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Hatred Flows in Recent VHLM Series [1/2]


Erik Summers
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Hatred Flows

 

A new rivalry is heating up in the VHLM. The first-place Houston Bulls just finished a three-game series against the third-ranked Minnesota Storm and this might have been the most hard-fought series in the history of the league. Three games resulted in three shootouts, with each shootout allowing only a single goal, and the Bulls narrowly taking the series 2-1. The real heroes of this series were the goalies, with a combined SVA% of  0.923 for the series. That stat becomes increasingly amazing when you consider our next focus. Close games make for great hockey. but they can also make for some intense emotions on the ice. In this series, that emotion spilled over into a glass-shattering thirty-eight penalties over the course of the three games.

 

These teams have not historically been major rivals, but after Minnesota's first-round sweep of the Bulls in the playoffs last season, there was definitely something to be proved for the Houston squad. On top of that, these two teams have been jockeying for position at the top of the league standings all season, so everyone expected this to be a close series of games. What is even more interesting is that these organizations have very similar styles on the ice. Both teams put forth a defense-first mindset with the two lowest goals allowed in the league, and as I already mentioned, both squads have 1st class net-minders that have proved pivotal to the teams' success.

 

All of the hype and anticipation going into this series was fully justified by the play on the ice and culminated in one of the nastiest match-ups we've seen in years. What started as an officiating crew that was a little over-zealous with the hooking calls devolved into a knock-down, drag-out slug-fest.

 

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As you can see, hooking penalties made up for almost a third of the calls in this series, but besides those and a single delay of game, we still have twenty-five trips to the penalty box for violent offenses. Banko Mulleto of the Bulls was called for both charging penalties and the league may need to look into taking further disciplinary action regarding his dangerous and unnecessary targeting of vulnerable opponents. Similarly, the Storm's Shane Weibel had an egregious slash on Soren Jensen that cut Jensen's hand badly and earned Weibel and extra two minutes in the box with the double minor.

 

The penalties were nearly evenly split, with the Storm being called to the box twenty times and the Bulls getting penalized eighteen times. Amazingly, amidst all the chaos, both sides showed enough discipline to avoid any fights or after the whistle nastiness. Seemingly, this stunning number of penalties was simply the result of two gritty, physical teams playing hard and getting caught up in the emotion and not a deep animosity toward the opposing players.

 

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As you can see, Chett Bandy of the Storm led the series with five penalties. Even more impressive is that he went the entire first match without visiting the box, so those five were accumulated in just two games. Bandy was called twice for high sticks (though neither was upgraded to a double minor), twice for hooking, and once for interference. Minnesota also spread the penalties around slightly more than Houston with nine players being penalized compared to the Bulls' eight.

 

Erik Summers and Banko Mulleto led the Bulls in penalties with four apiece. Similar to Bandy, Summers picked up his four penalties in just two games, getting called twice for hooking and twice for tripping. Meanwhile, Mulleto was called for the two aforementioned charging penalties as well as two holding minors. Houston's Jesse Nyman is also worth mentioning with three penalties, including the only goalie interference and the only delay of game penalty of the series.


Naturally, my next question was how each team capitalized on the resulting thirty-seven power-play opportunities. Astoundingly, each team only gave up a single power-play goal through the entire series. Both teams' penalty kill was perfect in the opening game of the series.

 

However, in the opening seconds of the second match, Erik Summers was called for a ticky-tack hooking call and the Storm immediately set up in Houston's zone and scored just thirty-five seconds into the first period. Summers would go on to take penalties in each of the following two periods as well. Thankfully for the Bulls' sake, their penalty kill unit was able to holdout and Soren Jensen came up with two miraculous goals in the final minutes on the third, sending the game to overtime and eventually another shootout.

 

In game three of this heated series, Jensen showed up again to put the Bulls up 2-1 in the middle of the second period on a power-play created by a Chett Bandy hooking minor. Interestingly, in this series, a power-play goal was something of a curse for the team that scored it, as each team lost the only game in which they score with the man advantage.

 

This performance on the penalty kill by both teams further emphasizes the strength they each have both defensively and in goal. These presumptive first and second place teams in the league have shown the rest of their competition what it takes to be on top. Until teams like Vegas and Mississauga figure out what to go about their goalie situations, it appears that these two teams are poised to stay in position atop the league standings.

 

I reached out to the players and GM's of each team for comment on the absurd number of penalties, the burgeoning rivalry between these two teams, and on the series as a whole. So far, neither side has offered a comment.

 

I believe that this series was a good preview of what we might see late in the post-season this year and perhaps even a window into what the Founder's Cup finals may look like. As it stands, Houston and Minnesota are the teams to beat if you want to think about winning a cup this year in the VHLM.

 

 

@FrostBeard @Rayzor_7

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