The Anchorage Wolverines’ inaugural season in the North American Hockey League and extraordinary run through the playoffs came to an end Tuesday.
The New Jersey Titans topped the Wolverines 3-0 to take the Robertson Cup championship at the Fogerty Ice Arena in Blaine, Minnesota.
The Wolverines fell just one win short of a historic run that hadn’t occurred in the league since 1985-86, when the Compuware Ambassadors were the last team to win the Robertson Cup in their first season. Despite the championship game loss, the Wolverines raced through the NAHL playoffs, outperforming nearly every conceivable expectation for a first-year franchise.
Head coach Mike Aikens said the season was a huge building block for the franchise going forward.
“I do think with what we’ve done in the last two months, down the stretch into the playoffs and at the national tournament, we’ve really opened a lot of eyes in the hockey world,” he said. “There’s just so many positives, we’ll have a lot of opportunities in the future. The momentum we have in the Anchorage community (has been great). Once we get past losing this game, we can focus on those positives.”
Neither team was able to get anything going in the first period, but the Wolverines had some chances to dent the scoreboard.
“In the first period we had some good scoring chances and they didn’t go in the net,” Aikens said. “If one of those go in the net, maybe things go differently. We couldn’t quite get it going. As a group we weren’t at our best. I’d have really liked to have seen us at our best and see what happens, but for whatever reason we just weren’t.”
But New Jersey struck at the 9:38 mark of the second period to grab a lead it would not relinquish.
Jack Karlsson hit Brendan Dumas with a pinpoint pass in front of the Anchorage net, and Dumas shoveled it past Wolverines goalie Raythan Robbins for a 1-0 lead.
Later in the second period, the Titans took a 2-0 lead as Nick Ring scored on a breakout with Tommy Bannister providing the assist.
“They made some great plays,” Aikens said. “That’s kind of what we’ve been doing. Tonight it just didn’t happen for us. It’s not like we were dominated but our chances just didn’t go in. They just did a few more things right and the hockey gods rewarded them.”
The Wolverines showed signs of life in the third period. Robbins made a save on a 3-0 breakaway after a turnover and the team had good chances on a power play, its only extra-man chance of the game.
A crowd packed the bar at O’Brady’s in South Anchorage while more fans viewed the game at one of three hometown watch parties. But the crowd never got a chance to erupt as the Wolverines were shut out for the first time in 10 Robertson Cup playoff games.
Anthony Calafiore scored midway through the third period to make it 3-0 for New Jersey.
New Jersey was among the best teams in the regular season, finishing with 85 points in winning the East Division. The Titans also cruised through the playoffs to reach the Robertson Cup semifinals, but needed three games to edge out New Mexico to reach the championship.
Robbins made 25 saves on 28 shots and New Jersey’s Andrew Takacs made 20 saves for the shutout win.
“We all walked in there thinking we could get this done so that stings,” Aikens said. “But when the guys get the opportunity to reflect back on what we’ve accomplished it’s pretty amazing. It was a great growth year to get to that final game. Only one team gets to leave the rink happy. Unfortunately it didn’t go our way.”