Offseason Update: A Colorful Offseason for Igloos

At the suggestion of the team owner, the Anchorage Igloos decided to celebrate the rainbow with a special outdoor event. Called “Rainbow Off Ice”, the event centered on celebrating Pride Month and the warmer weather in Anchorage. The players took to the blacktop to play street hockey in front of their fans, surrounded by a world of rainbow. The event was $30 to attend; all profits were donated to the Trevor Project, an organization that specializes in providing support for LGBT+ youth.

Kids from a local elementary school were brought in the day before to decorate the pavement with chalk art that centered around pride. The players were given custom jerseys to rock the rainbow; those were auctioned off at the end of the event, with all money from the auction being donated to GLSEN, an organization that fights to end LGBTQ+ discrimination within school systems.  

The Igloos players loved the event, saying that the change of pace was fun and that they were encouraged to see the organization give back.

Many of the decorations put up for the event were inspired by player suggestions. For example, the “Walk of Pride” was inspired by LW Les Collins, who suggested that the players enter on a multi-colored version of a red carpet. During the entrances, fans could take photos with players in front of a background of pride flags.

After almost a month of searching, GM WIll Thorndike was able to find a rainbow carpet suitable for the occasion. Thorndike reflected on his purchase: “I never thought I would be ordering a custom carpet for the boys, but I was impressed that I was able to fulfill their request.” 

The flags had actually arrived while the season was still ongoing, and needless to say there were a lot of them, According to a team intern, the flags were bulk ordered with over 1,000 of each type. Due to the large size of the shipment, the boxes of pride flags wound up overflowing into the hallway leading to the locker room. The boxes became a running joke among the players, who started a betting pool to guess how many were in each box.

Igloos C Jake Frost said the event was: “the most colorful hockey event to come from the SHL.”

Ty Worthington

Goalie Ty Worthington took the event as a chance to finally show his own pride to his teammates, as he came out as bisexual. His teammates fully accepted him and were happy for him to be able to be his true self.

.“I don’t care what parts Ty is into,” said D Olaf Martinsson. “All that matters to me is his skills in the net and his friendship on and off the ice.”

In a post-event interview, Worthington stated that “I never thought I would be so closely tied to an offseason event. As a member of the [LGBTQ+] community myself, I was able to enjoy the festivities in a much more personal way. I’m glad that I can finally share my true self with everybody.  And I loved wearing my flag as a cape!”

It seems safe to say the event was a roaring success with both the fans and the players. The event was able to raise over $31,000, with about 700 attendees in total. The players’ social media was quite bright with their photos from the festivities and the players were tagged in a plethora of colorful selfies.

“I hope we do this every year,” said Frost.  “It was a great event and I was glad to be part of it.”

First-Time Winners Dominate SHL Annual Awards

At the SHL’s fifth annual awards banquet, Commissioner Perry Mitchell continued his annual tradition of handing out trophies honoring the league’s best players and coaches.  As usual, the awards were chosen based on votes from SHL players, coaches, and media. As was the case last year, many of this year’s award winners were first-timers.

During his opening remarks, Commissioner Mitchell cited the recently-completed Finals between the Hamilton Pistols and the Anchorage Igloos as an example of the best the league has to offer.  “It was a series that featured some of the league’s best veterans – players like Steven Alexander, Jake Frost, Raymond Smyth, and Ty Worthington – right alongside emerging stars like Lasse Koskinen and Tom Hoffman.  The present and the future, playing together on the same ice.  It showed me once again that our league is in good hands, now and for years to come.”

The 2020 award winners are as follows:

Most Valuable Player: C Calvin Frye, Hamilton Pistols

Last season, Frye’s teammate Steven Alexander has a monster second half, led the Pistols to their first-ever SHL title, and was the overwhelming choice as the league’s MVP.  This year, it was Frye who took over the role as the team’s premier offensive option.  It was Frye who led the team to its second straight title and earned Finals MVP honors in the process.  And it is Frye who is the runaway winner of the league MVP award.  Frye finished ahead of Alexander (as well as the rest of the Pistols) in goals (42) and points (77).

“There’s no way that we would have won these titles without Alex; he’s our heart and soul, and his drive sets the tone for the whole team” said Pistols coach Keith Shields.  “But there’s also no way we would have gotten over the hump without Cal, and without him flourishing and blossoming into the superstar he is now.  He’s the puzzle piece that clicked everything into place.”

Others receiving MVP votes included Hershey’s Justin Valentine, Portland’s Eddie Costello, and Anchorage’s Tom Hoffman

Rookie of the Year: RW Bengt Frederiksson, Kansas City Smoke

This award comes as little surprise; when Frederiksson was chosen with the first overall pick in the draft, he was considered one of the league’s best-ever scoring prospects.  The Swedish-born winger didn’t disappoint, finishing in the top 10 in the league in points with 71 (two points shy of the SHL rookie record set last year by Boston’s Alain Beauchesne).  In a down year for scoring around the league, Frederiksson still finished with 28 goals, and displayed a surprisingly deft passing touch with 43 assists.  It’s the second year in a row that a Smoke player claimed the Rookie of the Year honors; last season, the award went to D Bastien Chouinard.  Thanks in no small part to Frederiksson’s offensive spark, Kansas City jumped 21 points and moved from last place to fourth in the standings.

“Bengt gave our top line a whole new spark,” said Smoke coach Randy Bergner.  “Just look at his speed, his incredible shot, and his creativity.  He just transformed our offense.  He’s still figuring some things out, but watching him gives me hope.  We’re starting to resemble a real, functioning hockey team, and that’s pretty cool.”

Frederiksson received a stiff challenge for the award from Dakota D Brady Prussian, who raised eyebrows by recording 11 goals and 25 points in just half a season.  Other vote-getters included Hamilton’s Elvis Bodett, Boston’s Levi Rudyard, and Hershey’s Nash Gould.

Coach of the Year: Kyle Barrow, Boston Badgers

2020 was Barrow’s first season as a head coach, after many years as an assistant in Anchorage.  he made an auspicious debut in a number of ways.  The Badgers saw a dramatic improvement in their on-ice fortunes, jumping from 45 points to 64 and finishing with a .500 record for the first time in franchise history.  Barrow also turned around what had been a toxic and hard-partying clubhouse, getting the team to focus on playing hard and winning games.  On a personal level, the coach was a trailblazer; he is the first openly gay figure in the league.

Barrow dedicated his win to his husband, Jim, and to the LGBTQ community.  “Even though the world is changing, there’s still a lot of prejudice out there and a lot of barriers for us, especially in sports,” said Barrow.  “But I’m here to say that there are no limits to what you can achieve.  And I hope that if there are young queer kids out there who dream of being a player or a coach someday, they can see me and know that it can happen.”

Other finalists included Hamilton’s Keith Shields, Portland’s Harold Engellund, and Anchorage’s Sam Castor.

Sharp Shooter Award: C Calvin Frye, Hamilton Pistols

The Sharp Shooter Award is one of two awards that is not given out base on the outcome of a vote.  Instead, the honor is awarded to the player who finishes the season with the highest goal total. This year’s winner was Frye, whose 42 goals in the 2020 season allowed him to finish three goals ahead of his nearest competitors, Alexander and New York’s Brock Manning.

Frye is the first player to win the MVP and the Sharp Shooter Award in the same season.  (Last year, Alexander won the MVP and the Commissioner’s Trophy.)  With the Pistols taking home the Vandy as well, it’s a highly decorated year for the 25-year-old center.

“This year has been an amazing ride for me and for the whole team,” said Frye.  “I can’t wait to see what we get done together next year!  Maybe we can make it three in a row.”

Alexander paid tribute to his younger teammate, saying, “It can be hard sometimes when you have two alphas on a team, but it’s not like that with us.  We complement each other’s game, and we’re both focused on creating the best opportunities for the team.”

Commissioner’s Trophy: LW Lance Sweet, Hershey Bliss and LW Chase Winchester, New York Night

Similar to the Sharp Shooter Award, the Commissioner’s Trophy is not awarded based on the result of a vote.  Instead, the award goes to the player who finishes with the highest point total.  For the second season in a row, this award was split between two players.

Sweet is a first-time award winner.  Skating on Hershey’s high-powered “Love Line”, Sweet racked up plenty of assists facilitating for Justin Valentine and Christopher Hart, in addition to scoring plenty of goals in his own right.  He finished the season with 84 points, including 57 assists (the third-highest total in the league) and 27 goals (second on the Bliss, behind Valentine).

“It’s great that Lance won this award, because he doesn’t get enough recognition,” said Valentine.  “He’s the ultimate team player.  When we need someone to create and set us up, he’s there with a perfect pass right on the tape.  When we need someone to generate offense, he can create his own shot and drive it home with the best of them.  If we need somebody to get along the wall and dig pucks out, he’s there for that too.  He’s a super-utility player.”

Winchester claims the award for the second year in a row and the third time overall.  He has long been one the SHL’s top assist men, regularly feeding high-scoring linemates Manning and Rick Nelson.  He once again led the league in assists with 68, seven ahead of the second-place finisher, Hamilton’s Claude Lafayette.  Thanks to his league league-leading assist haul, the 33-year-old Winchester was able to tie Sweet atop the points leaderboard.

“I’m getting to the backside of my career,” said Winchester.  “And what I want more than anything is to win a Vandy.  But until that happens, I’m glad that I can at least get some props for my passing prowess.”

Goalie of the Year: Ty Worthington, Anchorage Igloos

Historically, this award has belonged to Dirk Lundquist.  The Michigan goaltender had won this award three of the previous four seasons.  However, Lundquist (and the Wolves) had a down year in 2020, opening the field to other contenders.  This time around, the award went to Worthington, Lundquist’s close friend and netminder for the Wolves’ longtime rival in Anchorage.  Worthington had a typically terrific season, going 27-15-4 with a 2.40 GAA and a .926 save percentage.  Those marks are good enough to rank him first in the SHL in save percentage, second in GAA, and third in wins.

“Ty has always been one of the league’s top goalies,” said Igloos coach Sam Castor.  “But he’s always had to stand in The Bear’s shadow.  Finally, this season, Ty is able to get some of the recognition that he deserves.”

Other finalists for the award included Portland’s Jesse Clarkson, Quebec’s Riki Tiktuunen, and Lundquist.

Defenseman of the Year: Reese Milton, Hershey Bliss

This honor has been a long time in coming.  Milton has long been recognized as one of the SHL’s elite blueliners, but year after year, he would come up frustratingly short in the voting for the award.  He has been a finalist for the award every year in which it has been awarded, and he has come in second in the voting three times.  But this year is the first time Milton has actually won the award, getting the nod over Saskatchewan’s Wyatt Barnes in a close vote.  Milton’s two-way brilliance was just too much for the voters to ignore this time around: his 48 assists and 64 points were tops among blueliners, and his 16 goals tied him for second at the position, while his 150 blocks were second-most in the league.

“Wait, I actually won?!” said Milton, upon learning of his award.  “I didn’t think that was allowed!  I thought maybe the voters were biased against squirrels.  I thought I was always going to be the bridesmaid, never the bride.  Not literally, because I’ve never been an actual bridesmaid.  But you know what I mean.”

In addition to Barnes, other award finalists included Boston’s Matt Cherner, Portland’s Benny Lambert, and Milton’s teammate Jean-Luc Aubin.

2020 SHL Finals – Game 5

HAMILTON PISTOLS 5, ANCHORAGE IGLOOS 1

(Hamilton wins series, 4-1)

As the Hamilton Pistols prepared for a potential Finals-clinching Game 5, LW Steven Alexander stood in the middle of the visiting locker room and made a brief but powerful statement.

“This ends tonight,” said Alexander of the series.  “When we go back to Hamilton, I don’t want to play more hockey.  I want to be able to go party and celebrate with our friends.  Who’s with me?”

The other Pistols shouted their assent.  Then they went out and dominated the Anchorage Igloos, cruising to a 5-1 win and becoming the first team in SHL history to win back-to-back championships.

“Double Vandys, baby!” crowed Alexander after the game.  “We’ve started a revolution in the SHL.  The old empires are falling, and now it’s our time!”

The first period was competitive, as the Igloos – fighting for their playoff lives – came out fast.  They outshot Hamilton 16-7 in the opening stanza.  But thanks to Lasse Koskinen‘s strong goaltending and a couple of quality shots, the Pistols came away with a lead after 20 minutes.

The Igloos took the first six shots of the game, but couldn’t get any of them behind Koskinen.  When the Pistols finally got some offensive zone time about five minutes in, it didn’t take RW Claude Lafayette long to score the game’s first goal with a fierce snipe that snuck in between Igloos goalie Ty Worthington‘s left arm and torso.

That initial lead was short-lived; Igloos C Jens Bunyakin scored the equalizer just 30 seconds later.  But the Pistols didn’t let that slow them down.  Later in the period, Anchorage was setting up for another extended offensive shift when Pistols D Albie Glasco managed to poke-check the puck away from Igloos LW Jerry Koons and over the blue line.  That set up a Hamilton jailbreak, which ended with a gorgeous drop pass to C Calvin Frye, who stashed it in the upper left corner of the net to make it a 2-1 game.

“Even though [the Igloos] got most of the shots in the first, we still came out ahead,” said Frye.  “We felt confident at that point that we were going to take it.”

Over the final 40 minutes, the Pistols slowly squeezed the life out of both the Igloos offense and the fans at Arctic Circle Arena as they steadily added to their lead.  Anchorage had as many shots in the first as they did over the rest of the game.

“I have to hand it to them,” said Igloos C Jake Frost of his victorious opponent.  “They could have tried to trap and sit on their lead, but they didn’t.  They really took it to us.”

Hamilton added two more goals in the second period, one early in the period on a slapshot by D Clayton Risch, and another late in the period on a tip-in at the doorstep by C J.C. Marais.

Alexander, naturally, put the capper on things early in the third with a blast from his favorite spot at the edge of the left faceoff circle.  The feisty winger dropped his stick and thrust his arms in the air, then skated over to the waiting embrace of his teammates.  As the Pistols celebrated, their whoops and hollers echoed in the rafter of the painfully quiet arena.

After Alexander’s score, it was just a matter of letting the time wind off the clock.  As the minutes ticked away, several Igloos stars on the bench covered their heads with towels, either to hide their emotions or so they didn’t have to watch.  Others sat, staring blankly into the distance as their championship hopes withered away.

When the final horn sounded, though, the Igloos raised their sticks in the air in tribute to their fans.  And the crowd gave their fallen heroes a standing ovation.  They even saved some applause for the winning Pistols, who acknowledged the tribute before heading down to the locker room to celebrate.

The post-game scene was a boisterous, jubilant celebration.  The Pistols smoked cigars and poured champagne over themselves and each other.  Players swayed arm-in-arm, singing old drinking songs off key in between swigs of beer and whiskey.

“I can’t think of a group of guys I’d rather go to war with,” crowed Alexander.  “These are my friends, my teammates, my comrades in arms.  Next year, let’s go for a three-peat!”

Coach Keith Shields, tie askew and suit jacket missing, celebrated his players.  “In victory, the glory always goes to God,” said Shields, “but these boys worked so hard for this all season, and they deserve this celebration.  It’s been my honor and privilege to share it with them!”

In the home locker room, Igloos coach Sam Castor paid tribute to the champions.  “They just outplayed us,” Castor said.  “It’s not often that I have to say that, but it’s true.  It was a good, clean. well-played series, but they outplayed us. and they deserved the Vandy.  It’s a tough pill for us to swallow, but it gives us a little extra fuel for next season.”

Continue reading “2020 SHL Finals – Game 5”

2020 SHL Finals – Game 3

HAMILTON PISTOLS 3, ANCHORAGE IGLOOS 2

(Hamilton leads series, 3-0)

Facing a must-win Game 3, the Anchorage Igloos improved in a number of critical ways over the first two games.  With the home crowd at Arctic Circle Arena behind them, they managed to slow down the Hamilton Pistols at least a bit, and prevented them from shooting at will.  Goalie Ty Worthington upped his game after a couple of rocky starts.  The Igloos power play, which had come up dry in the first two games, finally struck pay dirt – twice, even.  But even with all those improvements, the Igloos still came up short, as the Pistols came from behind to claim a 3-2 win and move to the brink of claiming their second straight title.

“We felt like we did everything we needed to do in order to win,” said Igloos C Jake Frost.  “But we didn’t win.  That’s pretty frustrating.”

Today’s game didn’t unfold at the same full-tilt pace at the last two, but the Igloos didn’t take long to take the lead.  Pistols C Marco Venezio wound up in the penalty box for elbowing just 28 seconds into the game, and RW Jean Pierre Fleury scored on the ensuing power play.  Better still, the Igloos were able to make that goal stand up – and keep Hamilton off the board for the rest of the first period and much of the second.  Unfortunately, they were unable to add to their lead despite numerous opportunities.

“The first half of the game, we were getting the better end of the play,” said Anchorage coach Sam Castor.  “But we really should have been up 2-0 or 3-0 at that point, not 1-0.  We were taking the first shot instead of the best shot on too many occasions.”

As a result, when Pistols C Calvin Frye redirected a shot into the upper right corner of the net, that wound up tying the score and deflating the crowd.  Hamilton coach Keith Shields felt that Frye’s goal was critical to Hamilton’s eventual victory.

“Before that point, we’d had some great shots, but it seemed like we weren’t ever going to get anything through,” said Shields.  “But then Cal scored, and that got things going for us.”

In the first minute of the third period, the Igloos got the fans back into the game, as D Tony Citrone fired it home to give Anchorage the lead back.  But a few short minutes later, Hamilton was able to shift the game’s momentum in their favor, this time for good.

Unsurprisingly, it was team leader Steven Alexander who was responsible for the Pistols’ tying goal.  It came on an extended shift in the offensive zone, one that Alexander himself helped to extend by chasing down a loose puck just before it crossed the blue line.  After several tic-tac-toe passes, the puck wound back up on Alexander’s stick, and he ripped a slapshot so powerful that it seemed to go through Worthington and into the net.

“That was a textbook shift for us, and for Alex to end it with a goal was perfect,” said Shields.  “If you want to know what Pistols hockey at its best is all about, just watch that shift.”

It was not Alexander, however, who scored the winning goal.  Instead, it was LW Jamie Campbell, the young winger who struggled through a mediocre season but has come to life in the postseason skating on the second line.  On this play, Campbell parked himself in front of the Anchorage net and would not allow himself to be dislodged, despite vigorous hacking and whacking from a couple of Igloos.  He took Worthington’s eyes away on a shot from the point by D Burt Hampton, and so the netminder was helpless when Campbell tipped the shot just inside the post.

“I’m finally contributing the way I feel like I should,” said Campbell.  “It’s about time.”

The Igloos tried desperately to find the tying goal, firing 19 shots in the third period (and 45 for the game).  But they couldn’t get another one past Hamilton’s Lasse Koskinen.  Shields lavished praise on his goalie after the game.

“Koski’s definitely been under fire in this series,” said the coach, “and he’s come through clean every time.  He’s been Johnny on the spot for us every time.  Heck of a goalie!”

Meanwhile, Worthington and the Igloos sat at a quiet locker room and pondered the uncomfortable truth.  They’d played their best game of the series, and it still hadn’t been enough.  One more loss and their season will come to an end.

In spite of that, Anchorage remains confident of a comeback.  “We’ve got to win four in a row,” said Frost.  “We’ve done that plenty of times this year.  We can do it again.”

Castor, though, doesn’t want his team looking that far ahead.  “We just need to take it one game at a time,” the coach said.  “Let’s win tomorrow and go from there.”

Continue reading “2020 SHL Finals – Game 3”