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.
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.
“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.