SHL Digest: We’re here with the leading goal scorer for one of the East’s top teams, Stephane Mirac of the Quebec Tigres. Stephane, glad to speak with you.
Stephane Mirac: It is a good time to be speaking!
SHLD: A good time indeed! Last season, the Tigres finished in fourth place with only 20 wins. This season, you’re won 20 already, and the season isn’t even halfway complete! You’re right in the thick of the playoff race. What do you think has been the key to your success?
SM: We are better in every way. Last season, our offense was a disaster: slow, predictable. Now we are much livelier and more dangerous. Our defense was pretty good last year, but this season we are elite. Riki [Tiktuunen] has been again excellent, and he has also stayed healthy. All this makes us a contending team now.
SHLD: You mentioned the offense’s improvement, which it definitely has. You’ve played a large role in that yourself. In 2017, you were in something of a sophomore slump, dropping from 28 goals to 18. You grew up in nearby Laval, and you are considered a hometown hero; they nicknamed you “Stephane Miracle.” Did the pressure of that affect you?
SM: I wish I could say it did not, but it did. Quebec is a hockey-mad city in a hockey-mad country. To be in that spotlight, to have a city’s hopes and dreams rest on you, it can be suffocating. I felt the pressure very much. When I did not score, I could not sleep. Soon, a bad game became a bad week, and then a bad season.
SHLD: It got bad enough that you got into a public argument with your coach [Martin Delorme] when he jokingly called you a “missing person.” Have you two resolved your differences?
SM: Oh yes, of course. That was a minor thing. I was frustrated and he was frustrated, and it turned into a fire. But we spoke to each other like men, and quickly put it to rest.
SHLD: This season, you’ve nearly reached last year’s goal total already, and you’re back on track for a 30-goal pace. How have you stepped up your game?
SM: Ah, but that is the secret! It is not so much me; it is my teammates. We have many more arrows in our quiver this time, so the load does not always fall on me. Last year, every team knew that to beat Quebec, you needed to stop Mirac. Now, even if a team stops me, there are many other players who can beat you.
SHLD: One of the major new contributors this year, is Walt Camernitz, who the Tigres signed away from Washington to a five-year deal. He’s been on the top line with you this season. How has it been to play with him?
SM: Cam is terrific, a very hard-working and gritty player. He is not afraid to get in along the walls or in the crease, doing the dirty work. He is a perfect fit for the kind of hockey we play.
SHLD: If the season ended today, you would be in position for a playoff spot. You’re only six points behind Hamilton for the division lead. Do you think you can do even better in the second half of the season?
SM: This is our goal, to be sure. We wish to be even better with our defense, without giving up our power on offense. If we can maintain our intensity and focus, I believe we can accomplish anything.
SHLD: Sounds like a man with his eyes on the prize.
SM: Oh yes. I have both eyes on that beautiful trophy. (laughs)
SHLD: Well, thank you for your time, Stephane, and good luck in the second half!
SM: If we win, it will not be luck, it will be hard work and skill. But merci!