On Sunday, the Anchorage Igloos faced off against their longtime rivals, the Michigan Gray Wolves, to end the regular season. In prior years, this might have been a critical matchup; perhaps a playoff berth or even the division title might be at stake. But this season, the Igloos were already locked into the second playoff spot, and the Wolves had long since been eliminated from contention.
Anchorage came into the game with one primary goal: make sure no one gets hurt. A victory would be nice, but optional. They benched three of their stars – C Jake Frost, LW Jerry Koons, and D Ted Keefe – as a precautionary measure. But while they did win the game 4-2, they failed in their first objective, as RW Waldo Miranda went down with a serious injury, costing the team a key contributor for the postseason. Making matters worse, the injury came on a questionable hit that left the Igloos outraged.
Miranda had a very productive game for Anchorage, with a goal and two assists. But in the closing minutes of the third period, with the outcome already assured, Miranda was slowly drifting backward in the offensive zone when he was felled by a rough blindside hit by Wolves RW Vladimir Beruschko. The 37-year-old Beruschko, playing in what may be his final SHL game, skated up on Miranda from behind and leveled him. The hit was shoulder-to-shoulder, but it sent the Anchorage winger’s helmet flying and caused him to collapse to the ice. As Miranda writhed in pain, several Anchorage players swarmed Beruschko, shouting and shoving. Miranda had to be helped off the ice, and he did not return.
After the game, the Igloos expressed fury at what they felt was a dirty and unwarranted hit by Beruschko. “I thought that was a dirty play, absolutely,” said Frost. “It’s the last game of the season, you have nothing to play for, and you’re going to crush one of our guys, take him out for no good reason? That’s crap. It’s an ugly play by a player who, let’s be honest, has played ugly a lot in his career. He should have been ejected. And he didn’t even get a penalty?”
“When a guy gets hurt in the course of a normal play, it stinks, but that’s hockey,” said coach Sam Castor. “But when a key contributor like Waldo gets hurt on a hit that was questionable at best, in a game that has no stakes… that’s really low, in my opinion. And it’s a real disappointment for a guy like Vlad. He’s always been a hard-nosed player, but I’ve usually respected him. But this might be the last game of his career, and he puts one of my guys in the hospital just to be ugly. Is that how you want to be remembered? I’d expect more from him.”
In the aftermath of the game, Beruschko denied that he’d attempted to injure Miranda, and instead seemed to blame the Anchorage winger for his own injury. “Always, when you are on the ice, you must have your head up,” said Beruschko. “[Miranda] had his head down, was not looking around. How is that my fault? I hit him, but not to the head. It was a regular hockey hit.”
Interim Wolves coach Roger Stackledge noted that the Igloos had injured Michigan D Brooks Zabielski on a hard hit earlier in the game. “I absolutely don’t think Vlad was trying to hurt Miranda there,” Stackledge said. “Hockey’s a fast game, guys crash into each other hard at high speed, and sometimes guys get hurt. [The Igloos] are up in arms about what Vlad did to their guy, but they crushed our guy and I didn’t hear anyone saying sorry. I guess it doesn’t matter because we’re not going to the playoffs.”
The Igloos open the Western playoff against the Portland Bluebacks on Friday.