There are perhaps no SHL teams more diametrically opposed in style than the New York Night and the Quebec Tigres. The Night are well known around the league both for the brash boasts and insults of coach Nick Foster and for their fast-paced, high-flying, high-scoring brand of hockey. The Tigres, on the other hand, are renowned for their deliberate, hard-hitting, trapping approach to the game; they also prefer to send messages on the ice, rather than in the press. It’s no surprise that the two teams don’t like each other much, and that their games tend to be fiercely contested. When both teams are in close contention for a playoff spot, as they are now, their matchups gain an extra layer of excitement.
“Us and New York, it’s like the old saying about the irresistible force vs. the immovable object,” said Tigres LW Walt Camernitz. “It’s a battle to dictate the game. Whoever controls the tempo usually wins.”
That’s what made Thursday’s game at Neon Sky Center so unusual and thrilling. In general, the contest – and the delightfully bonkers third period in particular – was played at New York’s preferred pace. But it was Quebec that emerged victorious, by an eyebrow-raising 7-5 score. The win only further tightened the East’s tense playoff chase, in which the top four teams are separated by a mere three points.
“I can’t even be mad we lost this one, because it was just so much fun to watch,” said Foster.
The game’s opening period set the tone for what was to come, as the teams combined for 33 shots (18 of them by the Night). New York got on the board first 5:56 into the game, when C Rod Remington went short-side to beat Tigres netminder Riki Tiktuunen. A mere eight seconds later, Quebec struck back with a goal by RW Stephane Mirac. It took only 51 more seconds for the Tigres to take the lead, courtesy of a top-shelf blast off the stick of Camernitz.
Even though they trailed after the first, the Night remained confident, since the game was being played on their terms. That confidence took a hit in the second period, as the Tigres scored twice exactly two minutes apart to make it a 4-1 game. Foster admitted that he thought of removing goalie Jesse Clarkson at that point, but he elected not to. Instead, in the locker room between periods, the coach urged his team to keep hope alive.
“Remember, you are the most dangerous scoring machine this league has ever seen,” Foster told his players. “You think a little three-goal deficit can stop a great team like this? Not a chance. Let’s go out and show them who we are!”
New York proceeded to go out and do exactly that. As Foster predicted, they scored four goals in the third period, enough to erase that deficit. However, they also gave up three, eliminating any shot at a win.
Most of the period’s action was front-loaded, occurring in a frenetic three minutes that Camernitz described as “total insanity. I’ve never seen that much scoring in a short time, not even playing shinny as a kid.”
Remington kicked off the craziness 47 seconds into the period, jamming home a rebound off a shot by D Dominic Sanchez. That cut the Night’s deficit to two and brought the crowd to its feet. It felt like a momentum-shifter. But less than 30 seconds later, the Tigres swung the momentum firmly back in their direction, thanks to a pair of goals by LW Rupert MacDiarmid only seven second apart.
“Thank God for Rupe,” said Camernitz. “He really saved our bacon there.”
But the Night weren’t dead yet. Less than a minute and a half after MacDiarmid’s second goal, New York C Brock Manning deflected a shot from LW Chase Winchester between Tiktuunen’s legs to make it a 6-3 game. Just 28 seconds later, Winchester and Sanchez got loose on a breakaway. Tiktuunen bit hard on a fake shot from Winchester, who slid the puck over to Sanchez for a layup into the wide-open net to make it a two-goal game again.
A frustrated Tiktuunen smashed his stick over the crossbar as the New York fans serenaded him with sing-song chants of “Ri-ki, Ri-ki.”
“I was so mad at myself,” Tiktuunen said after the game. “That goal was a disaster.”
The crowd was kicked into high gear after Sanchez’s goal, and they only got louder and more frenzied after Tigres D Kirby Hanlon took a delay of game penalty a couple minutes later. “If [the Night] had scored there,” admitted Camernitz, “they probably would have come back and won.”
But Quebec fought off the penalty, and about 20 seconds after it ended, RW Weldon “Candy” Kane buried a shot from the slot to restore the three-goal lead and give everyone on the Tigres bench a chance to breathe.
The Night gave it one more run when RW Ivan Trujwirnek scored with 2:19 left in the game to get New York within two. But they couldn’t get another tally, and a clipping penalty by D Anson Brank in the final minute snuffed out their final chance at a comeback.
“We really pushed the pace, huh?” said a grinning Foster after the game. “The grinding little bastards got the W, but they were playing our game. Nine times out of ten, when we get in a firewagon game like that, we win.”
Predictably, Quebec coach Martin Delorme had a different spin on the outcome. “Obviously, this game was not to our usual comfort,” he told reporters, “but at this point, the victory is what matters. Next time we play them, we can win 1-0 and make me happier.”