Quebec Coach in Hot Water After Late-Night Escapades

This year has been a struggle for Quebec Tigres coach Martin Delorme.  His team’s ambitions have been undone by goalie Riki Tiktuunen‘s struggles to stay healthy; they’re likely to finish with a record barely better than last year.  In midseason, Delorme engaged in a public spat with star winger Stephane Mirac.  The coach, who was hailed as a savior when he agreed to coach the expansion Tigres last season, is starting to hear jeers from impatient fans.

Martin Delorme

Delorme’s season took a major turn for the worse this week as he was arrested for drunk driving, an embarrassment that only got worse when his arrest led to the revelation of the coach’s messy personal life.

The arrest happened early Monday morning, a few hours after the Tigres’ 1-0 overtime victory over Hershey at Centre Citadelle.  Delorme was pulled over in the village of Saint-Anselme around 4 AM after he was spotted driving erratically.  He failed the field sobriety tests and blew 0.14 on the Breathalyzer.  The coach was also noted to be disheveled, a rarity for him, and was wearing s suit jacket and undershirt, but no shirt.  Delorme was arrested and held overnight before being released.

“It was very poor judgment on my part,” said Delorme.  “I am ashamed of my actions.”

Little did Delorme realize that the arrest would be only the beginning of his problems.  Reporters found the incident odd for a number of reasons.  For one thing, Delorme does not have a reputation as a big drinker.  For another, Saint-Anselme is not located anywhere near the coach’s home or the team’s facilities.  For another, “Martin wouldn’t leave the house unless he was perfectly dressed,” in the words of one reporter.  “Clearly, something weird was going on.”

To get to the bottom of it, reporters began trying to reconstruct Delorme’s activities after the game.  With some investigative work, they were able to piece together a timeline.  After the game and his postgame interviews, Delorme was seen leaving the arena with a woman not his wife.  (The coach’s wife has not been seen at games for most of the season.)  Later, Delorme and the woman were seen together at a bar in Levis, across the river from Quebec.  Later, the pair went back to the woman’s house, where they apparently stayed until the woman’s husband arrived home unexpectedly.  At that point, the coach fled and drove away, until he was pulled over a short distance away.

Stories about Delorme’s wild night broke on Wednesday, shortly before the Tigres’ game against Hamilton.  The coach reacted angrily when questioned about his activities.  “This is none of your concern,” Delorme snapped.  “This is not news; nothing but gossip.  What job is it of yours to examine my bedsheets?  I do not have to respond to this inquisition.”

Quebec players were hesitant to discuss the incident.  “It’s definitely a surprise, that’s for sure,” said LW Stellan Fisker.  “We wer all pretty shocked.  I don’t really know the details, so there’s not a lot I can say.  But it’s a tough break for Coach Delorme.”

Word of the incident traveled fast.  When the Tigres came to Washington on Friday to play the Galaxy, the Jumbotron displayed Delorme behind the bench while “Loverboy” by Billy Ocean blared over the speakers as the fans laughed and cheered.  After the game, a 3-2 Quebec win, Delorme called the stunt “unprofessional,” but had no further comment.

Galaxy coach Rodney Reagle couldn’t resist poking fun at the incident in his postgame press conference.  “Boy, Martin’s got himself in a mess, hasn’t he?”  said Reagle with a giggle.  “I wouldn’t have expected that out of him.  He seems like a careful sort of guy.  But I guess that’s how it goes with French guys, right?  That swingin’ lifestyle… Personally, as a married man, I’m really surprised.  I mean, I can’t even get dressed in the morning without my wife’s help.  If I was going to have an affair, I’d probably have to ask her to help me set it up.”


Interview of the Week: Stellan Fisker

This week’s interview is with Quebec Tigres LW Stellan Fisker.

SHL Digest: Today we’re talking to a man whose name has been in the news a lot this week.  Stellan Fisker, thanks for talking to us.

Stellan Fisker

Stellan Fisker: Thank you.  It has been an interesting time.

SHLD: As we know, this week was the SHL trading deadline, and your name came up frequently in trade rumors.  Several teams were said to be trying to acquire you: Hershey especially, but also Washington, Anchorage, and others.  How does it feel to hear your name being bandied about like that?

SF: It is very strange, definitely.  Obviously, you hope that when everyone is talking about you, it is because you are playing well, not because you might be leaving town.

SHLD: Not the headlines you’re hoping to make, definitely.

SF: And it’s strange because they’re talking about your life, and it seems to change in a blink.  One minute, you’re headed to Hershey.  Next minute, no, you’re off to Alaska.  And then no, you’re staying put.

SHLD: How do you listen to the rumors without letting it make you crazy?

SF: Mostly, I tried not to listen.  I talked to my agent, and he told me he’d let me know if any talks were getting serious.  But it’s impossible not to hear anything.  Reporters ask you questions, or you overhear something in the halls.

SHLD: In the end, you didn’t get traded.  Was that a disappointment or a relief?

SF: A little bit of both, really.  On one hand, you want to be involved in the playoffs, and a trade could put me into that.  But I like it here; Quebec is a pretty city, I like Coach [Martin] Delorme and my teammates.  And having to overturn your life in the middle of the season, that’s not fun.  I know my wife was very much hoping for us to stay here.

SHLD: I’m sure you would have liked to be involved in the playoff race here in Quebec.  But that hasn’t happened.  Why do you think that is?

SF: Well, we were just an expansion team last year, so we are still growing.  [Goalie] Riki [Tiktuunen] has not been able to stay healthy, and that has been a problem for us.  But in general, our offense has been the big problem.  You cannot win if you do not score.

SHLD: That’s true.  What do you think you’ll need to do to get to that next level?

SF: I think if we had one or two more scorers, we would be doing well.  We have a strong defense, and we have Riki in net as long as he stays healthy.  That is another important key for us.

SHLD: Sounds good!  Well, thank you for talking with us, and best of luck the rest of the season.

SF: Thank you.  I am glad to know that I will be staying here.

Coach’s “Missing Person” Joke Sparks Anger

Martin Delorme

Quebec Tigres coach Martin Delorme thought that he was making a harmless joke.  In his press conference after Quebec’s 7-3 loss to Seattle on Saturday, Delorme ticked off the reasons for his team’s tough season: a stagnant offense, a wobbly penalty-kill unit, and the inability of starting goalie Riki Tiktuunen to stay healthy.  Finally, as a throwaway line, Delorme added a poke at RW Stephane Mirac.  “I think maybe also I need to go to the police and file a missing person report on Stephane,” said the Quebec coach.  “I have not seen him this year, and I miss him very much.”

The remark poked at a sore spot for Mirac.  A native of nearby Laval, Mirac was drafted by the Tigres last year to provide a scoring threat and a local face for the fans to love.  The rookie wound up exceeding expectations with a strong season, scoring 28 goals and 24 assists.  On a Quebec squad that was largely starved for offense, Mirac became a hero within the province.  The fans took to calling him “Stephane Miracle,” and chanting his name whenever he scored.

Stephane Mirac

This season, however, has been a different story.  Not for the Tigres’ offense – it remains terrible – but for Mirac.  The winger appears to be in the grip of a sophomore slump, as opposing defenses have focused on containing him.  He has produced only 8 goals and 7 assists so far this season.  As Mirac’s slump has continued, the fans’ former admiration has become mixed with disappointment.  Mirac’s frustration level has mounted; he has been seen slamming his equipment and yelling at himself on the bench in recent games.  Delorme’s joke seems to have pushed him over the edge.

“I am not a missing person,” Mirac fumed to reporters after being told of Delorme’s remark.  “I am right here, and I have been working my [expletive] to death all season.  This is not a just remark.”

Mirac went on to add that, “I cannot be an offense all by myself.  There need to be more of us.  Everyone knew that we needed more scoring.  So what did the team do [in the offseason] to make the scoring better?  Nothing.”  The Tigres had targeted top scoring prospect Rod “Money” Argent in the draft, but after he was unexpectedly chosen by Seattle, Quebec traded down in exchange for defensive help and drafted lower-impact winger Rupert MacDiarmid instead.

“Our offense is too slow and predictable,” said Mirac.  “I cannot change anything about that.  Every other team focuses to stop me, because they know they will pay no penalty.”

Mirac said that if Delorme has a problem with his production or effort, the coach should talk to him personally instead of “attacking me to reporters.”

The Tigres coach seemed a bit taken aback by Mirac’s furious response to his gibe.  “Oh, here I have signed my own death warrant,” said Delorme.  “I should know better than to speak of Stephane in this way.  He is a very proud man, much like myself, and he resents the suggestion that he is not working hard.  I know he is.  It was a stupid joke after a bad game.”

Delorme and Mirac spoke later in the week, and both men said they had resolved their differences.  “In the end, we both want very much to win,” said Delorme.  “We are not there yet, but we will get there together.”

Tigres’ Offense Goes Missing

If you looked at the Quebec Tigres‘ defensive statistics, you’d probably figure they were a leading contender in the East.  They have a ferocious, hard-hitting defense that’s great at slowing the pace and preventing opponents from establishing momentum on offense.  And on the rare occasion that a team can get a shot off, Quebec has one of the league’s best netminders, Riki Tiktuunen, there to stop it.

So why are the Tigres down in fourth with a sub-.500 record?  Because of their dysfunctional, sputtering offense.  Quebec has generated far fewer shots and scored fewer goals than any other team.  The team’s scoring shortcomings were especially apparent this week, when they lit the lamp only five times while failing to win a game.

“It is frustrating, I cannot lie,” said Tiktuunen, who posted an 0-1-3 record despite a 1.00 GAA and a .970 save percentage.  “Knowing that there is no margin for error, it puts much pressure on you to be perfect.”

“Defensively, we are world-class,” said coach Martin Delorme.  “But offensively, we are at a junior level.  This must improve.”

On Saturday, the Tigres faced off against the Michigan Gray Wolves, Delorme’s former club.  Both squads feature a defense-first approach and have elite goalies, so goals were sure to be at a premium.  And sure enough, 65 minutes later, the teams had recorded the SHL’s first-ever scoreless tie.  Tiktuunen stopped 36 shots, while Michigan’s Dirk Lundquist made 21 saves.  “A defensive masterclass,” said Tigres D Dmitri Kalashnikov.  “It was like a brilliant chess match.”

A scoreless tie against the league’s best team left the Tigres feeling good.  But they weren’t so thrilled the next night, when they were shut out again by the Washington Galaxy.  Tiktuunen was on his game again, stopping 28 pucks, but Quebec managed only 12 shots and Galaxy LW Casey Thurman deflected a puck past Tiktuunen midway through the third period to steal a 1-0 victory.

“It’s like there’s a brick wall at our blue line,” said Tigres RW Stephane Mirac.  “No zone time, no shots.”

On Tuesday, the Tigres launched 32 shots at Hershey Bliss netminder Milo Stafford, but the veteran turned them all aside as Quebec recorded yet another scoreless tie.

“Three straight games and no goals,” said Delorme.  “This is not acceptable.  This offensive constipation cannot continue.”

Facing the porous defense of the New York Night, the Tigres finally got their attack in gear and put three pucks in the net.  But they couldn’t match the Night’s speed, surrendering 49 shots and allowing a 3-3 tie.

On Friday, with backup netminder Guillaume Levan in net, Quebec collapsed in the third, surrendering four goals on 15 shots in a 6-1 rout.

“We know that we have to step it up,” said Tigres LW Pascal Royal.  “Our defense and Riki are giving us chance after chance to win, but if we cannot score, we will squander those opportunities.”

Eastern Division Wide Open Early

Just like last season, the SHL’s Eastern division appears to be anyone’s for the taking, at least through the first two weeks.  The top four teams in the division are separated by just three points.  Each of the potential contenders has a surprising strength, but also a weakness that might undermine their hopes of victory.

“If anyone tells you they know who’s gonna win the East,” said Hershey Bliss C Justin Valentine, “they’re either lying or drunk.”

Valentine and the Bliss are the current leaders in the East with a 6-3-1 record.  Thus far, they’ve thrived with impressive defense.  They’ve recorded the fewest shots allowed in the league, less even than famously stingy Michigan.  Hershey coach “Chocolate Chip” Barber praised his team’s eagerness to block shots and win the board battles.  “Our guys are willing to do the unglamorous work that wins games,” said Barber.  “You can’t make chocolate without grinding up a few beans, and our guys have been grinding.”

The Bliss have needed that lockdown defense, because their goaltending has been lackluster.  Free-agent signee Brandon Colt has posted a 3.09 GAA and an .897 save percentage.  “I know I’ve got to step it up,” said Colt.  “We’ve got a championship-caliber team here, and I need to get up to that level.”

The Bliss are also hamstrung by a pedestrian offense, as they continue to search for scoring beyond the “Love Line” of Valentine, LW Lance Sweet, and RW Christopher Hart.  Second-line LW Russ Nahorniak has six goals, but no one other than he and the Love Line has scored more than two.  The defense has been a particular black hole offensively; star Reese Milton has 12 points, but the other five have only combined for 8 points.  “We’ve been taking care of business in our own end,” said second-pairing blueliner Vitaly Dyomin, “but we need to be stronger both ways.”

The surprising second-place squad is the Hamilton Pistols, who have won their last four in a row to rise to 6-4-0.  The key to the Pistols’ surprising success has been their dominant top line; they are the runaway leaders in plus-minus rating, and four of them (LW Steven Alexander, C Calvin Frye, RW Claude Lafayette, and D Raymond Smyth) are among the league’s top 10 in points.  “All the smart folks thought we were still a couple seasons away,” said coach Keith Shields.  “But our first line is hotter than a firecracker, and it looks to me like we’re ready now.”

Aside from that top line, though, Hamilton is a young team that’s lacking in depth.  The team’s third line has been a particular black hole.  Shields has juggled players in and out to no apparent effect; they’ve combined for only two goals and a -6 rating.  “We’re just getting wiped out when we’re on the ice,” said C Jens Bunyakin, who has a lone assist to his credit two weeks in.  “That’s not good enough.”

If the Pistols are going to contend, they’ll also need to rely on rookie Lasse Koskinen in the crease.  The Finnish prospect comes highly touted, but he’s shown his inexperience in his SHL debut (compiling a 4-3-0 record and a 3.26 GAA).  He has come up strong in his last couple of starts, though, stopping 32 in a 3-2 win over Saskatchewan and 35 in a 5-1 beatdown of Washington.

Sitting a point behind Hamilton is the Quebec Tigres.  As expected from a Martin Delorme team, the Tigres are making their name with defense and goaltending.  Second-year netminder Riki Tiktuunen has been one of the league’s best so far, going 5-2-1 with a 1.73 GAA and a .949 save percentage.  He’s been backed by a trapping, slow-down-oriented defense that makes Quebec’s games an exercise in patience at times.  “I don’t care if people think us boring,” said Delorme.  “Boring hockey can be winning hockey, and I am all about winning.”

What may keep the Tigres from winning, however, is their completely anemic offense.  Quebec has scored only 22 goals this year, last in the league; more disturbingly, they’ve managed only 237 shots, 75 fewer than the next-worst team, Seattle.  The Tigres had expected to draft top-prospect winger Rod “Money” Argent to address their lack of firepower, but were knocked for a loop after Seattle drafted Argent instead.  Their already-struggling attack took a further hit when RW Flint “Steel” Robinson went down with an injury.

Quebec’s one-dimensional and unattractive style of play has made them less than popular with other teams.  “I think we’re all agreed that we don’t care who wins as long as it’s not Quebec,” said Valentine.  “The other teams are trying to win with talent.  They’re trying to win by beating and bloodying the other team and hobbling their talent.  It’s not cheating, but it’s close.”

Sitting in fourth, a point back of Quebec at 5-5-0, is the two-time defending champion Washington Galaxy.  The good news for the champs is that they’re getting a career season out of goalie Roger Orion, who’s posted a 1.99 GAA and a .933 save percentage.  The Galaxy’s defense has also been strong, allowing only 336 shots, virtually tied with Quebec.

But Washington’s offense has kept the team mired in mediocrity.  Part of that has been attributable to bad luck; they’ve converted on only 7.5% of their shots, one of the worst marks in the league.  Anecdotally, Galaxy players say they’ve noticed an unusually high percentage of shanked shots and pucks pinging off of goalposts this season.  However, their usually-stout power play has disappointed them as well; they’ve scored on only 18.4% of their shots, good for only sixth in the league.

“I don’t need to do a deep dive on the numbers to see where our problem is,” said Washington coach Rodney Reagle.  “The numbers say we’ve been meh.  Our record says we’ve been meh.  Watching us play, I’ve seen a lot of meh.”

It was shortly after this point last season that the Galaxy caught fire and took control of the East, holding it the rest of the way and fending off a late challenge from Hershey to claim the crown.  Can Washington repeat the feat in 2017?  Or will Hershey wreak their revenge?  Or will Hamilton or Quebec play Cinderella and steal the title from the favorites?

“I’m not making any predictions two weeks in,” said Reagle.  “As Shakespeare once said, that’s why they play the games.  I think that was in Romeo and Juliet.”