2019 SHL Finals – Game 5

ANCHORAGE IGLOOS 2, HAMILTON PISTOLS 1

(Hamilton leads, 3-2)

After yesterday’s 3-2 loss, the Anchorage Igloos found themselves just one game away from defeat in the SHL Finals, facing a must-win Game 5 in enemy territory.  But the Igloos didn’t get to be two-time SHL champions without learning to overcome adversity.  So before the game, coach Sam Castor delivered a simple message to his players: “You can’t lose this one,” Castor said.  “So don’t.”

The Igloos heeded their coach’s words, seizing the lead early and hanging on for a 2-1 win over the Hamilton Pistols, keeping their Vandy hopes alive.

“We knew we weren’t going down without a fight,” said C Jake Frost.  “We’re too good a team to lose in five, so we weren’t about to let that happen.”

In Game 4, Anchorage allowed Hamilton to get out to a 3-0 lead before mounting a rally that wound up falling short.  With that in mind, the Igloos were determined to score first this time.  “If you get the first goal, especially if you get it early, you can dictate the terms of the game,” said D Ted Keefe.  “And that’s what we wanted to do.”

The boys in baby blue pulled that off a little over three minutes into the game when C Florian Theroux, who was scratched from Game 4 due to illness, deflected a shot from Keefe over the catching glove of Pistols goalie Lasse Koskinen.

“This was a happy day for me,” said Theroux.  “Yesterday, I was throwing up my guts.  Today, I was a hero.”

Anchorage may have struck first, but their advantage was short-lived.  Less than two minutes after taking the lead, the Igloos went a man down when D Dave Frederick received a minor for holding the stick.  On the ensuing power play, D Albie Glasco tied it up on a severe-angle shot that banked off the shoulder of Igloos goalie Ty Worthington.

“I was just trying to see if I could get a juicy rebound,” Glasco said.  “I didn’t think there was any chance it was going to go in.”

The Igloos were eager to retake the lead before the end of the first.  They did, but only by the skin of their teeth.  In the waning seconds of the periods, Anchorage carried the puck into the offensive zone.  It seemed to disappear in a mass of bodies in front of Hamilton’s net.  Finally, the puck wound up in the net, seemingly at the same time at the horn ending the period.  After review, it was determined that the puck crossed the line before the horn, giving Anchorage its sought-after lead.  The goal was credited to D Olaf Martinsson.

“Going into the locker room with the lead, that was huge,” said Frost.  “Our confidence was through the roof.”

In the second period, Anchorage borrowed a page from Hamilton’s Game 4 playbook, slowing the pace and bogging down the Pistols’ drives in the neutral zone.  It wasn’t the prettiest twenty minutes of hockey, but it was effective, as Hamilton couldn’t mount any serious scoring threats.  The Igloos missed a chance to add to their lead in the closing minutes of the period when Frost fired a shot that beat Koskinen but hit the right post.

Going into the third period, the Pistols were determined to break the Igloos’ press and turn up the pace.  “We weren’t going to let them rock us to sleep for forty minutes with a one-goal lead,” said D Raymond Smyth.

The Pistols succeeded in generating some offensive pressure with more aggressive breakouts and long passes designed to break the Anchorage neutral-zone trap.  But they ran into one big problem: Worthington.  The Anchorage goalie was at his best, his razor-sharp reflexes anticipating the Pistols’ every move.  He gobbled up one puck after another, snapping them out of the air with his glove or smothering them beneath his pads.

Hamilton’s best chance came in the middle of the period, when Igloos D Willy Calligan was sent off for slashing.  The Pistols got into their power-play setup, and LW Steven Alexander wound up for a slapshot.  Instead of shooting, he fired a pass to RW Claude Lafayette, catching Worthington out of position.  Lafayette shot at what he thought was a wide-open net… only for the Igloos netminder to come flying over and deflect the shot with his stick.

“I have no idea how he got over so fast,” said Lafayette.  “He must have a time machine.”

The Pistols had a couple more quality chances after that, but Worthington held his ground and preserved the win.  The series now shifts back to Arctic Circle Arena in Anchorage, where the champs need to win both games to defend their title. “We’ll have our fans and we have the experience,” said Frost.  “I like our chances.”

Alexander, for his part, seems unconcerned about the shift in venue.  “We already beat them once in their barn,” the feisty winger said.  “We can do it again.”

Continue reading “2019 SHL Finals – Game 5”

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2018 SHL Finals – Game 4

QUEBEC TIGRES 3, ANCHORAGE IGLOOS 0

In a lot of ways, it was a victory for the Quebec Tigres to make it to their first-ever SHL Finals.  For a team that had never even finished above .500 before, having a shot at the Vandy was a remarkable achievement.  However, it look as though their trip to the Finals would be a short one after the Anchorage Igloos won the first three games of the series, including two in Quebec’s building.

Facing a must-win game on enemy ice, the Tigres needed someone to step up and be a hero.  Goalie Riki Tiktuunen answered the call in Game 4, turning aside all 39 shots and helping Quebec stave off elimination with a 3-0 win.

“We are up off of the mat,” said Tigres coach Martin Delorme.  “And Riki is the one who lifted us up.”

“Riki was the star today,” agreed LW Walt Camernitz, who scored Quebec’s first goal.  “We all played a part, but he was the man today.”

The famously reticent Tiktuunen declined to claim credit for the win, insisting that it was a team effort.  “Everything that we do, win or lose, we do as a team,” the goalie said.  “I cannot win a game on my own.  We had a great defense, and we got excellent goals too.  I was just helping out.”

Through the first couple of periods, Tiktuunen had a point, as Quebec’s defense was in fine form, slowing down and frustrating Anchorage at virtually every turn.  Camernitz jammed home a rebound four minutes into the game, and the Tigres’ defense and Tiktuunen combined to make it stand up.  Through the first two stanzas, Quebec held the Igloos to 20 shots, almost none of them in high-danger areas.

“We were definitely playing our game, moving at a deliberate pace, keeping the crowd out of it,” said Camernitz.

When the score remained 1-0 at the second intermission, it brought back memories of Game 2.  In that contest, Anchorage came from behind and forced an overtime session, which they won.  The Igloos were clearly hoping for another third-period rally, and they managed to slip out of Quebec’s trap and rev up the pace dramatically in the final 20 minutes.  In that period, Tiktuunen really sparkled, making save after save and thwarting the Igloos’ sweep dreams.

In the opening minute of the period, C Jake Frost got loose on a breakaway and fired a laser beam of a shot at the top of the net, but Tiktuunen made a fabulous glove save to shut it down.  Later, on an odd man rush, RW Nicklas Ericsson tried to beat Tiktuunen on the stick-side; the Quebec netminder made a sprawling save, then sprung back up and turned aside a rebound attempt by Frost.  All in all, the Igloos fired 19 shots in the third period alone, and Tiktuunen stopped each one.

“He was practically turning backflips in the crease,” said RW Flint Robinson of his goalie.

With Tiktuunen taking care of business on the defensive end, Quebec was able to take advantage of the faster pace and put the game away.  RW Sindri Pentti, who has been largely invisible in this series, bulled his way in front of the net and deflected a shot from D Doug Wesson over Anchorage goalie Ty Worthington to take a two-goal lead early in the period.  Four and a half minutes later, a neutral-zone turnover by Igloos D Willy Calligan sprung a rare Tigres jailbreak; LW Stellan Fisker finished by slipping the puck between Worthington’s pads to make it 3-0.

Delorme was pleased at the way his team stared down defeat and didn’t blink.  “We showed a lot of heart and courage today, from Riki on down,” the coach said.  “We still have a lengthy road to travel, but this is a strong first step.”

The Igloos, meanwhile, remain confident that they will be able to close out the series quickly.  “I mean, a sweep would have been nice, but we weren’t expecting it,” said Frost.  “We’ve got another one at home, and we can go ahead and wrap this up and embrace the Vandy.”

Continue reading “2018 SHL Finals – Game 4”

Igloos Prevail Over KC In Wild OT Battle

When the Anchorage Igloos hosted the Kansas City Smoke on Friday, they were hoping for an easy win over a team on an eight-game winless streak, which would allow them to solidify their second-place standing in the West.  While the Igloos did ultimately prevail over the Smoke, it was anything but easy.  Twice, Anchorage had to rally from three-goal deficits, and needed overtime before they escaped with a wild 8-7 victory.

“Man, that was a battle we weren’t expecting!” exclaimed C Jake Frost after the game.  “We showed a lot of fight, a lot of heart, but boy, KC put a scare into us.”

The Smoke showed up ready to play.  It only took 15 seconds for LW Louis LaPlante to get on the board with his first goal of the season, a slapper past Igloos netminder Wendall Cantillon. Frost evened things up two minutes later with a shot from the right faceoff circle, but rookie C Noel Picard put the Smoke back ahead just over a minute later with a tip-in from the slot.  Midway through the first, Kansas City struck twice to take a 4-1 lead, leaving the crowd at Arctic Circle Arena in an uneasy silence.

Igloos coach Sam Castor considered lifting Cantillon at that point.  But given that it was the backup’s first action all week, the coach stayed with his goalie.  “Wendall’s got to have a chance to deal with adversity,” said Castor.  “I wanted to see how he’d react, and how the team would react.”

Anchorage rallied to Cantillon’s rescue, with RW Remi Montrechere and D “Chilly Willy” Calligan scoring to pull within one by the end of the period.  Four minutes into the second period, Montrechere struck again to tie it up and bring the crowd to its feet.

“We felt like the mommentum was going our way,” said Montrechere.  “We were in control and ready to pull away.”

As it turned out, the momentum was about to shift back to the visitors.  Three minutes after Montechere’s tally, Smoke LW Piotr Soforenko deflected a shot past Cantillon to retake the lead.  C Phil Miller went top-shelf to make it a 6-4 game at the end of the second period.

47 seconds into the third period, Kansas City D Tony Hunt notched a power-play tally to give the Smoke another three-goal lead and putting the Igloos behind the eight ball.

“We needed a jolt, and fast,” said Frost.

They got a pair of jolts in short order.  Five seconds after Hunt’s score, Montrechere blasted a shot just inside the pole to complete his hat trick.  Then, a minute later, C Broni Zhlotkin took exception to a rough hit from Hunt and dropped the gloved with him at center ice.  Although the donnybrook completed Hunt’s “Gordie Howe hat trick” (a goal, an assist, and a fight), it fired up both the Anchorage bench and the crowd.

Twenty seconds after the fight, LW Les Collins banged home a juicy rebound to pull the Igloos within one.  Six and a half minutes later, C Nile Bernard went five-hole on KC goaltender Brooks Copeland and tied it up.  Bernard jumped up against the boards in the corner as the fans banged the glass in delight.

Although the atmosphere in the arena remained near delirium for most of the third period, the Igloos couldn’t push the go-ahead goal across.  Frost and Collins each hit the post, and Copeland made a tremendous sprawling stop with three minutes left in regulation to rob Montrechere of a fourth goal.

The game went to overtime, with both teams and the fans exhausted.  “In OT, that was all adrenaline,” said Frost.  “We had no energy left.”  With a minute and a half left in the extra session, RW Nicklas Ericsson faked a pass to Frost in the slot and slid it up to the blue line, where D Ted Keefe fired a blast that hit the crossbar and went in for the game-winning goal.

Keefe’s goal delivered the Igloos their fourth straight win and their fifth in the last six games.  It also moved Anchorage seven points clear of Saskatchewan and Seattle for second place; it’s their largest lead of the season.  But Castor remains dissatisfied with his team’s performance.  “We had no business winning this game,” the coach said.  “We’ve looked a lot better this week, but we’re going to need to tighten it up on a night-to-night basis if we’re going to make the playoffs.”

Castor’s players were happier with the outcome. “Coming back from a three-goal [deficit] in a game is a game is impressive,” said Frost.  “Doing it twice in one game?  That doesn’t happen.  We’re pretty awesome!”

CHL Update: Meloche Fights His Way to Spotlight

The SHL’s new minor league, the Continental Hockey League, has completed its first week of play.  So far, there aren’t any dominant teams, top-flight goal scorers, or dominant netminders.  In general, the league’s leaders have yet to emerge… except one.

Cedric Meloche

When it comes to penalty minutes, there’s an undisputed leader: Albuquerque Screaming Eagles defenseman Cedric Meloche.  In his first five games, Meloche has already racked up 26 penalty minutes, twice as many as his nearest competitor.  He has earned that lofty total largely through his fists, as he has already gotten into four fights.

“I like to fight,” Meloche admitted cheerfully.

The 20-year-old attributes his professional success to his pugilistic abilities.  “When i we were young, we all wanted to be hockey players,” said Meloche.  “But I was a little guy and could not skate too fast or shoot too good, so I had to fight.  I learned to fight good, so I moved up.”

It took all of 42 seconds for Meloche to get into his first professional bout against the Minnesota Freeze.  When Freeze D “Chilly Willy” Calligan gave Eagles C Vance Ketterman a hard check into his own bench, Meloche took exception and clocked Calligan in the chest, touching off a donnybrook.  Late in the third period, it was Calligan’s turn to take umbrage after Meloche enthusiastically fouled a couple Minnesota players, and the two wound up throwing hands again.

On Saturday, Meloche against fought twice in the Eagles’ game against the Muncie Squirrels.  In the first period, Squirrels C Britt Cadmium leveled Eagles RW Ashton Starhawk with a vicious hit that was not penalized.  Meloche responded by hauling Cadmium down from behind.  Surprised and irked, Cadmium bounced up and stared Meloche down yelling, “You wanna go, little man?”  Meloche replied, “Yes, I wish to go!”  They proceeded to drop gloves and trade blows, with Meloche bloodying Cadmium’s nose before they could be separated.

Two periods later, Meloche and Muncie D Zander Phthalo began jostling vigorously during a faceoff.  The jostling escalated to shoving and then to punching, and Meloche wrestled Phthalo to the ground before they were separated by the referees.

After Saturday’s slugfest, league officials threatened to suspend Meloche if he continued racking up fighting majors at this rate.  Eagles coach Butch Slazenger, recognizing Meloche’s value to the team, also counseled his blueliner to rein it in.  “I love Cedric Meloche,” said Slazenger.  “He’s my favorite player.  And all the guys love that he has their back.  But he’s not just a goon.  He’s strong on both ends, and we can’t afford to have him suspended.  So I told him to pump the brakes a bit.  Try not to get into multiple fights in a game, watch out for instigator penalties, stuff like that.  Don’t give them an excuse to suspend you, because we need you.”

Meloche said he will try to heed his coach’s advice.  “I always play the way I play,” said Meloche, “so I will stand up for my team and fight.  But I know it is bad if they throw me out, so I will maybe not fight so much.  I want to do the best thing for my team.”