Sailors Surrender Six in Third, Miss Sole Division Lead

The Seattle Sailors had a golden opportunity to seize the lead in the tumultuous Western division on Saturday.  With the Michigan Gray Wolves and Anchorage Igloos both suffering losses, the Sailors only needed a win over the struggling Washington Galaxy to claim sole possession of first place.

Through the game’s first two periods, Seattle appeared to be on a glide path to victory, claiming a 6-1 lead.  But then came a nightmarish third period in which the Sailors collapsed, lost their lead, and had to settle for a tie and a share of the lead with Michigan.  It felt like a golden opportunity wasted for the team in green.

“A game like this, it’s just a total shot in the gut,” said Sailors LW Rod Argent.  “It’s just devastating.”

When the puck dropped for the start of the third period, the Sailors were appropriately confident.  They’d rocked Galaxy netminder Darrell Bondurant for a half-dozen goals already.  The primary question seemed to be whether they’d keep pushing to run up a signature win, or if they’d ease up and focus on grinding the clock.

Just 30 seconds into the period, Seattle RW Elliott Pepper was sent to the penalty box for elbowing.  Eight seconds into the ensuing power play, Galaxy winger Jefferson McNeely fired home a slapper on the short side.  No big deal; it was still a 6-2 game.

Three minutes later, though, Galaxy LW Casey Thurman scored on an odd-man rush to make it 6-3.  A bit of a nervous rumble passed through the crowd; was Washington going to make this a game?  Sailors star Vince Mango quickly calmed the fans’ nerves, marching down the ice from the following faceoff and beat Bondurant top shelf to make it 7-3.  Back to cruising time again.

But the plucky Galaxy refused to give up, and they slowly chipped away at Seattle’s lead.  At just past the seven-minute mark, C Harvey Bellmore deflected a shot over the blocker of Sailors goalie “Jersey Mike” Ross to cut the deficit back to three.  Then just before the mid-point of the period, Sailors D Woody Fairwood coughed up the puck in the neutral zone.  Washington stormed down the ice, and C Tucker Barnhill – centering a line of SHL rookies – tucked it home between Ross’s legs.  Suddenly it was a 7-5 game, and the crowd became deeply uneasy.  So did the Sailors bench.

“We’d already taken the W in our heads, and suddenly it was a game again,” said Sailors C Napoleon Beasley.  “We knew we had to respond.”

Sailors coach Harold Engellund called time out to calm his anxious team, but he appeared not to make any major strategic changes.  He did not remove Ross from the game, and he largely appeared to settle on playing defensive hockey and grinding the clock.

However, defensive hockey has never been Seattle’s strong suit.  And a couple minutes later, a failed clear by Mango turned into another Washington opportunity, and McNeely snuck one just inside the right post to make it a 7-6 contest.

The Sailors then made a belated bid to turn it back on and add to their lead, but couldn’t find the switch.  And with three minutes left in the game, the Galaxy’s rookie third line struck again.  Newly acquired RW Mickey Simpson went bar-down to tie it up and sink Century 21 Arena into a shell-shocked funk.

After the game, Engellund took a somewhat philosophical tack.  “Is this an embarrassing one?  Heck yes,” the coach said in his postgame press conference.  “If we miss the playoffs by a point, are we going to look back and regret this?  You bet.  But we can’t let ourselves dwell on this.  We’ve got to keep moving forward and play like we know how.”

Mango, meanwhile, seemed to shrug it off.  “This was one of those crazy fluke games, you know?” the Sailors star said.  “Like an asteroid strike.  It’s one in a million.  But it doesn’t wipe out all the great wins we’ve had this year.  Just forget it and go to the next one.”

Can the Sailors forget this loss, or will the memory haunt them?  Whether they can make their first-ever playoff trip in their last season in Seattle may depend on the answer.

Continue reading “Sailors Surrender Six in Third, Miss Sole Division Lead”

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Interview of the Week: Casey Thurman

This week’s interview is with Washington Galaxy LW Casey Thurman.

SHL Digest: We’re here this week with one of the Washington Galaxy’s top stars, Casey Thurman.

Casey Thurman

Casey Thurman: Hello, world!

SHLD: Casey, you have a reputation for being a star player who’s a little… off-kilter.

CT: You mean I’m crazy?  That’s accurate.

SHLD: Longtime SHL fans will no doubt remember your starring role in the great singing cow controversy of 2015.

CT: Absolutely!  I’m very proud of that.

SHLD: So you stand by your quote at the time: “I think in my soul, there’s always been a singing cow waiting to get out.”

CT: No question about it!  When I put on a pink feather boa and sing at the top of my vocal range, I feel like I’m expressing my true essence.

SHLD: And the Galaxy went to the Finals that year, in spite of that incident.

CT: “In spite of?”  Try “because of.”  No matter what anyone says, the singing cows brought us together.  Or at least it united the rest of the team in wanting to kill us, but that’s still coming together!

SHLD: Did you ever hear anything from the fans about it?

CT: Sure.  Some fans in other cities tried to taunt us, but we didn’t care.  Our fans in DC loved it, though.  One fan even made custom jerseys for me, Bucky [Kevin Buchanan] and Gene [Kennedy] with the names of the cows on them.  I still have it.

SHLD: Wow, that’s pretty cool.

CT: To this day, I still run into people who sing the cow jingle to me.  I love it.

SHLD: Obviously, you believe in the importance of having fun during the season.

CT: Absolutely!  You have to have fun in this game or you’ll go crazy.  If you treat every game like it’s World War III, it’s a recipe for disaster.

SHLD: Some critics of your team say that you don’t take things seriously enough, and that’s why you’ve never won a championship.  What would you say to those people?

CT: I’d say, “You try going through six straight months, taking the kind of pounding we take, without trying to have fun.”  You can have a good time and still play hard when the whistle blows.

SHLD: You guys had a coaching change this season.  Your old coach, Rodney Reagle, was well-known for being pretty goofy himself.

CT: For sure.  He was crazier than the rest of us put together.

SHLD: Now your coach is Peter James, who has a much more serious-minded reputation.  Has he cut down on the fun in the clubhouse at all.

CT: I wouldn’t say that.  He doesn’t participate in the craziness like Coach Reagle did, but he’s not the Fun Police either.  Sometimes we’ll do something a little crazy, and he’ll kind of give us some side-eye or pinch his nose a little.  But he understands that we’re a fun bunch, and he doesn’t interfere.

SHLD: One last question. You guys play in the same city as the NHL’s Capitals, who won their first Stanley Cup last year.  Does that put any pressure on you to win a title of your own?

CT: Yes and no.  I mean, the city went Caps crazy last summer, obviously.  And you walk around town and see all those red #8 jerseys, and you want that kind of acclaim.  You want the city going crazy about you.  But to me, the lesson was that there are a lot of hockey fans in this city.  The Caps winning really activated that.  And if they love going to Caps games, they might love going to ours too.  I mean, our tickets are cheaper.

SHLD: All right.  Thanks for your time and one of the more entertaining interviews we’ve had.

CT: No, thank you, man.  I had a blast.  Shine on, you crazy diamonds!

2018 Eastern All-Star Roster

The rosters for the Eastern Division in the 2018 SHL All-Star Game, as announced by coach “Chocolate Chip” Barber, were as follows:

First Line

LW: Casey Thurman, WashingtonLast season, Thurman had to be talked into accepting his All-Star nod, due to the fact that he was having an off season by his standards.  2018 is a different story; he’s off to a tremendous start, and when he was voted in as the East’s starting left winger (by about 800 votes over Hamilton’s Steven Alexander), nobody had to persuade him to accept the honor.  Thurman is third in the league in points with 50, and he’s in the top five in goals (21) and assists (29).

D: Reese Milton, HersheyAlthough the Bliss’ attempt to defend their surprise 2017 title have been fairly disastrous, it didn’t stop the fans from voting Milton into the starting lineup.  The blueliner, a well-known squirrel lover, is a bit off of his usual offensive pace, but he’s still putting up decent numbers (5 goals, 15 assists).  In addition, he continues to produce the kind of steady, lock-down defense that has made him one of the league’s top blue-liners.

C: Calvin Frye, HamiltonWith the Pistols tied for the league’s best record at the halfway point of the season, the fans in Hamilton are responding.  Attendance at Gunpowder Armory is up 22% this season, and the league has received 27% more All-Star votes from the Hamilton area than they did in 2017.  Given the fired-up fan base, it’s no surprise that Frye was voted in as the East’s starting center.  The rising star is establishing himself as one of the SHL’s top forwards.  He’s second in the league with 51 points, and his 24 goals is good for third place in the SHL.  In addition, his +27 rating is tied with his linemates for the tops in the league.

D: Dominic Sanchez, New York.  The 28-year-old is arguably the league’s best offensive defenseman, and bolstered by a strong backing from the New York area, he was voted to his second straight starting berth, again narrowly beating out Raymond Smyth of Hamilton.  Sanchez has 29 assists on the season, which places him in the SHL’s top five, to go with a team-best +10 rating.  His excellent performance earned him Player of the Week honors this season for the first time.

RW: Jefferson McNeely, Washington.  The strong voting contingent from Hamilton nearly elevated Claude Lafayette into this spot, but in the end, McNeely’s exceptional season could not be denied, and he won the position for the second straight year by approximately 3,500 votes.  The Galaxy winger leads the league with 56 points, and is tied for the league lead in goals with 29.  “My home sweet home, DC, I wanna give you a kiss,” said McNeely as he celebrated the honor.

 

Second Line

LW: Steven Alexander, Hamilton. Alexander was offended when he missed out on the starting spot, so much so that he nearly decided to boycott the game entirely.  Alexander certainly had a strong case for starting: he’s tied for the league lead in goals with 29, and he’s also tied for the lead in plus-minus at +27.  The winger was also upset that his best friend and Pistols teammate, Claude Lafayette, was not selected to the game.  But Lafayette convinced Alexander to participate, and the fiery scorer vowed to lift the East to victory.  “When our children tell our story,” Alexander vowed, “they’ll tell the story of tonight.”

D: Raymond Smyth, Hamilton. In a repeat of last season, Smuth narrowly missed out on a starting slot. but was immediately named to the squad as the top coach’s choice.  “Everybody in the East has had a chance to see Raymond work,” said Barber.  “We’ve all been burned by him at some point or another.”  Smyth remains one of the league’s best-regarded two-way defensemen.  He has 27 assists on the season, second-highest among SHL blueliners, while also providing the rugged, hard-hitting defense that is his trademark.

C: Justin Valentine, Hershey. Last season, Valentine was voted onto the team as a starter.  This season, he needed Barber to name him to the Eastern squad.  Fortunately, the Bliss coach described Valentine as “a no-brainer choice.  We’re not having the kind of year we expected, but Justin’s still an All-Star in my book.”  Although the center is having a bit of an underwhelming year, he is tied for the team lead in goals (12) and points (33).

D: Kevin Buchanan, Washington.  This wasn’t a popular choice among Bliss fans, as Buchanan has been a frequent target of boos at Chocolate Center for his vicious hits and his habit of taunting the Bliss as “soft” in postgame interviews.  Still, Barber didn’t hesitate to select him, noting that “this is the All-Star game, not the Miss Congeniality Awards.  Kevin’s one of those games that you hate when he’s on the other team, but you love when he’s on your side.”  Buchanan is having a surprisingly strong season on offense (5 goals, 23 assists), but it’s his hard hits and smothering defense that fans love — or love to hate.

RW: Christopher Hart, Hershey. Hart joins his fellow “Love Line” member Valentine on the East’s second line.  Alexander was not alone in believing that Lafayette should have received this slot instead, but Barber said that “Chris is still getting the job done, even if the team is struggling right now.”  Hart is the Bliss’ assist leader with 23, and he’s tied with Valentine for the highest point total with 33.

 

Third Line

LW: Lix Darnholm, BostonUnsurprisingly, Darnholm is the sole representative for the expansion Badgers on the Eastern roster.  The 19-year-old Swedish-born winger is one of the few bright spots for Boston on offense.  He has scored 13 goals so far this season, which is tied with Kansas City’s Noel Picard for the second-highest total among expansion players.  His 28 points is also the second-highest among expansion clubs; only the Smoke’s Royal, a fellow All-Star, has a higher point total.

D: Laurie Workman, QuebecThe Tigres have the second-best record in the East, so it’s something of a surprise that none of their players can be found on the top two lines.  Quebec is nonetheless well represented, with four All-Stars, including three on the bottom line.  Barber said this was by design: “I figured teammates would prefer to play together.”  The rookie Workman is the only Tigres defender on the team.  He is having a strong debut season, with 17 points (4 goals, 13 assists) and a +10 rating to go along with stout defense.

C: Mikhail Ilyushin, Quebec.  The 28-year-old Ilyushin makes his first All-Star team this season.  The Tigres have undergone an offensive renaissance this season, with their top line leading the way.  Ilyushin, who centers that top line, has been a key part of that production.  He is second on the team with 34 points on the season, including 12 goals and 22 assists, and he is tied for the team lead with a +13 rating.

D: Jack “Hercules” Mulligan, Hamilton. Mulligan celebrates his second season in the SHL with his first trip to the All-Star game.  A first-round draft pick in 2017, Mulligan is living up to his advance billing with the Pistols.  He’s best known for his fearlessness and his devastating checks, which have become a regular feature of YouTube clips and highlight videos.  He contributes on the offensive end as well, having registered 18 assists so far this season to go with a +11 rating.

RW: Stephane Mirac, Quebec. Mirac joins teammates Ilyushin and Workman on the East’s third line.  The Tigres star makes his first All-Star appearance.  In 2017, Mirac was in the grip of a sophomore slump; this time around, he’s rediscovered the form that caused Quebec fans to nickname him “Stephane Miracle.”  He has scored 16 goals this season, which ranks among the SHL’s top ten, and is a steady and diligent presence on defense.

 

Goaltenders

Lasse Koskinen, Hamilton. The strong voting presence from southern Ontario helped Koskinen get over the hump and get the start in his first All-Star appearance.  “I am very honored to have this opportunity, and the recognition for all of my hard work.”  Koskinen’s excellent work has been a key factor in the Pistols’ early success; his .933 save percentage is the league’s best, and he is tied with Michigan’s Dirk Lundquist for the SHL lead with 18 wins.

Riki Tiktuunen, Quebec. Tiktuunen was selected to attend the All-Star Game last season, but he had to bow out due to an injury.  This time, the Finnish netminder is healthy and able to appear in the game.  Tiktuunen has the second-best save percentage in the league, stopping pucks at a .930 clip; only Koskinen has a better percentage.  Tiktuunen’s 17-7-0 record and 1.99 GAA testify to his tremendous work in the crease and the success that the Tigres are having this season.

SHL Player of the Week – Week 5

Casey Thurman

The SHL selected Washington Galaxy LW Casey Thurman as its Player of the Week.  Thurman is the second straight Galaxy player to win Player of the Week honors; linemate Jefferson McNeely nabbed the award last week.  Washington’s top line has fueled their success all season long, and that was especially true this week.  Thurman had a brilliant week, posting 11 points (5 goals, 6 assists).  Thanks to his efforts, the Galaxy put up an undefeated week that allowed them to slip into second place in the East.

On Saturday, Thurman had a hand in every goal, scoring twice and assisting twice more in a 4-1 victory in New York.  The next night, he had a pair of assists to help the Galaxy tip Seattle, 5-4.  Then on Friday, Thurman netted another two goals and added an assist in an 8-1 humiliation of Kansas City.

Thurman and McNeely are now the top two point-scorers in the league; McNeely has a total of 50 points, while Thurman has 46. Thurman is third in the league in goals (with 20, behind McNeely and Steven Alexander of Hamilton) and assists (26, trailing only linemate Eddie Costello and the Pistols’ Claude Lafayette).

“Thurm and Eddie and me, that’s just magic on the ice,” said McNeely.  “Our offense should be a registered weapon, because it’s downright lethal.”

Change of the Guard Seems Imminent in SHL’s Last Week

Going into the final week of the 2017 SHL season, neither division race is terribly close, unlike the last couple of seasons.  Barring a seismic shift in the coming week, we aren’t going to see anything as dramatic as the 2016’s Hershey-Washington last-game showdown for the division.  Nonetheless, even if things unfold as expected, the results will still have their share of surprises.  As it stands, neither of last year’s Finals opponents will make a return trip this season.

In the West, the Michigan Gray Wolves head into the season’s final week trailing the Anchorage Igloos by 6 points.  The Wolves and Igloos have been the division powers since the league’s inception, so it’s no surprise that they will finish one-two yet again.  But the Wolves have been unable to make up the ground they lost when top scorers Hunter Bailes and Warren Marlow went down with injuries in midseason.  “We’ve fought hard all year, and I know we’re going to keep battling to the end,” said Wolves RW Gordon Lunsford.  “But we’re in a difficult spot right now.”

Michigan’s best chance to narrow the gap came on Wednesday, when they faced the Igloos at Arctic Circle Arena.  The game was a true heavyweight clash, as the Wolves stifled Anchorage’s league-best offense, with the Igloos responding in kind.  After two scoreless periods, Michigan actually drew first blood seven minutes into the third, when Lunsford dented the twine on a hard slapshot between Anchorage goalie Ty Worthington‘s legs.  “That got us fired up,” said Lunsford.  “We thought this was the goal that was going to set us on a run to take the division.”

But with just over a minute left in the game, the Igloos tied the game on a fluky goal by D Sebastian Pomfret, who flicked a rebound that bounced off the back of Michigan netminder Dirk Lundquist back and into the goal.  That sent the game to overtime, where Wolves C Wesley Knight committed a tough holding-the-stick penalty.  15 seconds into the power play, Igloos LW Les Collins beat Lundquist stick-side to seal a 2-1 win.

“That was a back-breaker,” admitted Lunsford.  “To go from thinking you’re on the road to the division to feeling like you’re on the brink of elimination… it’s a kick in the gut, no question.”

As surprising as the West race has been, things have been even more shocking in the East.  The Washington Galaxy have won the division in each of the last two seasons and established themselves as the class of the division.  When they caught fire out of the All-Star Break, winning 10 in a row and snatching first place away from the Hershey Bliss, it looked like they were set up to run to yet another title.  It hasn’t unfolded that way, though, as the Bliss have grabbed the lead right back over the last couple of weeks.

And while Hershey has played well, the race in the East has been a story of Washington collapse.  The Galaxy have dropped 11 of 15 over the last three weeks, and they head into the final week of the season 8 points back of the Bliss.  For a team with a reputation for stepping it up in the second half, their dismal performance has been completely unexpected.  “We can’t figure it out,” said LW Casey Thurman.  “We know we can do better than this, but it’s kind of like we’re stepping on the gas and there’s nothing there.”

Certainly, the Galaxy’s using scoring punch has been absent during their recent skid.  They’ve fallen from sixth in the league in goals scored to second-to-last, ahead of only Quebec.  Several of their stars, including Thurman (2 goals in the last 15 games), C Eddie Costello (3 goals), RW Jefferson McNeely (3 goals), and C J.C. Marais (2 goals), have been in slumps.  But the offense hasn’t been the only culprit.  The normally stout defense, which allowed fewer than two and a half goals per game over the first two-thirds of the season, has allowed over three per game during their slide.  Backup goalie Ron Mason has lost his last five starts.  Their special units have flatlined over the last three weeks, with their power play dropping from a league-leading 24.1% success rate to a middle-of-the-pack 19.6%, and their penalty kill going from 82.9% efficiency to 78.8%.  “It’s like it’s all falling apart at once,” said Costello.

For the Bliss, who have heard over and over that they’re too soft, too sloppy, or too star-dependent to beat the Galaxy, the turnabout has been pretty sweet.  “We’ve taken a lot of crap over the years about how we can never win the big one, or how Washington’s got our number,” said Bliss C Justin Valentine.  “We’ve never bought into that story, but we knew we were were going to keep hearing it until we proved it.”  On Saturday, Hershey came into Constellation Center and walloped Washington 5-1.  “That one definitely felt good,” said Valentine.  “To be able to go into their building and shut them down like that… it gave us confidence that this isn’t going to be like the other years.  It’s a new era for us.”

Eastern All-Star Rosters

The roster for the Eastern Division in the SHL’s first All-Star Game, as announced by coach Rodney Reagle, are as follows:

First Line

LW: Steven Alexander, HamiltonThe young, scrappy, and hungry winger has been one of the SHL’s top scorers since the beginning.  This year, Alexander is tied for the league lead in goals with 23.  “I am not throwing away my shot,” Alexander told reporters, confirming that he will play.

D: Reese Milton, HersheyThe 25-year-old blueliner is one of the SHL’s best two-way threats, contributing solidly on offense (7 goals, 24 assists) and providing lock-down defense that has helped propel the Bliss to the top of the division. “For once, Reese will be on my side, instead of kicking my butt,” said Reagle.

C: Justin Valentine, Hershey. Valentine was the top overall vote-getter among Eastern All-Stars.  He needed them all, as this was one of the most competitive positions.  Valentine withstood a determined charge from New York’s Brock Manning, Hamilton’s Calvin Frye, and Washington’s Eddie Costello.  Valentine is tied for the league lead in goals (23) and is in the top five in points (39).

D: Dominic Sanchez, New YorkSanchez was the beneficiary of a late surge in voting from the New York area, allowing him to surpass Hamilton’s Raymond Smyth to claim a starting spot. Sanchez is one of the league’s top offensive defenseman, and he has put up 30 points (6 goals, 24 assists) for the Night so far this season.

RW: Jefferson McNeely, WashingtonMcNeely withstood a late charge from New York’s Rick “The Stick” Nelson to win this starting spot by less than 5,000 votes.  The winger is having a bit of a down season, but he is still among Washington’s top scorers with 25 points (12 goals, 13 assists).  When reporters called McNeely to get his reaction to being selected, they discovered that he had not yet learned he had been chosen.  “What’d I miss?” McNeely said.

 

Second Line

LW: Lance Sweet, Hershey. Sweet is a member of Hershey’s well-known “Love Line,” among the top-scoring lines in the SHL.  Sweet has more than held up his end of the bargain, putting up 34 points (11 goals, 23 assists) on the season so far. He is just outside the league’s top 10 in both points and assists.

D: Raymond Smyth, Hamilton. Smyth lost out on a starting spot to Dominic Sanchez in the final days of voting, but Reagle wasted no time tapping him as a reserve.  Smyth has the numbers to back up his case: he has the most points (38) of any defenseman in the league, and he has an excellent defensive reputation as well.

C: Brock Manning, New York. Manning fell short to Valentine  in the voting for the hotly-contested center position, but he was selected by Reagle as a reserve.  Manning has long been one of the SHL’s top scorers, and this season is no exception; his 21 goals puts him in the league’s top five.  As the Night have improved in recent weeks, Manning has led the way, scoring 10 goals in the last two weeks.

D: Kevin Buchanan, Washington. Buchanan was one of three Galaxy players that Reagle named to the Eastern squad.  He is the top point-scorer among Washington’s defensive corps with 18, but he is known primarily as a stay-home defender.  “I was afraid of what Kevin would do to me if I didn’t pick him,” said Reagle.

RW: Christopher Hart, Hershey. Hart joins his linemate Sweet among the Eastern reserves.  He is among the top 10 in the league in points with 36 (10 goals, 26 assists).  “Glad to see the Love Line representing!” Hart said.  “We’re going to tear it up out there.”

 

Third Line

LW: Casey Thurman, Washington. Thurman is having a bit of a down year by his standards, but he remains the Galaxy’s leader in goals scored (with 14), which is good enough to put him in the top 10 in the league.  “I had to talk Casey into it a little,” said Reagle.  “He didn’t think he deserved it, but I convinced him that he did.”

D: Ward Jones, QuebecJones will be the Tigres’ only All-Star representative, as Riki Tiktuunen will miss the game due to injury.  Jones is one of the key contributors to the Tigres’ largely anonymous but second-ranked defense.  He has been a stalwart on Quebec’s top line, producing 3 goals and 3 assists while providing rugged defense.

C: Calvin Frye, Hamilton. Frye was not voted in as a starter despite being in the top ten in the league in both goals (14) and assists (28).  Frye was named SHL Rookie of the Year last season, and he shows no signs of dropping off in his sophomore campaign, on pace for a 25-point improvement from his rookie point total.

D: Grant Warriner, Washington. The Galaxy’s second-year blueliner is proving his worth as a two-way contributor.  He has thrived beside free-agent signing Patrick Banks in Washington’s second pairing, putting up 17 points to go with a +10 rating.  “I didn’t want to pick too many of my own guys,” said Reagle, “but I look at the numbers until my eyes crossed, and I didn’t see anyone who was more deserving.”

RW: Ivan Trujwirnek, New York. The second-year winger known affectionately as “Trainwreck” has been a consistent contributor on a struggling Night team.  His rugged, hard-working play quickly earned the notice of coach Nick Foster, who wound up promoting him from the third line up to the top line.  He has continued to produce even with the promotion, putting up 8 goals and 11 assists.

 

Goaltenders

Roger Orion, Washington. The Galaxy have been a defense-first team this season, and Orion has been a key piece of the equation. He is among the top 5 in the league in wins (9), GAA (2.50), and save percentage (.922).  He was voted the starter by over 10,000 votes more than his closest competitor.

Dennis Wampler, Hamilton. Orion originally named Quebec’s Riki Tiktuunen as the backup netminder, but the sophomore star was injured in Friday’s loss to Dakota.  Pistols rookie Lasse Koskinen was another possibility, but he was also injured this week and therefore unavailable.  So Reagle turned to Koskinen’s backup, Wampler.  The second-year man has been strong, going 6-3-1 with a 2.47 GAA and a .913 save percentage.

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.”