The Quebec Tigres are only a month into their existence as an SHL team, and they seem to be fast developing their first rivalry. The Tigres faced off with the New York Night at the Neon Sky Center on Wednesday, and the game quickly turned into a rough physical battle that included a couple of fights and nearly culminated in a line brawl. And based on the teams’ postgame remarks, the bad blood between the teams is likely to linger.
The game was chippy from the beginning, with multiple penalties being whistled on both teams within the first 3 minutes of the game. Quebec attempted to slow down New York’s fast-paced offense with heavy checks and aggressive defense, and the Night rose to the challenge. “We weren’t going to let [the Tigres] push us around and drag us into the mud,” said New York C Brock Manning.
The game remained feisty but contained through most of the first two periods. But things boiled over with 12 seconds left in the second, when Night D Tuomas Nurmi banged home a shot from the blue line to put his team ahead 3-2. Nurmi celebrated his goal vigorously in front of Tigres D Boris Zhzhynov. Although Nurmi claimed later that he was just excited, Zhzhynov felt that he was being taunted.
Zhzhynov responded by shoving Nurmi in the chest. The Night defender raised his arm in outrage, whereupon Zhzhynov dropped his gloves and began throwing haymakers. Referees separated the combatants fairly quickly, with both being assessed fighting majors and Zhzhynov earning an extra minor for instigation.
Zhzhynov and Nurmi went at it again midway through the third period. During an extended shift in the New York end, Nurmi drilled Quebec RW Stephane Mirac into the end boards. Zhzhynov responded by whistling an elbow at Nurmi’s head. Both teams quickly formed a scrum near the Night net, and for a moment it looks as though chaos would ensue. The referees, however, managed to separate both teams. On the ensuing faceoff, Nurmi challenged Zhzhynov to another fight, an offer the Quebec enforcer eagerly accepted. This time, the referees let the two battle things out for a while before sending them both off with matching majors.
The atmosphere remained tense but bloodless through the rest of the game, a 4-3 New York win. Night fans showered the visiting Tigres with popcorn and beer as they headed down the tunnel after the game.
After the game, Night coach Preston Rivers called the Tigres “a street gang in skates,” and accused Quebec coach Martin Delorme of purposefully incited violence. “It’s obviously a pattern with Martin,” said Rivers. “Last year in Michigan, he had a team that couldn’t keep up with us, so he’d turn our games into a bloodbath and try to win ugly. This year, same thing. The league should suspend him; he’s trying to ruin hockey. He’s not a coach, he’s a crime boss.”
Delorme responded in kind, accusing Rivers of hypocrisy. “That team is always puffing out their chests and screaming and taunting, and the officials do nothing,” said the Quebec coach. “But if our team so much as looks cross-eyed at them, Rivers is crying to the officials for a penalty. [The Night] can only play one type of game, and so they want the league to outlaw anyone who tries to play another way.”
Delorme added that he has “no respect” for Rivers and mocked him as “an empty suit. Behind his big mouth and his slicked-up hair, there is nothing, no brains. He is a carnival clown.”
Both teams lined up behind their respective coaches. The Night echoed Rivers’ description of the Tigres as a gang of thugs. “They can’t hang with us on talent, so they make it a brawl instead,” said Manning. “It’s sad, but it’s what you can expect for a limited team like that.” Meanwhile, Quebec C Drustan Zarkovich spoke for his team when he said, “If New York thought this game was ugly, wait until next time we play them. They don’t know ugly yet.”
For his part, Nurmi seemed puzzled by his role in the fireworks. “It’s strange to me,” said Nurmi. “I was just celebrating my goal, and [Zhzhynov] took it personally. After that, it’s like he was out to get me. To me it’s over, but I don’t know what he thinks.”
Zhzhynov, speaking through a translator, shot back: “Tuomas Nurmi is a punk and not a real defenseman. I am proud I stood up for myself and my team.”
The teams meet again in New York on Sunday.