 at the end of the season’s fifth week.  Last year, Anchorage got off to a dreadful 3-6-3 start and were still mired in fourth place with a sub-.500 mark as late as Week 5.  But shortly thereafter, the Igloos took off on runs that quickly re-established them in their usual perch in the standings.  In both seasons, the Igloos reached the SHL Finals, in ’18, they won their second Vandy.

This season, the Igloos’ season-opening swoon was their worst yet.  After losing 7-3 to the Portland Bluebacks last Sunday, Anchorage’s record stood at 2-7-0.  It was the worst record in the league, the first time that the Igloos had ever earned that dubious distinction.  The roster underwent significant turnover before this season, and the West’s other teams have been growing stronger by the season.  Was this the year that the Igloos were finally done as a contender?

And then, right on schedule, they turned things around. Saturday’s wild 8-7 win over the Washington Galaxy was the Igloos’ seventh win in a row.  They’ve lifted themselves out of the basement all the way into a tie for second in the West.

Ted Keefe

There’s plenty of time left in the season, but given the history, odds are that the Igloos will once again finish with one of the league’s best records.  So what’s with the lackluster starts?  Veteran D Ted Keefe thinks he knows the answer, and he doesn’t like it.

Keefe spoke to reporters after Saturday’s victory about the team’s tortoise-like starts.  He argued that because the team is so accustomed to deep playoff runs, they’ve become bored by the regular season.

“I think we take it for granted,” said Keefe.  “We figure we can sleepwalk through the first couple weeks, or even the first month, and then flip the switch and bam, we’re back to the playoffs.  It hasn’t burned us yet, but it’s a dangerous game, if you ask me.”

Keefe went on to point out that the West is a lot more competitive than it used to be.  “In the old days, Michigan was the only one you needed to worry about,” the defenseman said.  “But now Portland’s damn good, and Saskatchewan’s solid too.  Even KC and Dakota are playing better lately.

“It’s not written in the Constitution or the Bible or anywhere that we’re guaranteed a spot in the playoffs.  And there’s no guarantee that even if we do get to the playoffs, we’ll go all the way.  If we want to win the Vandy, we’ve got to play Vandy-quality hockey all season long.  Bad hockey builds bad habits.”

Jake Frost

C Jake Frost, who has a habit of slow starts himself, disagreed with Keefe’s assessment.  “I don’t think we’re taking anything for granted,” said Frost.  “But I do think that when you go deep in the playoffs every year and have shorter offseasons, it takes a little while to play your best hockey.  We’ll be there when it counts; I’m confident.”

Igloos coach Sam Castor agreed with the spirit of Keefe’s critique, if not its specifics.  “Our underlying numbers have been solid, even when we were losing,” the coach pointed out.  “We were taking good shots, they just weren’t going in.  And it’s taken some time to get the new guys integrated into our scheme.

“That said, I think Ted’s right to worry about losing our edge.  If I ever get even a hint of our guys taking the postseason for granted, I’ll going to stop it cold.  I’m not saying I’ll bag-skate ‘em till they drop, but they’ll get the message.  There’s no such thing as a lifetime achievement playoff spot.  You have to earn it every year, and our guys know that.”

If this year’s early swoon ends up being a temporary blip as usual, this will all be forgotten.  But it Anchorage winds up missing the playoffs, they may wish they’d listened to their veteran defenseman.

Interview of the Week: Ted Keefe

This week’s interview is with Anchorage Igloos D Ted Keefe.

SHL Digest: We’re here today with an SHL veteran and longtime defensive stalwart, Ted Keefe of the Igloos.  Ted, thanks for speaking with us.

Ted Keefe

Ted Keefe: Sure.  You must be running out of guys to interview if you made it down to me.

SHLD: That’s not true!  You’ve long been regarded as one of the best two-way defensemen in the SHL, a two-time All-Star and Defenseman of the Year finalist.

TK: What are you, writing my obituary?

SHLD: Just pointing out the facts.  In addition, you’re the unofficial captain of the Igloos’up-and-coming blueline corps.  Several young defensemen – Sebastian Pomfret, Tony Citrone, Rudolf Kerasov – have seen their careers thrive in Anchorage, and they all credit you for that.  Have you taken an active role in helping them learn, or do you prefer to teach by example?

TK: I’ve been pretty active as a teacher.  I know some guys don’t do that – “Why train the guy who’s gonna replace you?” or whatever.  But that’s a stupid attitude.  Our goal here is to win championships, and the better the guys around you are, the better your shot at winning.

SHLD: So you don’t feel any insecurity with all the young guys around you?

TK: Hell no.  I’ve got confidence in my game.  And if someday they get better than me and take my spot, they’ve earned it.  Age and time take us all out eventually.

SHLD: Your defensive corps is by all accounts a pretty tight-knit unit.  You spend a lot of time together off the ice and on the road.  Do you think that togetherness helps you on the ice?

TK: No question about it.  Playing defense is all about communication and trust.  Hanging out together off the ice helps us get better at both.  We treat each other like family, because we spend more time with each other than with our actual families.

SHLD: A lot of players have off-season hobbies or pastimes, but yours is pretty unusual.  Can you tell us about it?

TK: Sure.  I’m from Maine originally, and my family has been in the lobster fishing business for generations.  So during the offseason, I go back to Maine and spend time fishing on my family’s boats.  It’s a great way to clear my head after a long season.

SHLD: So your family’s still in the business?

TK: Yeah.  My brother took over the business from my father a few years back.  They had wanted me to help run it, but once it became clear I was going to be a pro hockey player, they understood.

SHLD: How do the Igloos feel about your summer pastime?

TK: Yeah, they’re not always wild about it.  Lobster fishing isn’t the safest job in the world.  But I’m an old hand at this point.  The front office tried to talk me out of it once, but once they understood it was a deal-breaker for me, they dropped it.

SHLD: In Alaska, king crab fishing is the big thing.  Ever wanted to try that?

TK: You know, I did that one time.  Some Igloos fans are in that business, and they invited me to go out with them.  I figured that as a lobsterman, I’d be able to adjust pretty easily.

SHLD: And were you able to pick it up?

TK: Not a chance.  Those guys are nuts!  And king crab fishing is dangerous as hell.  Once was definitely enough for me.

SHLD: So you’re 34 years old, and closer to the end of your career than the beginning.  Have you started thinking about what comes next?  Possibly coaching, or going on your lobster boat full-time?

TK: Right now, I’m just focused on playing.  What to do when I retire, I’ll figure that out when I retire.  But it’d probably be one of those, yeah.

SHLD: Well, that about wraps it up for today.  But thanks for a very interesting interview, Ted.

TK: Hey, I enjoyed it!  Thanks for asking.

2019 SHL Finals – Game 5

ANCHORAGE IGLOOS 2, HAMILTON PISTOLS 1

(Hamilton leads, 3-2)

After yesterday’s 3-2 loss, the Anchorage Igloos found themselves just one game away from defeat in the SHL Finals, facing a must-win Game 5 in enemy territory.  But the Igloos didn’t get to be two-time SHL champions without learning to overcome adversity.  So before the game, coach Sam Castor delivered a simple message to his players: “You can’t lose this one,” Castor said.  “So don’t.”

The Igloos heeded their coach’s words, seizing the lead early and hanging on for a 2-1 win over the Hamilton Pistols, keeping their Vandy hopes alive.

“We knew we weren’t going down without a fight,” said C Jake Frost.  “We’re too good a team to lose in five, so we weren’t about to let that happen.”

In Game 4, Anchorage allowed Hamilton to get out to a 3-0 lead before mounting a rally that wound up falling short.  With that in mind, the Igloos were determined to score first this time.  “If you get the first goal, especially if you get it early, you can dictate the terms of the game,” said D Ted Keefe.  “And that’s what we wanted to do.”

The boys in baby blue pulled that off a little over three minutes into the game when C Florian Theroux, who was scratched from Game 4 due to illness, deflected a shot from Keefe over the catching glove of Pistols goalie Lasse Koskinen.

“This was a happy day for me,” said Theroux.  “Yesterday, I was throwing up my guts.  Today, I was a hero.”

Anchorage may have struck first, but their advantage was short-lived.  Less than two minutes after taking the lead, the Igloos went a man down when D Dave Frederick received a minor for holding the stick.  On the ensuing power play, D Albie Glasco tied it up on a severe-angle shot that banked off the shoulder of Igloos goalie Ty Worthington.

“I was just trying to see if I could get a juicy rebound,” Glasco said.  “I didn’t think there was any chance it was going to go in.”

The Igloos were eager to retake the lead before the end of the first.  They did, but only by the skin of their teeth.  In the waning seconds of the periods, Anchorage carried the puck into the offensive zone.  It seemed to disappear in a mass of bodies in front of Hamilton’s net.  Finally, the puck wound up in the net, seemingly at the same time at the horn ending the period.  After review, it was determined that the puck crossed the line before the horn, giving Anchorage its sought-after lead.  The goal was credited to D Olaf Martinsson.

“Going into the locker room with the lead, that was huge,” said Frost.  “Our confidence was through the roof.”

In the second period, Anchorage borrowed a page from Hamilton’s Game 4 playbook, slowing the pace and bogging down the Pistols’ drives in the neutral zone.  It wasn’t the prettiest twenty minutes of hockey, but it was effective, as Hamilton couldn’t mount any serious scoring threats.  The Igloos missed a chance to add to their lead in the closing minutes of the period when Frost fired a shot that beat Koskinen but hit the right post.

Going into the third period, the Pistols were determined to break the Igloos’ press and turn up the pace.  “We weren’t going to let them rock us to sleep for forty minutes with a one-goal lead,” said D Raymond Smyth.

The Pistols succeeded in generating some offensive pressure with more aggressive breakouts and long passes designed to break the Anchorage neutral-zone trap.  But they ran into one big problem: Worthington.  The Anchorage goalie was at his best, his razor-sharp reflexes anticipating the Pistols’ every move.  He gobbled up one puck after another, snapping them out of the air with his glove or smothering them beneath his pads.

Hamilton’s best chance came in the middle of the period, when Igloos D Willy Calligan was sent off for slashing.  The Pistols got into their power-play setup, and LW Steven Alexander wound up for a slapshot.  Instead of shooting, he fired a pass to RW Claude Lafayette, catching Worthington out of position.  Lafayette shot at what he thought was a wide-open net… only for the Igloos netminder to come flying over and deflect the shot with his stick.

“I have no idea how he got over so fast,” said Lafayette.  “He must have a time machine.”

The Pistols had a couple more quality chances after that, but Worthington held his ground and preserved the win.  The series now shifts back to Arctic Circle Arena in Anchorage, where the champs need to win both games to defend their title. “We’ll have our fans and we have the experience,” said Frost.  “I like our chances.”

Alexander, for his part, seems unconcerned about the shift in venue.  “We already beat them once in their barn,” the feisty winger said.  “We can do it again.”

Continue reading “2019 SHL Finals – Game 5”

2019 SHL Finals – Game 4

HAMILTON PISTOLS 3, ANCHORAGE IGLOOS 2

(Hamilton leads, 3-1)

The first three games of the 2019 SHL Finals have been tense, back-and-forth affairs, with neither team leading by more than one goal at any point.  Coming into today’s pivotal Game 4, both the hometown Hamilton Pistols and the defending champion Anchorage Igloos were looking for a decisive victory, one that might swing the momentum of the series firmly in their favor.

As it turned out, it was the Pistols who made the strong statement, running out to a 3-0 lead in the first half of the contest.  They then withstood a late Anchorage rally to hold on for a 3-2 win, moving themselves within a game of their first-ever Vandy.

“We’re rising up, boys!” hollered Pistols LW Steven Alexander in a jubilant postgame locker room.  “One more win, and the world turns upside down!”

Up to this point, the first periods in this series have followed a pattern: a lot of sound and fury, but no goals.  Before today’s game, Hamilton coach Keith Shields suggested to his team to slow down the pace a bit and focus on shot quality over quantity.  He also tinkered with the team’s offensive setup.  Noting that the Igloos were focusing their defense on Alexander, Shields decided to roll his lines and run less of the offense through his star winger.  The changes paid great dividends.

Just over two minutes in the game, with the third line on the ice, LW Magnus Gunnarson received a perfect pass from C Henry Constantine in the slot, and went top-shelf for a goal.  It’s the first time in the series that Hamilton has scored first, and it got the crowd at Gunpowder Armory fired up early.

“We’ve been getting traffic in the home plate area, and it’s been paying off for us,” said Gunnarson.

Shortly after the midway point of the first, the Pistols’ top line set up for an extended shift in Anchorage’s end.  C Calvin Frye found Alexander in his preferred shooting spot.  Alexander wound up for a slapshot, and Igloos goalie Ty Worthington committed to block it.  But Alexander instead fired a pass to teammate Claude Lafayette, who was skating hard toward the net.  Lafayette easily tucked the puck home over a sprawling Worthington to give Hamilton a 2-0 lead.

The Igloos had opportunities to cut into the lead late in the period thanks to a flurry of Pistols penalties, but they couldn’t convert, and went into the locker room down by a pair.  Coach Sam Castor laid into the champs, demanding to see more urgency.

“We let [the Pistols] get the jump on us, and we weren’t responding,” said Castor.  “That’s not like us.”

The Igloos came out with more energy in the second half, but they frequently ran into a brick wall at the blue line, courtesy of the Pistols’ rugged defensive corps.  “They did a really good job keeping us from getting established on offense,” said Igloos LW Jerry Koons.  “We just couldn’t get any momentum.”

A little more than 5 minutes into the period, the Pistols’ top line broke out on an odd-man rush.  Frye fed it to Alexander, who again wound up for a shot.  Worthington prepared to block it, only to see Alexander toss it back to D Raymond Smyth, who beat Worthington glove-side to make it a 3-0 game.  As Smyth circled back for hugs and backslaps from his teammates, the crowd threatened to tear the roof off with their jubilation.

The Igloos refused to give in, however, and slowly fought back with the help of some ill-timed Pistol penalties.  About four minutes after Smyth’s goal, RW Kenny Patterson was assessed with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for smacking the puck into the stands to protest an offside call.  With about 20 seconds left on the power play, Igloos RW Ben Summers got free in front of the net and jammed the puck just inside the post to get his team on the board.

In the third period, Frye took another unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.  Anchorage kept the puck in the offensive zone, and cashed in during the waning seconds of the power play with a goal from D Ted Keefe.  The Igloos celebrated as an uneasy buzz ran through the stands.

With just over three minutes left in regulation, Anchorage had a golden chance to tie the game when Pistols D Clayton Risch was whistled for spearing. “We knew we really had to buckle down and stop them at all costs,” said D Hercules Mulligan.  “We could not let a stray shot give us away.”

So Anchorage took their shots, and Pistols goalie Lasse Koskinen and the penalty kill turned them away.  And then, 1:17 into the power play, Igloos D Olaf Martinsson committed a cross-checking penalty, wiping away the man advantage and the visitors’ hopes for victory.

In the losing locker room, the Igloos were grim but determined.  “Well, we used up all of our rope,” C Jake Frost said.  “Now the only thing we can do is go win three in a row.  So that’s what we’re going to do.”

Continue reading “2019 SHL Finals – Game 4”

2018 SHL Finals – Game 1

ANCHORAGE IGLOOS 2, QUEBEC TIGRES 0

Coming into the SHL Finals, the conventional wisdom was that whichever team controlled the pace would have the edge in the series.  If the speedy Anchorage Igloos could turn the series into a track meet, they would likely prevail.  On the other hand, if the Quebec Tigres could slow things down and keep the Igloos from running past them, their dogged defense and excellent goaltending would give them the edge.

The outcome of Game 1 scrambled that narrative a bit.  Quebec succeeded in slowing the game down; the Igloos weren’t able to pull off any of their famed breakaways and odd-man rushes.  In fact, Anchorage didn’t even outshoot the Tigres.  But Igloos goaltender Ty Worthington outdueled his Tigres counterpart Riki Tiktuunen, and Anchorage emerged with a 2-0 win at Centre Citadelle.

“This game was a testament to our versatility as a team,” said Igloos coach Sam Castor.  “We like to play fast and furious, but even when our opponent is able to slow us down, we can still go toe-to-toe and win that kind of game.”

During their division series sweep of the Michigan Gray Wolves, who play a trapping style similar to Quebec’s, Anchorage pushed the pace early in order to get an early lead and set their opponent on its heels.  The Igloos weren’t able to do the same thing in this game, thanks in part to the fact that they were whistled for four penalties in the first period alone.  They successfully killed off all four, but Castor was displeased with what he saw as one-sided officiating.  The coach was spotted giving head referee Scott Pritchard an earful as the period drew to a close.

“I wanted to draw his attention to the disparity in the calls,” said Castor wryly after the game.  “But we’ve got to recognize that it’s [Quebec’s] game.  They’ve got guys who pester you and get under your skin, then you retaliate and that’s what the officials see, so you get penalized.  We can’t let them bait us.”

Despite all the calls against them, the Igloos had a lead after the first, thanks to a good break just over four minutes in.  C Nile Bernard blistered a shot toward the right post.  Tiktuunen made a tremendous sprawling save, but allowed a juicy rebound.  The puck wound up on the stick of LW Les Collins; he threaded a pass to D Ted Keefe, who was parked on the left edge of the crease.  Keefe buried the puck in the upper left corner of the net before Tiktuunen could react.

“That was a real heads-up play by Les,” said Bernard.  “He recognized in a split second that Tiktuunen might stop his follow-up, but Keefer had a wide-open look.  That was huge.”

The second period was a bit of a slog, as the Tigres frustrated Anchorage’s zone entries again and again, and the puck seemingly spent the entire period ping-ponging around the neutral zone.  The Igloos played a patient game, probing for seams in Quebec’s defense and not finding many.  The team combined for only 15 shots in the period.

In the third, Quebec had to kill off a carryover penalty, then a slashing penalty to LW Walt Camernitz a couple minutes later.  The effort seemed to leave the Tigres fatigued, and they struggled to keep up the same pressure they had earlier.  Shortly after the end of the Camernitz penalty, the Igloos set up shop in the Quebec zone.  The Tigres tried several times to clear the puck out of their end, to no avail.  Finally, after over a minute and a half of zone time, Frost crashed the net, then faked a slapshot before firing it back to D Tony Citrone at the point.  Citrone laced a one-touch pass to LW Jerry Koons in the left faceoff circle, and he beat Tiktuunen short side.

“We were under a great strain, and we buckled,” said Tigres coach Martin Delorme.  “It was a brief lapse, but we cannot afford those against a team this strong.”

Now facing a two-goal deficit, the Tigres found their second wind and pushed hard down the stretch.  Nearly half of their total shots in the game (13 of 28) came in the third, almost all of them after Koons’ tally.  When Igloos LW Waldo Miranda received a double minor with a minute and a half left in the game, Quebec yanked Tiktuunen for a 6-on-4 advantage.  They peppered the Anchorage net with shots, but Worthington came up huge, making one athletic save after another.

“Ty came through the fire there in the end,” said Castor.  “He’s not flashy, but he gets the job done.”

With the win, Anchorage seized home-ice advantage from the Tigres.  Delorme said that he was not about to panic, however.  “Of course, we would have liked to win,” said the Quebec coach.  “But we are not going to let one close defeat shake our confidence.  We will go out in Game 2 and we will prevail.”

Continue reading “2018 SHL Finals – Game 1”

Announcer’s Joke Sparks Fish Incident in Michigan

The Anchorage Igloos have faced a lot of obstacles this season as they’ve attempted to defend their division title.  They’ve struggled to put together lengthy winning streaks.  They’ve lagged far behind their rivals, the Michigan Gray Wolves, in the standings.  Lately, as they’ve tried to nail down a playoff spot, they’ve been hit by a rash of injuries.

On Saturday, the Igloos came in to Cadillac Place to face the Wolves.  They expected a challenging game against their rivals, but they also had to contend with an unexpected challenge: a hail of rotting fish showered down on their bench.

“You figure you’ll have to dodge some tough checks in a game, and maybe a beer sometimes,” said Igloos LW Jerry Koons.  “You’re not really expecting to have to dodge fish.”

Michigan Gray Wolves color commentator Blackie Sprowl.
Blackie Sprowl

The whole thing was triggered by an offhand comment on the Wolves’ radio broadcast during last week’s 13-0 thrashing of Seattle.  In the third period, color commentator Blackie Sprowl was trying to find something to talk about, since the game was completely out of hand.  He wound up launching into a comic monologue about the challenges of the commentator’s life.

“You know, this job is harder than the fans might think,” Sprowl said to play-by-play man Philip Shelton.  “It’s not all free food and fast women, you know.  We got to fly to Anchorage.”

“Yeah, that’s always a tough trip,” said Shelton.

“You go on a 30-hour flight, then you land in this snow-encrusted outpost in the middle of nowhere.  There’s more moose than people, and the whole place smells like rotting fish.  Then you’ve got to take another 30-hour flight back to civilization.  These are the kind of hardships that we put up with for you, fans.”

“Okay, Anchorage isn’t quite that bad,” Shelton interjected.

“Sure it is,” retorted Sprowl.  “Whole place smells like rotten fish.  You know, the next time the Igloos come here, we should put some rotten fish in their dressing room, just so they feel at home.”

“Rotten fish in the dressing room.  Okay,” said Shelton incredulously.  “Sorry, folks, this is what 10-0 does to you.”

“I think it’s great,” said Sprowl.  “They’ll smell those rotten fish and say, ‘Hey, smells like home in here.'”

Ordinarily, that would have been the end of it.  But when Anchorage arrived for Saturday’s game, a group of jokesters showed up with some day-old trout, and during breaks in the action, they began flinging it at the visiting bench.

The first salvo missed the mark, but the second hit Igloos D Ted Keefe flush on the front of his jersey.  The blueliner stared quizzically at the offending fish, then tossed it aside as the fans cheered.  As trout continued to rain down, though, the Igloos’ mood changed from confusion to frustration.  A couple players started checking the fish back at the fans, while others complained to the ushers.  Before long, the section behind the Anchorage bench was chanting “Fish! Fish! Fish!”

Eventually, the PA announcer warned the fans that “anyone throwing fish or other objects at the benches will be ejected.”  The fans booed, but the chucking of sea creatures came to a halt.

The Igloos wound up winning the game, 3-2.  During coach Sam Castor‘s postgame press conference, the first remark out of the coach’s mouth was, “What the hell was with the fish?”  A local reporter explained the story, whereupon Castor rolled his eyes and said, “Listen, my suit costs more than the monthly paycheck of those clowns.  The Wolves can expect a bill from my tailor.”

Igloos C Nile Bernard said that the team took the fish-flinging in stride.  “In fact, we’re packing the fish up and bringing it back home for Petey,” said Bernard, referring to mascot Petey the Polar Bear.  “We’re not going to let that stuff go to waste.”