Lombardi Accuses Night of “Going Home Early”

Biff Lombardi is likely to be a footnote in the history of the New York Night.  He was the assistant coach for three-plus seasons under Nick Foster, and he became the interim head coach when Foster was fired three weeks ago.  The Night have made it clear that they don’t plan to consider him for the permanent job.  Perhaps because he knows he’s a short-timer, Lombardi has felt free to speak his mind.  And this week, he criticized his team in no uncertain terms, calling their competitiveness and work ethic into question.

Biff Lombardi

Lombardi spoke to the press on Tuesday after a game at Neon Sky Center against New York’s rival, the Hamilton Pistols.  In that game, the Night blew a 3-1 lead and lost to the Pistols 4-3.  A reporter asked Lombardi why New York lost the game.  The interim coach replied, “That’s easy: we went home early.  We thought we had the game in the bag, so we let our foot off the gas, and we blew it.”

After a pause, Lombardi went on: “Of course, that shouldn’t be a surprise, since we’ve been going home early all season.  When times are good and the spotlight is on, this team knows how to shine.  But give ’em half a chance to sleepwalk, and they’ll take it every time.”

Pressed to elaborate, Lombardi referenced Foster’s firing.  “You know why Nick got the ax?” he said.  “Because he couldn’t make this team care enough to work hard.  I know you all thought the feuds Nick picked were ego, or to get his name in the paper.  But that wasn’t it; it was the only way he could get this team fired up.  You’d think that a team of well-paid professionals could find their own motivation, but you’d be wrong with this group.”

A reporter asked Lombardi if he was concerned his remarks would cause friction with the players.  The coach replied, “Who cares?  In a week and a half, I’ll be gone.  This might be my only chance to get them to take a hard look in the mirror.  I can tell you this: teams that win championships work harder than anyone else.  They work hard in practice and play hard as a team for the full 60, because that’s what it takes to win at this level.  This team might pile up stats and get endorsement deals, but they don’t know how to win a championship.  And until they get that, really get it, they never will.”

Unsurprisingly, most of the New York players didn’t take kindly to Lombardi’s critique.  “What has he ever won?” said RW Rick “The Stick” Nelson.  “I’m a legend in this league, one of the best scorers of all time.  What does he know?  He’s just bitter because he’s going to get fired.”

“It’s hard to put a lot of stock in that kind of talk from a guy with one foot out the door,” agreed C Brock Manning.  “Yeah, we’ve got some work to do.  But I’m not going to spend a lot of time worrying about what our soon-to-be-ex-interim coach thinks of us.”

Not everyone was so dismissive of Lombardi’s comments, however.  “Honestly, I think there was some truth in what he said,” noted D Dave Frederick.  “If we want to get serious about winning the Vandy, we ought to take some of that to heart.  And I think we will, once we’ve gotten past the disappointment of this year.”

As Lombardi said, he’ll likely be gone in a couple of weeks.  Will the Night dismiss his criticism as well?  They’ll have a long offseason to think about it.

2020 SHL Week 14 Transactions

  • On Monday, the Washington Galaxy‘s CHL affiliate in Baltimore signed D Davis McNeely to a short-term contract.  Baltimore had a hole on its blueline after injuries to Rich Behneke and Shane Gladchuk, and they turned to a familiar face to fill the role.  McNeely is the younger brother of Galaxy star Jefferson McNeely, and he played three seasons in Baltimore.  He appeared in four games for Cleveland earlier this season.
  • On Friday, the New York Night‘s affiliate in Utah placed C Foster Culp on the injured list.  Culp collided with a defender and wound up falling into the bench, fracturing his collarbone.  Culp, who was among the league leaders in goals, is expected to miss the rest of the season.  To replace Culp on the roster, Utah signed F Bobby Warner for the remainder of the season.
  • On Saturday, the Galaxy’s Baltimore affiliate activated Behneke from the injured list.  Behneke missed three weeks with a lingering upper-body injury.  In order to make room for Behneke, the team waived McNeely, who appeared in 3 games with Baltimore and failed to record a point.

2020 SHL Week 13 Transactions

  • On Monday, the New York Night demoted RW Harris Wondolowski to their CHL affiliate in Utah and called up F Cary Estabrook from Utah.
  • On Saturday, the Hershey Bliss‘ farm team in Milwaukee activated LW Karl Gjovik from the injured list.  The 21-year-old Gjovik missed almost three weeks with a lingering lower-body injury.  In order to make room for Gjovik on the roster, the team released D Alec Schwartz.  The 22-year-old blueliner appeared in 22 games for Milwaukee, failing to record a point and recording a -14 rating.
  • Also on Saturday, the Dakota Jackalopes sent C Jacob Cunniff down to their affiliate in Idaho, and promoted LW Rick Crisak from Idaho.  The Jackalopes had called up Cunniff before the All-Star break to fill in for the injured Tanner Brooks; since Brooks’ return, he had mostly been a healthy scratch.  In 11 games for Dakota, Cunniff recorded an assist and a -5 rating.  The 22-year-old Crisak is Idaho’s leading scorer, with 47 points (9 goals, 38 assists).
  • In another Saturday move, the Kansas City Smoke called up RW Adriaen van der Veen from their farm club in Omaha and demoted F Louis LaPlante to Omaha.  Van der Veen, who split last season between Kansas City and Omaha, is the affiliate’s scoring leader with 52 points (17 goals, 35 assists).  As for LaPlante, the veteran winger has played sparingly for the Smoke this season, with 6 points (2 goals, 4 assists) in 17 games.

Two Big Rallies Highlight Wild Saturday

The SHL season is reaching a critical juncture.  The playoff races are coming into focus, and each game is magnified in importance, as contenders fight hard for every possible point.  On Saturday. two teams in the thick of the playoff chase – the Anchorage Igloos and the Quebec Tigres – staged amazing third-period rallies to salvage points from what looked like certain defeat.

The Igloos were at Neon Sky Arena facing the New York Night, a struggling team that fired its coach last week.  Struggling or not, the Night still have a powerful offense and can run up the score at any time.  And they barraged the Igloos and backup goalie Curt Freeze.  They fired 17 shots in the first period and scored three times.  By the midpoint of the second period, New York led 6-2, and the fans were razzing the Anchorage players mercilessly.

Jerry Koons

But the Igloos refused to give in.  In the waning minutes of the second, RW Broni Zhlotkin got on the board to pull Anchorage within 6-3, but they headed into the locker room still trailing by three with only 20 minutes remaining in regulation.  “Even though we were behind, we felt confident,” said LW Jerry Koons after the game.  “We know that we’re a strong enough team not to be counted out of any game.”

To start the third period, C Jens Bunyakin won the opening faceoff, and the Igloos stormed up the ice and scored, with Zhlotkin finishing to make it a two-goal game.  Then, seven and a half minutes later, D Tony Citrone went five-hole on New York netminder Sherman Carter, and the Igloos were within one goal.  A mere thirty seconds later, LW Tadeusz Adamczyk tied it up with a shot that banked in off the crossbar.  The Igloos had effectively silenced the crowd, but they weren’t done.  With less than five minutes remaining in the game, C Tom Hoffman fired a hard, low slapper that eluded Carter’s catching glove and landed in the back of the net.  It proved to be the winning goal in a 7-6 Anchorage victory that kept the Igloos in second place by four points over the Saskatchewan Shockers.

Meanwhile, Quebec is slowly, doggedly trying to catch up to the Hershey Bliss and secure the second and final playoff spot in the East.  With a game at home against the fifth-place Dakota Jackalopes, the Tigres came in looking for an easy win.  But they were in for a rude awakening, as Dakota shelled goalie Riley Lattimore.  After the first frame, Dakota had built a 5-1 lead despite being outshot 16-13.  In the second period, Quebec was able to regain control of the game’s tempo, slowing things down considerably.  But they couldn’t score, and they came into the third still staring at that four-goal deficit.

Walt Camernitz

“Honestly, we thought the game was probably done,” said C Mikhail Ilyushin.  “But Cammy [LW Walt Camernitz] provided a good speech.  He said, ‘Come on, guys.  We’re the better team, and we cannot lose like this.  We need to go out and light a fire.”

Ninety seconds into the third stanza, D Hampus Olsson lit the blaze that Camernitz was hoping for, jamming home a rebound from a severe angle.  But the Tigres were unable to get anything else going until Dakota took a pair of poorly-timed penalties.  D Kirby Hanlon, a former Tigre, committed high-sticking on a missed lift check just before the nine-minute mark.  It took only ten seconds on the ensuing power play for Quebec winger Rupert MacDiarmid to cash in.  And a mere six seconds after MacDiarmid’s goal, Dakota D Alex Angelos wound up in the sin bin after swinging a fist in Camernitz’s direction.  The Jackalopes nearly killed off that penalty, but Tigres RW Stephane Mirac fired a slapper home with three seconds left in the power play.  A couple minutes after that, Camernitz poked the puck loose in the neutral zone and found Mirac, who went streaking to the net and scored the tying goal on a beautiful deke.

Like the Igloos, the Tigres scored four times in the third period.  Unlike the Igloos, however, they weren’t able to score the go-ahead goal, and the game ended in a 5-5 tie.  Still, that tie – the third one in a weird week for Quebec – allowed them to move into a tie with Hershey for second place.

“We do not play the most beautiful hockey,” said Tigres coach Martin Delorme.  “But we play hard hockey, and we are quite determined and do not give up ever.”

It was a pair of thrilling games in an exciting week for the league.  If this is any indication of what’s to come, the last 12 games of the season should be a wild ride.

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