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.”

CHL Update: Minnesota’s Fleury Sets Record With Five-Goal Game

Jean Pierre Fleury didn’t expect to be playing with the Minnesota Freeze this season.  Last season, Fleury made the Freeze’s parent club, the Anchorage Igloos, out of training camp and remained with the team all season.  Fleury assumed he was with the Igloos to stay after nailing down a spot on the third line.  But after putting up dismal numbers in the first half of the season – recording just 2 points – the Igloos ran out of patience and sent him back to the Freeze as a wake-up call.

“Even though I knew I was not playing well, this was shocking to me,” said Fleury. “I believed I would always be in the majors.”

Jean Pierre Fleury

Shocking though it may have been, Fleury definitely got the message.  He has played like a man possessed since arriving back in Minnesota.  In his 12 games with the Freeze, the winger scored 14 goals and notched 5 assists.  That flurry of brilliance was highlighted by his performance on Thursday, when he became the first player in CHL history to score 5 goals in a game.

“When JP arrived, the first thing I told him was ‘I hope you play well enough that I never see you again,'” said Freeze coach Petr Kokrda.  “He clearly didn’t need me to tell him twice.”

Fleury’s record-setting performance occurred in a 7-1 rout of the Idaho Spuds.  Perhaps even more impressive than the five goals themselves was the fact that he took barely more than a period to score them.

Minnesota went on the power play in the game’s opening minute when Spuds D Jay Brewster was called for elbowing.  Fleury got his first goal on that power play, redirected a shot from D Laszlo Cierny past Idaho goalie Kelvin White.  About three minutes later, Freeze D Brian Coldivar picked off a pass in the neutral zone and fed Fleury, who beat White on the short side for his second tally.  Just over a minu, who te after that, Minnesota C Tanner Everest won a faceoff in the offensive zone and flipped it to Fleury, who tucked it under the crossbar.  The game was just five and a half minutes old and Fleury already had a hat trick, stunning the crowd at Idaho’s Treasure Valley Arena.

D Richard Huckenchuk broke Fleury’s string of goals around the halfway mark of the period, scoring from the top of the faceoff circle to make it 4-0.  But the Minnesota winger struck again before the period was over, firing a shot from the slot that deflected off White’s left pad and trickled into the net.

The Spuds yanked White in favor of backup Xavier St. Pierre after the first period.  A little more than a minute into the second period, Fleury greeted St. Pierre by finishing an odd-man rush with a shot that beat St. Pierre on the glove side for his record-setting fifth tally of the night.

As amazing as it was, Fleury probably could have scored even more goals had not Kokrda not severely limited the minutes of his top line for the rest of the game, in order to give them a rest and spare Idaho further embarrassment.

“If JP had been playing his usual minutes, I really think he could have scored seven or eight, as crazy as that sounds,” said Kokrda after the game.  “He was that locked in, and playing at that high a level.”

For his part, Fleury reacted modestly to his record-breaking performance.  “I could not expect this at all,” he told reporters.  “I am as surprised as everyone else.”

At week’s end, Fleury earned the reward he sought: he was promoted back to the Igloos.  “JP did everything we could have asked him to do and more,” said Anchorage GM Will Thorndike.  “If he can bring that same energy with him that he showed in Minnesota, he’ll be a huge asset to us as we make our playoff push.  We’re not going to expect 5 goals in a game, though.”

CHL Update: Freeze Rookie Arsenyev Is Red-Hot

If you look at the top of the CHL leaderboards for goals-against average (1.22) and save percentage (.960), you’ll see an unexpected name: Kostya Arsenyev of the Minnesota Freeze.  Arsenyev’s presence among the league leaders is unexpected for several reasons.  He’s not just a rookie, but a virtually unknown one, chosen at the tail end of the draft.  Coming into the season, many regarded him as a long shot to make the league at all.  But those who doubted Arsenyev didn’t know about his secret weapon: his determination and drive to succeed.

Kostya Arsenyev

The 21-year-old Arsenyev was born in Ukraine.  For the last three seasons, he had played as a backup netminder in the KHL with Vladivostok.  His numbers were decent but not spectacular.  Arsenyev struggled with homesickness and frustration with his playing time.  Over the summer, he made the difficult decision to leave the KHL.  Given the troubled relations between Ukraine and Russia, he and his family felt increasingly uncomfortable with him playing in a Russian-based league.  Arsenyev also worried that he would never have a chance to break through in the league.

Rather than play in the Ukrainian league or in Europe, however, Arsenyev made the bold decision to come to America and declare for the SHL draft.

“I want to come to America for long time,” Arsenyev said.  “It is my dream.”

But deciding to play in America was just the beginning of his challenge.  Arsenyev was one of the older players in the draft; when combined with his undistinguished KHL record, this made him an unappealing prospect to most team.  He almost went undrafted; he was taken with the second-to-last pick by the Anchorage Igloos, who didn’t even have a vacancy in the crease.

“At that stage in the draft, there wasn’t anyone we were really interested in,” said Igloos GM Will Thorndike.  “It wasn’t quite ‘close your eyes and pick a name,’ but it was close to that.”

The cap-strapped Igloos initially considered not bothering to extend Arsenyev a contract.  But they gave him a ticket to training camp and a shot to stick.  Determined to claim his chance, Arsenyev worked extremely hard and beat out incumbent Freeze backup Darren Lovelette.

“During the scrimmages, out of the corner of my eye, I’d see somebody making an incredible save, and I’d look over and it was him,” said Freeze coach Petr Kokrda.  “I kept thinking, ‘Who is this guy?’”

Arsenyev called his parents in Ukraine to share the good news, and they cried together on the phone.  “My dream is true!” Arsenyev said.  “I am very happy.”

When the season began, Arsenyev found himself in a familiar spot: playing second fiddle, in this case to top prospect Curt Freeze.  Arsenyev was determined not to let his KHL experience repeat itself.

“I know I must be great when I play,” said Arsenyev, “or I do not play.”

And great is exactly what Arsenyev has been.  He made his debut at the end of Week 1, stopping 29 shots in a 6-1 rout of the Utah Owls.  Three nights later, facing the defending champion Idaho Spuds, Arsenyev made 28 saves in a 1-1 tie.  Later that week, he managed to top himself, putting up a 36-save shutout over the Milwaukee Hogs.

On Thursday, Arsenyev struggled for the first time in his SHL career.  Facing the Halifax Atlantics, Arsenyev faded in the third period, allowing three goals – including one in the last minute of the game – to turn a 2-0 lead into a loss.  After the game, he sat disconsolately at his locker, feeling that he’d blown his chance.  But then Kokrda came over, put his hand on Arsenyev’s shoulder, and assured him that he would continue to play – and perhaps even get more frequent starts.

“What I’ve seen out of Kostya so far has been incredible,” said Kokrda.  “He’s got an amazing work ethic, and he’s always looking for ways to improve.  If anything, he wants it so badly that he tries too hard to be perfect.  I’m trying to get him to understand that we’re not going to deport him if he has a bad start or two.”

Granted, the season is still young, and there’s plenty of time for this Cinderella story to go awry.  The odds that Arsenyev finishes the season with the league’s best GAA or save percentage are extremely slim.  But then, the odds that he’d get this far were pretty slim too.  And he’s determined to do whatever it takes to ensure that he succeeds.

Igloos Stage “White Out/Purple Out” for Lupus Awareness

For the last several years, the Anchorage Igloos have been active supporters of the fight against lupus.  Igloos LW Les Collins’ sister was diagnosed with the autoimmune disease in 2015.  Collins caused a brief uproar by wearing purple armbands during games that season.  When he explained they were meant to honor his sister, both the league and coach Sam Castor made donations to the Lupus Foundation of America in her name.  Last season, when Collins’ sister took a turn for the worse, Anchorage C Jake Frost announced that he would donate $100 to the Lupus Foundation for every goal he scored.

Fortunately, Collins’ sister has seen her health improve this year.  But the Igloos remain committed to the battle against the disease.  On Sunday, Anchorage held a unique “White Out/Purple Out” night that doubled as a fundraiser for the cause.

Les Collins

“Obviously, this is personal for those of us in the Igloos family because of Les,” said Igloos GM Will Thorndike.  “But it’s also a worthwhile cause in its own right, and we’re glad to do our part.”

The idea for the unusual night came about as the Igloos marketing department was planning its promotions for the season.  The team wanted to do a “White Out” night in which the team gave away white T-shirts for the fans to wear.  The idea of fans all wearing the same color has a long history in hockey, dating back to the Calgary Flames’ “C of Red” and the Jets’ “Winnipeg White Out” in the 1980s.

“People are always complaining that they come to Anchorage and get snow blindness,” quipped Thorndike.  “So we thought, why not try to re-create that effect indoors?”

In addition, the team also planned to have a fundraising night for lupus.  Since the color purple is associated with lupus awareness, the team wanted to work in the color in some way.  Thorndike isn’t sure who came up with the idea of combining the two promotions, but the team quickly embraced the idea.

The question then became: how do you feature white and purple on the same night?  The Igloos experimented with several concepts.  They considered white T-shirts with a purple wolf head (the wolf is another symbol of lupus awareness); the team decided that might be viewed as inadvertent support for the rival Michigan Gray Wolves.  They looked into reversible T-shirts that was white on one side and purple on the other, but the shirts were too expensive to produce.  They considered white shirts with purple sleeves, but worried they would ruin the “white out” effect.

Finally, the team settled on giving away white T-shirts and light-up purple wrist bands.  During most of the game, the arena was bathed in white as the fans wore their T-shirts with pride.  Then between the second and third periods, the arena lights went out and the fans were instructed to hold their wrist bands high, bathing the crowd in a purple glow.

Collins recorded the purple-light tribute on his phone and sent it to his sister, who was moved to tears.  “She’s known that everyone on the team is behind her,” said Collins after the game.  “But to see the whole stadium lit up purple, and knowing the fans are behind her too… I got chills.”

The night wasn’t just a symbolic tribute; the Igloos also raised money for the cause.  The team donated $1 of the cost of each ticket to the Lupus Foundation, along with the proceeds from that night’s 50/50 raffle.  They also raffled off Collins’ game-worn jersey.  In total, the Igloos wound up giving over $30,000 to the foundation.

“I think it’s great that the team did this,” said Igloos C Jake Frost.  “Les is family to us, and so is his sister.  We’re glad to show the world that we have her back.