2019 SHL Finals – Game 6

HAMILTON PISTOLS 5, ANCHORAGE IGLOOS 3

(Hamilton wins, 4-2)

In the locker room before the third period of today’s Game 6, Hamilton Pistols coach Keith Shields looked for the right words to inspire his struggling team.  After forty minutes of play, the defending champions Anchorage Igloos led the Pistols 3-1.  The Igloos were just a period away from erasing Hamilton’s 3-1 series lead in the SHL Finals, setting up a winner-take-all Game 7 in Anchorage tomorrow.  The momentum was firmly on the side of the champs, and the Pistols’ hopes for the Vandy were rapidly slipping away.

“I knew I didn’t want it to go to seven,” said Shields.  “I knew our best chance to win was today, even having to come from behind.”

And so the coach, who is a devout Christian, talked to his players about the story of David and Goliath.  “The Israelites were saved because one man was brave enough to take on this giant on the other side,” the coach said.  “And with God’s strength behind him, David killed Goliath.  Who among you is brave enough to defeat our enemy?  If that’s you, step forward like David did.”

One by one, the Pistols stepped forward.  Then they went out and staged the biggest comeback in Finals history, scoring four unanswered goals to take a 5-3 win and clinch their first-ever SHL title.

The first player to answer Shields’ challenge was, unsurprisingly, LW Steven Alexander.  The winger has been Hamilton’s unquestioned leader since the beginning, a brave and ambitious player who discovered a new level to his game after tying the knot in mid-season.  He got the team going in the right direction right from the opening faceoff of the third, marching down the ice and scoring just 16 seconds into the frame.

“Coach Shields had gotten us fired up with his speech, but someone needed to get our comeback started,” said D Hercules Mulligan.  “And of course it was Alex.  That guy knows no fear.”

Alexander got things rolling, but Hamilton needed another hero.  Up stepped one of their oldest players.  33-year-old RW Kenny Patterson considered retiring after last season, before signing an extension with the Pistols to fill a hole on the second line.  And when his team needed him most today, he came through with the tying and (ultimately) winning goals.

The tying tally came on a power play, as Igloos D Tony Citrone was penalized for tripping.  Patterson stationed himself in front of the Anchorage net, absorbing hacks and slashes from defenders.  And when D Raymond Smyth fired a shot toward the net, Patterson deflected it just beyond the reach of Igloos goalie Ty Worthington and just under the crossbar.

The go-ahead goal came on a similar tip play on 5-on-5 just over two minutes after the previous one.  This time, it was D Clayton Risch firing from the blue line while Patterson stood in the slot.  The puck bounced off Patterson’s stick and knuckled past a stunned Worthington.  The Igloos protested, arguing that Patterson’s stick had been above the crossbar when it struck the puck.  Upon review, though, it was deemed a good goal.  The fans at Arctic Circle Arena booed, while the Igloos sagged on the bench.

“They couldn’t believe it,” Patterson said.  “They’d been so sure they had this one in the bag, and then we came back and they didn’t know what to do.”

RW Claude Lafayette has been a close friend of Alexander’s since childhood and shares a line with the star.  So it only seems fitting that he gave Hamilton an insurance goal with less than seven minutes left, finishing off an odd-man rush that Alexander started.  The old friends wrapped each other in an embrace and screamed in celebration, while the crowd fell into a stunned silence.

The Igloos tried to mount a rally, but the fired-up Pistols overwhelmed them.  Anchorage’s final push was thwarted when LW Jerry Koons took an ill-timed tripping penalty with three minutes remaining.  A frustrated Koons slammed his stick against the glass and buried his head in his hands as he sat in the sin bin.

“I feel like I cost us the championship,” said Koons.  “I took a stupid, stupid penalty at the worst possible time.”

As the final horn sounded, the Pistols raced toward their blue line to celebrate.  They pounded each other on the back and shouted, “We won, we won, we won!  We won!”  When Commissioner Perry Mitchell presented them with the Vandy, Alexander took a long lap around the ice, tears streaming down his cheeks as he contemplated the team’s accomplishment.

“I have lived to see our glory!” said Alexander in the locker room, as his teammates poured beer and champagne over his head.  “It’s been an amazing year for me, getting married and winning the title, and this is a new high.  When our children tell our story, they’ll tell the story of tonight.”

Shields ran around the locker room, hugging his players and doing his best to dodge the beer showers.  “Goliath is dead!” shouted the coach. “With our faith and our bravery, we stood up against our mightiest opponent and we took him down.  All hail the heroes!”

A somber Sam Castor, coach of the Igloos, congratulated the victorious Pistols.  “Make no mistake, they earned this title,” said Castor.  “It was a hard-fought series, but they were the better team in the end.  They deserve this.”

Continue reading “2019 SHL Finals – Game 6”

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SHL Quote of the Week (Week 1)

“If he wants to go again next time, we can go, but it will be very detrimental to his face.”

  • Anchorage Igloos D Tony Citrone, about Dakota Jackalopes D Sergei Trefilov.  Citrone and Trefilov fought in the third period of Sunday’s season-opener.  By all accounts, Citrone won the fight.

2018 SHL Finals – Game 7

ANCHORAGE IGLOOS 4, QUEBEC TIGRES 3

There were several points this season when it appeared that the Anchorage Igloos would fail in their quest for their second Vandy.  The team hovered around the .500 mark for much of the season.  Coach Sam Castor called his club out for a lack of effort at one point.  Even as late as the trading deadline, it wasn’t clear whether the Igloos would be able to hold on to a playoff spot.

Anchorage finished the season strong, however, and seemed prepared to rampage through the postseason.  They swept the Michigan Gray Wolves in the division playoff, then won three straight in the Finals to push the Quebec Tigres to the brink.  But in one final, cruel twist of fate, they proceeded to lose three straight to Quebec to even the series, leaving it up to a winner-take-all Game 7 at Centre Citadelle.

“I suppose we could have made it harder on ourselves,” said C Jake Frost, “but I’m not sure how.”

Fortunately, Anchorage was up to the challenge.  In a game for the ages, the Igloos rallied from behind twice with the help of some unlikely faces and squeezed out a 4-3 victory, becoming the first two-time SHL champion.

“We really went through hell to get here,” said Castor, “but that makes the victory so much sweeter.”

After being manhandled by the Tigres in Game 6, the Igloos needed to get their offense back on track in this contest.  They got off to a decent start in the first period, outshooting Quebec 11-8, but they couldn’t get one past goalie Riki Tiktuunen.  Worse yet, Castor sensed that some of his stars – particularly Frost and RW Nicklas Ericsson – were pressing a bit.

“We were definitely playing tight out there early,” said the Anchorage coach.  “I knew we needed to do something to shake things up.”

To top it all off, D Tony Citrone was penalized in the first couple minutes of the game for a slashing call that the Igloos considered highly questionable.  On the ensuing power play, Tigres RW Stephane Mirac deflected a knuckling puck just inside the post to give the home team a 1-0 lead that stood up through period’s end.

Heading into the second, Castor decided to take a gamble.  The Igloos coach decided to give more ice time to their bottom line of LW Waldo Miranda, C Harvey Bellmore, and RW Broni Zhlotkin.  That group earned themselves the nickname “The Circus Squad” both because of their penchant for practical jokes and their tendency to make on-ice mistakes.  Castor tends to limit their shifts for that reason, but he gambled that their goofy nature might be an advantage in a high-pressure game like this.

“I figured they were too dumb to get scared,” said the Igloos coach.

Castor’s hunch paid off in a big way.  Two and a half minutes into the second period, during an extended offensive shift, Bellmore drifted close to the net and redirected a shot from D Olaf Martinsson over Tiktuunen’s right pad to tie the score at 1.

The deadlock lasted less than a minute, however, as D Laurie Workman fired a slapshot that beat a screened Ty Worthington to put Quebec back in front.

Castor’s solution?  Put the Circus Squad right back out there.  And just 16 seconds after Workman’s tally, Bellmore went top-shelf on Tiktuunen to tie the score back up.  To celebrate his offensive explosion, Bellmore beat his chest and let out a Tarzan scream.

“Sometimes, you just need to send the nutcases out there,” said Castor.

Later on in the period, LW Jerry Koons got the top line on the board, finishing a breakaway by beating Tiktuunen on the glove side and giving the Igloos their first lead of the game.

“We couldn’t let the bottom line do all the work,” quipped Koons.

The Igloos weren’t quite out of the woods yet.  A minute and a half into the third period, Mirac fired a laser past Worthington for his second goal of the game, tying the score.  Once again, the Circus Squad came to the rescue.  Bellmore, trying for a hat trick, fired a shot that wound up in a scrum in front of the net.  The puck wound up bouncing to Miranda, who fed it over to Zhltokin.  The rugged winger wrestled free of his defender and slapped it home to put the Igloos ahead for good.

“If anyone predicted that Broni Zhlotkin was going to get the goal that won the Finals, I want to meet that guy,” said Castor.  “He and I are going down to the racetrack.”

Anchorage still had to weather a couple of late Quebec rushes, but Worthington was on duty and kept the Tigres from tying the score.  With about two minutes left in the game, Mirac skated behind the net and tried a wraparound shot, but Worthington got over in the nick of time and deflected it with his skate blade.

The postgame handshake line was far from the usual perfunctory routine.  Players on both side squeezed each other’s arms, thumped chests, and even hugged.  It was a gesture of mutual respect between a pair of worthy adversaries who expect to see each other again in a situation like this.

“Quebec gave us everything we could handle,” said Castor.  “Stephane and his team deserve a ton of credit.  We got the Vandy this time, but I’m sure they’ve got one ahead of them.”

For his part, Tigres coach Martin Delorme kept his focus on the future.  “We learned a lot of lessons here that will serve us well,” Delorme told reporters.  “We faced a great team and nearly beat them.  I cannot wait for next season.”

Continue reading “2018 SHL Finals – Game 7”

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”