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”

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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.”

2018 Western All-Star Roster

The roster for the Western Division in the 2018 SHL All-Star Game, which will be held at Michigan’s Cadillac Place, was announced today by coach Sam Castor.  The selections were as follows:

First Line

LW: Jerry Koons, AnchorageIt’s the second straight All-Star appearance for the Igloos winger, but it’s his first time being voted into the starting lineup.  In a reverse of last year’s results, Koons was voted in over Dakota’s “Flyin’ Ryan” Airston.  He had a breakout season in 2017, scoring 44 goals and 90 points and winning the MVP award.  He hasn’t been on that same pace this season, but he’s off to a solid point; his 35 points put him in the top 10 in the league.

D: Fritz Kronstein, MichiganThe Wolves remain the top defensive squad in the SHL, and their top defensive pairing was rewarded with their second straight starting appearance.  This season, Kronstein was the top-vote getter among all defensemen, a recognition of his emergence as a two-way force.  He leads the Wolves with 28 points (12 goals, 16 assists), and he is the leader among all blueliners in the league in plus-minus with a +24 rating.

C: Jake Frost, Anchorage.  For the second straight season, Frost was the runaway winner of the starting center spot for the West, garnering almost 60% of the votes at the position.  The tall center has been one of the SHL’s top scorers since his debut, and this season is no exception; his 22 goals are the fourth-highest total in the SHL.  “Having Koonsy and Frosty out there on the top line, that makes you feel good as a coach,” said Castor.  “With the kind of year we’re having, I wasn’t taking that for granted.”

D: “Mad Max” Madison, Michigan.  It wasn’t clear whether Madison was going to be able to make the game, as he has missed the last three weeks with a lower-body injury.  But he has declared that he’s “feeling great and ready to go,” and plans to make his return to the ice in front of his home crowd.  Madison’s numbers have taken a hit due to his injury, but he was off to a solid start before getting hurt, putting up 3 goals and 7 assists in the first 15 games of the season.

RW: Vince Mango, Seattle.  The Sailors sniper has proven to be a polarizing figure around the league, as his theatrical goal celebrations and loquaciousness with the press rub some traditionalist fans the wrong way.  But he’s attracted enough fans to squeak out a narrow victory in fan voting, garnering a few thousand more votes than Michigan’s Gordon Lunsford and Anchorage’s Nicklas Ericsson.  Mango is known for his scoring, and he has 16 tallies on the season, which places him among the Top 10 in the league.  Mango described the results as a “changing of the guard.”

 

Second Line

LW: Troy Chamberlain, SaskatchewanThe Shockers winger makes his second straight All-Star appearance.  Chamberlain continues to be the driving force behind Saskatchewan’s offense, leading the team in both goals (with 13) and points (29).  But he’s also not just a force on offense; he’s known around the league as a diligent and capable two-way player.  Although the Shockers have slipped back in the playoff race recently, Chamberlain’s play has been a key to their push to contend.

D: Wyatt Barnes, Saskatchewan. For the second season in a row, Chamberlain and Barnes represent the Shockers’ only All-Star representatives.  Barnes continues to emerge as one of the SHL’s top blueline talents.  His 21 assists are the most among Saskatchewan players, and he’s also managed to light the lamp four times.  In addition, he’s a rugged and hard-hitting defender who’s been nicknamed “Stonewall” by his teammates due to his ability to deny opposing skaters entry into the offensive zone.  He’s even in plus-minus rating this season, one of only three Saskatchewan players not in the negative.

C: Lars Karlsson, Dakota.  Karlsson is one of two Jackalopes players appearing in this year’s All-Star Game, although it’s hard to know how much longer he will remain in a Dakota uniform.  Karlsson’s contract is up at the end of the season, and he figures to be one of the most sought-after rentals, as the rebuilding ‘Lopes seem unlikely to resign him.  The veteran center has done a good job blocking out the distractions and is putting up a fine season, leading the team in both goals (15) and points (31).

D: Ted Keefe, Anchorage. The top two defensive pairings for the West look the same this year as last, as Castor turned to his veteran puck-moving stalwart to fill out the second pair.  Keefe turns 33 this season, but is playing like a man a decade younger.  He’s got the best offensive numbers among the Igloos’ defensive corps, with 8 goals and 19 assists on the season.  He’s a hard-checking defenseman who likes to scrap, and he’s one of the league’s best at steals and forcing turnovers as well.

RW: Nicklas Ericsson, Anchorage. As mentioned above, Ericsson narrowly missed being voted into a starting slot on the Western squad, and Castor had no hesitation about picking his own player to complete the second line. Despite having what for him is a bit of a down season (7 goals, 20 assists), Ericsson continues to be regarded as one of the league’s elite passers.  “He could fit a puck through the eye of a needle if he had to,” said Castor.

 

Third Line

LW: Pascal Royal, Kansas CityThe SHL requires that every team be represented on the All-Star teams, and Royal is the Smoke’s lone representative.  The 27-year-old winger has had something of a career resurgence in KC, and he leads the team in points (31) and assists (19).  The All-Star Game is something of a showcase for Royal, who seems a likely possibility to be moved at the trading deadline.

D: Matt Cherner, Dakota.  Cherner makes his first-ever All-Star appearance.  Like his Jackalopes teammate Karlsson, he’s likely to attract attention from teams around the trading deadline, although given that his contract doesn’t expire until 2020, he’s less likely to be moved.  Cherner is one of the league’s best offensive-minded defensemen, and he’s putting up a strong season, scoring 7 goals and 23 assists to date.

CWarren Marlow, Michigan. Marlow was not originally chosen as an All-Star last season, but he wound up going as a replacement after teammate Hunter Bailes suffered an injury in the days before the game.  He is the only Wolves player selected by Castor… a fact that hasn’t gone unnoticed at Cadillac Place. Marlow has actually recorded more points than Bailes so far this season (27 to 26), although Bailes has scored more goals (18 to 13).  He also has the unusual distinction of being one of four regular starters in the SHL who has yet to record a penalty this season.

D: Dave Frederick, Anchorage. In a selection considered debatable by some, Castor tabbed the 31-year-old Frederick to make his All-Star debut in the West’s bottom pairing.  Wolves fans argued for the selection of Brooks Zabielski or Frank Mudrick over Frederick, while Sailors supporters protested that Doron Lidjya was unfairly snubbed.  In fairness to Frederick, he has some points in his favor: he’s second among Western defenders in plus-minus at +19, and he’s produced on offense, putting up 4 goals and 11 assists so far this season.

RW: Elliott Pepper, Seattle. The Sailors get their second representative in Pepper, who’s making his first All-Star appearance.  The winger got off to a strong start that earned him Player of the Week honors in the season’s first week.  He’s cooled off some since, but he remains one of the league’s better offensive performers, with 16 goals (tied with fellow All-Star Mango for the Seattle team lead) and 13 assists so far on the year.

 

Goaltenders

Dirk “The Bear” Lundquist, Michigan.  Although the SHL’s best-bearded goalie isn’t quite as dominant this season as he has been in years past, he still won the starting nod handily, according to the fan vote.  Lundquist’s numbers are certainly nothing to sneeze at, either: his 18 wins are tied for the league lead, while his 1.91 GAA is second-best and his .926 save percentage is good for third overall.

Ty Worthington, Anchorage. The Igloos netminder will be the Western backup once again this time around. Although Worthington got off to something of a slow start this season, he’s rebounded nicely in recent weeks, helping Anchorage firm up their hold on second place in the West.  Overall, his numbers remain quite respectable: 13-11-0, 2.41 GAA, .923 save percentage  — good enough to get the nod over Saskatchewan’s Zeke Zagurski.

Igloos Prevail Over KC In Wild OT Battle

When the Anchorage Igloos hosted the Kansas City Smoke on Friday, they were hoping for an easy win over a team on an eight-game winless streak, which would allow them to solidify their second-place standing in the West.  While the Igloos did ultimately prevail over the Smoke, it was anything but easy.  Twice, Anchorage had to rally from three-goal deficits, and needed overtime before they escaped with a wild 8-7 victory.

“Man, that was a battle we weren’t expecting!” exclaimed C Jake Frost after the game.  “We showed a lot of fight, a lot of heart, but boy, KC put a scare into us.”

The Smoke showed up ready to play.  It only took 15 seconds for LW Louis LaPlante to get on the board with his first goal of the season, a slapper past Igloos netminder Wendall Cantillon. Frost evened things up two minutes later with a shot from the right faceoff circle, but rookie C Noel Picard put the Smoke back ahead just over a minute later with a tip-in from the slot.  Midway through the first, Kansas City struck twice to take a 4-1 lead, leaving the crowd at Arctic Circle Arena in an uneasy silence.

Igloos coach Sam Castor considered lifting Cantillon at that point.  But given that it was the backup’s first action all week, the coach stayed with his goalie.  “Wendall’s got to have a chance to deal with adversity,” said Castor.  “I wanted to see how he’d react, and how the team would react.”

Anchorage rallied to Cantillon’s rescue, with RW Remi Montrechere and D “Chilly Willy” Calligan scoring to pull within one by the end of the period.  Four minutes into the second period, Montrechere struck again to tie it up and bring the crowd to its feet.

“We felt like the mommentum was going our way,” said Montrechere.  “We were in control and ready to pull away.”

As it turned out, the momentum was about to shift back to the visitors.  Three minutes after Montechere’s tally, Smoke LW Piotr Soforenko deflected a shot past Cantillon to retake the lead.  C Phil Miller went top-shelf to make it a 6-4 game at the end of the second period.

47 seconds into the third period, Kansas City D Tony Hunt notched a power-play tally to give the Smoke another three-goal lead and putting the Igloos behind the eight ball.

“We needed a jolt, and fast,” said Frost.

They got a pair of jolts in short order.  Five seconds after Hunt’s score, Montrechere blasted a shot just inside the pole to complete his hat trick.  Then, a minute later, C Broni Zhlotkin took exception to a rough hit from Hunt and dropped the gloved with him at center ice.  Although the donnybrook completed Hunt’s “Gordie Howe hat trick” (a goal, an assist, and a fight), it fired up both the Anchorage bench and the crowd.

Twenty seconds after the fight, LW Les Collins banged home a juicy rebound to pull the Igloos within one.  Six and a half minutes later, C Nile Bernard went five-hole on KC goaltender Brooks Copeland and tied it up.  Bernard jumped up against the boards in the corner as the fans banged the glass in delight.

Although the atmosphere in the arena remained near delirium for most of the third period, the Igloos couldn’t push the go-ahead goal across.  Frost and Collins each hit the post, and Copeland made a tremendous sprawling stop with three minutes left in regulation to rob Montrechere of a fourth goal.

The game went to overtime, with both teams and the fans exhausted.  “In OT, that was all adrenaline,” said Frost.  “We had no energy left.”  With a minute and a half left in the extra session, RW Nicklas Ericsson faked a pass to Frost in the slot and slid it up to the blue line, where D Ted Keefe fired a blast that hit the crossbar and went in for the game-winning goal.

Keefe’s goal delivered the Igloos their fourth straight win and their fifth in the last six games.  It also moved Anchorage seven points clear of Saskatchewan and Seattle for second place; it’s their largest lead of the season.  But Castor remains dissatisfied with his team’s performance.  “We had no business winning this game,” the coach said.  “We’ve looked a lot better this week, but we’re going to need to tighten it up on a night-to-night basis if we’re going to make the playoffs.”

Castor’s players were happier with the outcome. “Coming back from a three-goal [deficit] in a game is a game is impressive,” said Frost.  “Doing it twice in one game?  That doesn’t happen.  We’re pretty awesome!”

Igloos Struggle with Stunning Upset

After the Hershey Bliss won Game 7 of the SHL Finals in overtime to claim the Vandy, the Anchorage Igloos lined up to shake hands with their opponents and congratulate them on a game well played.  After that, they quietly filed off the ice, barely acknowledging their stunned and heartbroken fans, and headed into the locker room.  In the clubhouse, they encountered workers hastily tearing down the plastic sheeting they’d put up, preparing for a celebration that never happened.  It was a fitting metaphor for the Igloos, who sat quietly and pondered how they had lost a series everyone thought they would win.

“It’s hard to believe,” said C Jake Frost, who led the league in goals but couldn’t get his team over the hump in the Finals.  “I don’t know that it’s really sunk in yet.  It doesn’t seem real.”

Coming into this series, Anchorage seemed almost guaranteed to win their second SHL title.  They finished the season 20 points ahead of Hershey, and appeared to be the superior team in virtually every way.  And after blasting the Bliss 5-1 in Game 1, it appeared the only question was whether the Igloos would sweep or win it in five.  But every game after that was a one-goal affair (save for a blowout Hershey win in Game 5), and two went to overtime.

“It was about as close to a tie as it could be,” said RW Nicklas Ericsson.  “But in the playoffs, there are no ties.  Someone must win.”

Anchorage’s league-best offense was virtually invisible after that first game; they scored only 8 times in the final six games of the series.  “We had a hard time establishing momentum on the attack,” said Frost.  “Most games during the season, we were able to play our game and impose our will on the other team.  Not in this series.  This was more like a Michigan game, the defense was that strong.”

Some Anchorage players pointed to the loss of netminder Ty Worthington, who was injured at the beginning of Game 5, as a pivotal factor in the series.  “I think we win it with Ty in there and healthy,” said D Ted Keefe.  “He was such a huge factor for us.”  On the other hand, the Bliss also lost their leading scorer, C Justin Valentine, in that game.

Igloos coach Sam Castor was blunt in his assessment of his team’s performance.  “It was a close series, but we were outplayed,” Castor told reporters.  “They wanted it more, and I don’t think we were properly prepared for that.  As a coach, I take responsibility for that.  I think we took them too lightly, which is always dangerous in a playoff situation.”

Looking forward, Castor and his players remain confident, especially with the expanded four-team playoff field next season.  “The good news is that with the bigger playoffs, we can make it even if Michigan finishes ahead of us,” said Frost.  “The bad news is that we’ll probably play them in the first round no matter what.  But that’s fine.  If you want to be the best, you have to beat the best.”