The Anchorage Igloos have been the SHL’s standard of excellence since the league’s beginning. They’ve been a great regular-season team, and they’ve been even better in the playoffs; they’ve been to the SHL Finals five times in six seasons. They’ve had some big wins (championships in 2015 and 2018), and they’ve had some tough losses (like their 2017 Finals loss to the Hershey Bliss).
One thing had never happened to the Igloos before: they’d never been decisively outplayed in a postseason series. That is, until now, when the Hamilton Pistols won their second straight Vandy in a five-game series in which they were clearly the superior team.
“This is different for us,” said C Jake Frost. “We’ve lost before, but [the losses] were always close. Even last year, the puck bounces different a couple times, and maybe that goes our way. But this year, [the Pistols] just flat-out beat us. They were the better team in this series. We’re not used to that.”
Coach Sam Castor echoed Frost’s assessment. “Coming into the Finals, after the way we knocked out Portland, we were feeling pretty confident,” the coach noted. “We were hot, and we felt like we were poised for the win. But Hamilton just took control of those games, and we couldn’t adjust. That’s never happened to us before.”
Just like last year, the Igloos face some difficult contract decisions in the offseason. The team is always right up against the salary cap, and they’ve got several players who need new contracts, led by D Ted Keefe, C Tom Hoffman, and winger Waldo Miranda. It’s likely that the team will be saying goodbye to at least one or two key contributors by next season.
“We’re a tight-knit group that’s been through a lot together, and it’s hard to think about not being part of that anymore,” said Keefe, who directed his agent to halt extension talks in midseason to avoid the off-ice distraction. “But change is part of life. We’ll have to see what happens.”
In addition to the offseason roster shuffle, the Igloos face a large question: how much longer can their dynasty last? It’s reasonable to argue that Hamilton, with consecutive championships, is now the SHL’s standard of excellence. But Anchorage’s core is aging, there are rising powers in the West as well. The Portland Bluebacks, who finished first in the regular season before suffering their playoff upset, should be as strong as ever. The Saskatchewan Shockers have been on a steady upward climb, and the Kansas City Smoke have improved as well. Even the Dakota Jackalopes, likely playing in a new city with a larger payroll, could be a threat. Anchorage isn’t even guaranteed to make the playoffs next season.
“We’re not handing over our crown until someone takes it from us,” said LW Jerry Koons. “But yeah, the division isn’t going to be a cakewalk, and we’ll need to be ready for that.”
Koons has a point; It would be foolhardy to count out a team with the Igloos’ talent and experience. But it would also be myopic to assume that they will remain a Finals fixture forever.
“This team has some good runs left in them, I’m confident of that,” said Castor. “It’s just going to be more of a fight. But we’ve got that fight.”