Sailors Outlast Smoke in Crazy 8-7 Win

As the regular season winds to a close, it’s looking increasingly likely that the Seattle Sailors will make the postseason for the first time in their existence (and, ironically, in their last season in Seattle).  It also looks increasingly likely that the Kansas City Smoke will finish with the league’s worst record, which means that they’ll get the top pick in the draft.

On paper, Sunday’s game was a mismatch.  But anything can happen in a single game, and the contest turned out to be a wild see-saw affair, culminating in a frenzied third period in which the teams combined to score seven goals.  In the end, Seattle emerged with a razor-thin 8-7 victory that allowed them to hold onto first place in the West for another day.

“This was like playing shinny as a kid,” said Sailors LW Rod “Money” Argent.  “Just firewagon action back and forth, all offense.  It was crazy.”

The game started with a bang, as Argent fired a shot that beat Kansas City netminder Gus Parrish just 26 seconds into the contest.  Smoke RW Tyler Cloude answered a couple minutes with a low shot that went five-hole on Sailors goalie Rocky Goldmire.  Just over five minutes after that, Seattle RW Vince Mango tucked a slapper just under the crossbar to give his team a 2-1 edge, which it maintained for the rest of the period.

In the first minute of the second period, C Darien Picard got Kansas City back even by beating Goldmire on a breakaway.  After that, though, Seattle went on a run, aided by some bad Smoke penalties.  First, C Mike Rivera went to the box for elbowing.  Kansas City killed off the penalty, but couldn’t get the puck out of their own end, allowing RW Rodney McElvern to tip a shot home and put the Sailors back in front.  A minute after McElvern’s goal, D T.K. O’Neill hit Argent in the mouth with his stick, drawing blood and earning a double minor.  Mango made the Smoke pay, hitting pay dirt on a shot from the right faceoff circle.  A couple minutes later, RW Zachary Merula took a cheap slashing penalty in the offensive zone.  This time, it took only 36 seconds for Mango to overwhelm the exhausted KC penalty kill, scoring again to complete his hat trick.  It was now a 5-2 Seattle lead, and it seemed like the rout was on.

The plucky Smoke refused to give up, however.  With 49 seconds left in the second stanza, LW Veikko Sikanen gathered up a rebound and stuffed it home, closing the gap to two.  Then in the first couple of minutes of the third, Rivera and Merula made up for their penalties by scoring just 14 seconds apart, tying the game and stunning the crowd at Century 21 Arena.

“We couldn’t believe that it was a game again,” said Mango.  “We were sure we’d put them away, but they came back on us.”

Seattle answered back just 24 seconds after Merula’s score, as C Napoleon Beasley beat Parrish on the short side to give the Sailors the lead again.  But KC wasn’t ready to give up.  LW Tadeusz Adamczyk scored to tie it yet again, and exactly a minute later, Cloude found the back of the net to give Kansas City its first lead of the game.

“[The Smoke] were like the Black Knight in Monty Python; we cut their limbs off and they just kept coming,” said Mango.  “’It’s just a flesh wound!’”

Fortunately for the Sailors, they had one more good push left, which they deployed in the final five minutes of the game.  C Marco Venezio got behind the defense and scored on a breakway to tie it up one more time.  A mere twelve seconds later, RW Elliott Pepper stormed down the ice on an odd-man rush and scored what provide to be the winning goal.  A pair of late penalties erased whatever chance Kansas City had for a comeback.

Harold Engellund

Sailors coach Harold Engellund praised his team for its resilience.  “One of the things I appreciate about this team is the way they can take a punch and keep going,” said Engellund.  “[The Smoke] didn’t make this one easy on us, but we hung in there and got the W.  That says something about the competitive character around here.”

Critics of the Sailors often argue that their lackluster defense will prevent them from succeeding in the playoffs, and giving up seven goals to the league’s worst team certainly argues in that direction.  Engellund, however, brushed off those concerns: “The bottom line is that we did what it took to win.  Maybe it wasn’t pretty, but so what?  You don’t get points for style, just for winning.”

Smoke Snap Skid With 6-5 Shocker Over Igloos

The Kansas City Smoke have been stumbling through a dismal month of hockey.  Coming into Saturday’s game, they’d lost five in a row and 13 of their last 14.  Since a rare three-game winning streak that ended on Valentine’s Day, Kansas City has posted a pitiful 1-18-1 record.  They’re weak on both sides of the puck; they’re dead last in goaltending (3.94 GAA and .885 save percentage), tenth on defense (34.5 shots allowed per game), and ninth on offense (100 goals scored).

On Saturday, the Smoke hosted the Anchorage Igloos at Heartland Telecom Center.  Given that the Igloos are fighting tooth and nail for playoff position in the crowded West, they were widely expected to stomp the Smoke.  Instead, Kansas City burst out with a rare offensive explosion, stunning Anchorage with a 6-5 win.  The Smoke scored as many goals in this game as they had during their prior five-game losing streak.

“This is a big win for us!” crowed Smoke RW Zachary Merula.  “When you’re in a slump like we’ve been, it’s easy to get down on yourself.  But we showed that we can beat anybody!”

After the first two periods, Kansas City had played Anchorage close, but still found themselves trailing 4-3.  This seemed like a harbinger of yet another defeat; third periods have been a horror show for the Smoke all season.  They’d blown countless leads in the last period; coming in behind, they seemed ripe for another blowout.

But in the locker room before the third, D Tony Hunt rallied his teammates.  In a young clubhouse, the 35-year-old Hunt has been a vocal leader.  He exhorted the Smoke to go out and steal a win.

“Hey guys, have you noticed [the Igloos] out there?” Hunt said.  “They’re just skating around.  They think they’ve got this one in the bag.  I think it’s time for us to go out there and give ‘em a shock!  We’ve got awesome fans, and it’s been a while since we’ve given them any good news.  Let’s go out and give ‘em a W they won’t forget!”

The fired-up Smoke didn’t take long to make good on Hunt’s words.  Just 41 seconds into the final period, RW Tyler Cloude snapped a shot between the pads of Anchorage goalie Wendell Cantillon to tie the score.  Hunt waved his arms to the crowd and got them to scream at the top of their lungs.

After that, Smoke C Mike Rivera took the spotlight.  Rivera is the Kansas City captain, but he generally prefers to lead by example.  Five minutes after Cloude’s tying blast, Rivera got behind the Anchorage defense and beat Cantillon on the short side to give the Smoke their first lead since the second minute of the game.  Ninety seconds later, Rivera redirected a slapper from LW Trevor Green into the net to make it 6-4 Kansas City.  Rivera jumped into the glass as the fans roared with delight.

“I got goose bumps, no lie,” said Rivera.  “Our crowds are usually pretty chill, but they really got amped this time.  Dude, it was amazing.”

The Smoke may have caught the Igloos napping early in the period, but the defending champs didn’t go down quietly.  Just over a minute after Rivera’s second goal, Igloos C Jake Frost scored to cut KC’s lead to one.  The crowd’s buzz turned uneasy; they’d certainly seen plenty of late collapses before.

But Hunt began thumping his stick against the boards, and persuaded his teammates to do the same.  Pretty soon, they had the crowd clapping in unison.

“What Tony did was really cool,” said Merula.  “I mean, these fans had every reason to think we were going to blow it, but Tony turned ‘em around and got them to believe.  And they got us to believe.”

Throughout the rest of the period, the Smoke fans showered their heroes with cheers and chants.  And the players responded, making rare blocks and steals.  Goalie Dennis Wampler made a couple of ten-bell saves that earned standing ovations.  And for the final minute of the game, all the fans got on their feet and roared, urging the Smoke on to a most unlikely victory.

“How ‘bout that W, huh!” exclaimed Smoke coach Randy Bergner, grinning ear to ear.  “This season’s been a slog at times, so I give a ton of credit to Hunter and the boys for making a stand.  And a big salute to our fans, who were the best I’ve ever seen!  We couldn’t have done this without them.”

Continue reading “Smoke Snap Skid With 6-5 Shocker Over Igloos”

Where There’s Smoke, There’s Fire: Adamczyk, Cloude Clash After KC Loss

It’s been a long season for the Kansas City Smoke.  Widely expected to be the worst team in the league this year, they surprised by getting off to a decent start.  However, they’ve swooned badly in the last few weeks, losing seven in a row and 12 out of their last 13.  Losing often makes for an unhappy clubhouse, and the Smoke’s is no exception.  The situation boiled over after a particularly tough loss this week, as two Kansas City players nearly came to blows after the game.

The showdown occurred after a brutal defeat in Quebec.  The Smoke and Tigres were tied 3-3 after two periods, raising hopes that Kansas City might be able to steal a badly-needed victory over a quality opponent.  Unfortunately, the Smoke collapsed in the third period, surrendering four goals and absorbing a 7-4 shellacking.  The crowd at Centre Citadelle jeered the visitors off the ice.

Tadeusz Adamczyk

After the game, the Kansas City locker room was silent at first.  After a few minutes, though, RW Tyler Cloude turned on the Bluetooth speaker in his locker and began blasting some music.  This irked veteran LW Tadeusz Adamczyk, who was on his way to the shower.

“Hey, turn that [stuff] off,” Adamczyk barked at Cloude.  The young winger responded by turning the music up further.  Adamczyk then grabbed a hockey stick and swatted Cloude’s speaker, knocking it to the floor.  He smashed the speaker repeatedly until it shattered.

Tyler Cloude

“What the hell is wrong with you, Deuce?” snapped Cloude.

“We just got our [butts] kicked, and you’re [screwing] around like we just won the Vandy,” Adamczyk shouted.  “How about you [expletive] straighten up and act right, you stupid [expletive]?”

“How about you take that stick out of your [butt]?” Cloude responded.

At that point, Adamczyk slammed down his stick and lunged at Cloude.  Teammates stepped in and separated them before any punches were thrown.

Adamczyk remained perturbed after the game.  “There are a lot of young guys on this team, guys who need to learn how to take this game seriously,” he told reporters. “Tonight was a total embarrassment.  After a game like that, everyone should be hanging their heads.  Instead, we’ve got guys laughing it up and blaring music.

“All they care about is hitting the clubs at night, instead of focusing on the game.  They treat this like it’s one big joke.  They don’t play hard, but they party hard.”

Cloude seemed mystified by the dust-up.  “Deuce and I have always gotten along,” he said.  “We’ve been losing and that sucks.  But I don’t think we have to throw a pretend funeral every night just to show everyone how hard we’re taking it.  Besides, I did my part today.  I scored a goal.”

Randy Bergner

Smoke coach Randy Bergner benched Adamczyk for Tuesday’s game against Washington, but said he wasn’t troubled by the incident.  “It’s a long season, and tempers run hot sometimes,” Bergner said.  “Guys rub on each other sometimes, especially when you’re losing.  Adamczyk’s a good guy, but he’s pretty old school.  Cloudy’s an easy-going guy, likes to have fun.  It was probably inevitable something like this would happen.”

The coach saw a bright side to the incident.  “At least the guys are still heated enough to fight each other,” Bergner noted.  “It’s when they don’t care enough to get pissed at each other that you really have to worry.”

Continue reading “Where There’s Smoke, There’s Fire: Adamczyk, Cloude Clash After KC Loss”

2017 SHL Finals – Game 7

HERSHEY BLISS 4, ANCHORAGE IGLOOS 3 (OVERTIME)

Coming into today’s winner-take-all Game 7, Hershey Bliss coach Chip Barber was honest about the challenge his team faced.  “It’s a heck of an assignment, that’s for sure,” said Barber.  “One game for all the marbles, on enemy ice, and we’re missing our top scorer,” Barber told reporters.  “How’s it going to come out?  I don’t know.  What I do know is that every man in here is going to give everything he has to win it.  We’re not holding anything back, because there is no tomorrow.”

In order to dramatize the stakes of the game, Barber placed a bag of marbles in every locker in the visiting locker room.  “This is it, we’re playing for all the marbles,” the coach told his players.  “And I know you’re all ready to go all in for the victory.”  One by one, each player stepped to the center of the room and tossed their marbles into a big bucket with the Bliss logo on it.

Next, injured captain Justin Valentine stepped up.  “I’m not going to be able to win it for us out there today,” Valentine said.  “So I need you guys to go out there and win it for me.  I’ve got total faith in everybody on this team.  I know you’ve got what it takes to win this one.  Let’s do it!”  Valentine then pulled out his iPhone and cued up the ’90s pop song “Tubthumping” by Chumbawumba, with its inspiring refrain “I get knocked down, but I get up again/You’re never gonna keep me down.”

“Maybe it was a little hokey,” admitted the captain, “but it put us in the right mood for the game.”

It definitely seems to have worked, as Hershey managed to eke out a 4-3 win in overtime to stun the Anchorage Igloos and win their first Vandy.

“We’ve been counted out so many times,” said Bliss LW Lance Sweet.  “But nobody in here ever gave up, nobody ever lost hope.  We believed in ourselves, and that carried us through.”

Hershey certainly could have lost hope after the first period, when the Igloos scored twice.  LW Les Collins got Anchorage on the board 10:31 into the game with a shot from the half-wall that snuck in under Bliss goalie Brandon Colt‘s armpit.  Then with 30 seconds left in the period, the Igloos got set up in Hershey’s end, and LW Jerry Koons deflected a shot past Colt to make it 2-0.  The crowd at Arctic Circle Arena roared its approval, thinking the game was in the bag.

“That was a real gut-check moment for us,” said C Henry Constantine.  “We knew we were about to let it slip out of our grasp.”

But Anchorage switched to a defensive, trapping style in the second period and they succeeded in slowing the game down and frustrating Hershey’s attempts to generate offensive momentum.  As the minutes ticked away, Anchorage’s two-goal lead loomed larger and larger.  The Bliss needed a hero.  True to the tenor of this series, help came from an unexpected source.

When Hershey acquired LW Vonnie McLearen at the deadline, they hoped he would give them the offensive jolt they needed to take the division title.  The deal didn’t quite work out as expected; McLearen struggled to mesh with his new teammates and managed only 2 goals and 10 points in 21 games with the Bliss.  He was a non-factor through the first six games of the Finals, failing to record a point and skating anonymously on a third line that achieved virtually nothing in its limited ice time.

But when the Bliss needed a spark in today’s game, it was McLearen who provided it, scoring a pair of goals in the span or 80 seconds to tie the game and stun the Anchorage crowd.  When three and a half minutes left in the second period, Hershey finally achieved sustained ice time in the offensive zone.  After failing to find a good look at the net in several tries, D Ruslan Gromov fired a hard slapper well wide of the net.  But McLearen shook free of his defender and deflected the puck past Igloos goalie Riley Lattimore.  Hershey was on the board at last.

But McLearen wasn’t finished.  Just over a minute later, the Bliss managed to break the Anchorage press, springing McLearen on an odd-man rush with linemates Sven Danielsen and Lee Fleming.  Danielsen headed for the net, faked a hard slapshot, then flipped the puck back to McLearen, who found the upper left corner of the net to make it 2-2.

“Just like that, it was like somebody pulled the plug on the crowd,” said Constantine.

Early in the third period, a visibly frustrated Igloos team committed three straight penalties, putting themselves on the defensive for the first several minutes, including a 5-on-3 situation for over a minute.  Anchorage managed to surivive the two-man deficit, but were still on the penalty kill when the Bliss took their first lead of the game.  D Nikolai Kulkarov, on a feed from – who else? – McLearen, fired a shot from the blue line that beat a screened Lattimore.

Igloos coach Sam Castor was sharply critical of his team’s play during the opening minutes of the third period.  “That was the only time in the series when we really fell down,” said Castor.  “We let the game get into our heads, and we played dumb hockey.  That isn’t like us, and it cost us.”

Kulkarov’s goal seemed to snap the Igloos out of their funk.  On the ensuing faceoff, Bliss D Pierre Chappelle took a double-minor for spearing Collins, and Anchorage cashed in on the power play.  C Derek Humplik tied it up with a laser from the top of the right faceoff circle.  The score brought the crowd back to life, and seemed to spur both teams on.  The second half of the third period was intense, as both teams went flat-out, setting up golden chances and making amazing stops.  Kulkarov fired up his team with a series of shot blocks that left him visibly pained but kept the Igloos from scoring the go-ahead goal.  On the other end, Lattimore made several brilliant stops, earning a round of stick taps from his teammates.

After 60 minutes, the game remained tied.  Sudden-death overtime is one of the most nerve-wracking experiences in sports, and when it occurs in a deciding game, the tension ratchets even higher.  Both squads were running on fumes and adrenaline in the extra session.  “I think we were all dead on our skates at that point,” said Sweet.  “The only thing that kept us going was the stakes of the game.”

Perhaps fortunately for both sides, overtime didn’t last long.  Just over three minutes in, RW Tyler Cloude turned the puck over in the offensive end.  Danielsen corraled it and flung a head man pass to Fleming, who found McLearen on a breakaway.  The winger streaked toward the Anchorage net, deked a shot toward the right post, then slid it under a sprawling Lattimore for the winning goal.  McLearen celebrated his hat trick by collapsing to the ice and sliding into the boards, before bouncing up and into the arms of his teammates.

“It was a real mountaintop moment,” said Sweet.  “It’s the highest I’ve ever been in my life.”

Before the Bliss retired to the locker to spray each other with champagne and chocolate syrup, they shook hands with the Igloos and then received the Vandy from Commissioner Perry Mitchell.  The commissioner called Hershey the “never-say-die team” and added, “You showed the skeptics just what an incredible team you are, and you proved that you have the heart of a champion.”

There was no question who would get to take the ceremonial first lap with the trophy.  Valentine took his time skating around the ice, both to avoid aggravating his injured leg and to soak in the moment as long as he could.

“We went through a lot to get here,” said the captain as tears rolled down his cheek.  “Finally, we made it!”

Continue reading “2017 SHL Finals – Game 7”

2017 SHL Finals – Game 4

ANCHORAGE IGLOOS 2, HERSHEY BLISS 1

Coming into today’s pivotal Game 4, Anchorage Igloos coach Sam Castor insisted that it was not a must-win game for his team.  “Look, we’ve got to break serve,” Castor told reporters before the game.  “We know that.  They won one in our barn, so we have to win one in their barn.  What order we do it in doesn’t matter, as long as we do win one.”

Despite Castor’s statement, the coach must have been relieved that his team was able to prevail over the Hershey Bliss in a close contest, 2-1, and tie the series at two games apiece.  “Really good to see the boys take care of business today,” said the Igloos coach.  “I think this one really swung the series in our favor.”

After a couple of slower-paced, defensive games, the Igloos turned on the jets and dominated possession of the puck, outshooting Hershey 41-23.  “We hadn’t had a game yet this series where we’ve really been in control,” said C Jake Frost.  “This time, we were able to dictate the play.”

Although they were able to dominate the puck, the Igloos weren’t able to run away with the game thanks to the heroics of Bliss goalie Brandon Colt.  The Hershey netminder made a number of dazzling saves to keep the game close.  In the first two periods, the Igloos were only able to pierce Colt once, when D Dave Frederick put a rebound just inside the right post with five and a half minutes left in the first period.  The score would have been much higher if not for multiple acrobatic saves by Colt, as he bounced around the crease and made save after save.

“Colter was like Inspector Gadget out there,” said Bliss C Henry Constantine.  “Anytime there was a shot that looked like it was going in, he’d shoot out his arm or his leg and make a crazy stop.  He was keeping us in it.”

Bliss RW Christopher Hart tied the game eight minutes into the third period by whistling a shot just underneath Igloos goalie Ty Worthington‘s left pad.  The crowd at Chocolate Center came alive, and on the visiting bench, the Igloos became agitated.

“We felt like we’d been getting the better end of the play, but it wasn’t showing up on the scoreboard,” said Anchorage C Nile Bernard.  “We felt like the next goal was going to win it, and we had to make sure it was us.”

Bernard was right; the next goal did decide the game, and the Igloos got it.  The winning tally came from a somewhat unlikely source.  LW Ben Summers arrived in Anchorage this season as a free agent, and he quickly became a favorite among fans and teammates alike as a quality third-line contributor.  But the top line has driven the action for both teams in this series, so few were expecting Summers to be the difference-maker.  But with less than five minutes remaining in the game, he deflected a shot from RW Tyler Cloude past Colt for the go-ahead tally.  There were some anxious moments for Anchorage while the referees reviewed the goal, since Hershey argued that Summers had played the puck with a high stick.  But after review, the goal was upheld, and the Igloos celebrated.

“Benny really came through for us,” said Frost.  “Just like he’s come through us all year.”

It was another physical game, with Bliss D Ruslan Gromov drawing the ire of some on the Anchorage bench after getting into his third fight in the last two games, this time going after LW Les Collins.  Castor indicated that he thought the league should consider suspending Gromov, because “he’s not playing hockey out there.  He’s trying to turn this series into a street fight.”  He paused, then added with a smile, “Of course, we’ve got the upper hand, so we’re not going to press the point.”

Do the Igloos really have the upper hand in a tied series?  Hershey coach Chip Barber reacted to Castor’s confident talk with a smirk.  “Sam’s a sly one, I’ll give him that,” said Barber.  “He’s walking around like M&Ms wouldn’t melt in his mouth.  But he’s more nervous than he lets on.  This is a wide-open series, and anyone can win it.  He can’t talk that away.”

Continue reading “2017 SHL Finals – Game 4”