- On Monday, the Quebec Tigres activated D Ward Jones from the disabled list. Jones had missed more than a month with an upper-body that he suffered before the All-Star break. To make room for Jones on the active roster, the Tigres reassigned D Serge Rimbaud to their farm team in Maine. The 18-year-old Rimbaud appeared in 13 games with Quebec, recording 8 assists and a +1 rating.
- Also on Monday, the Hamilton Pistols placed goaltender Lasse Koskinen on the disabled list. Koskinen suffered an upper-body injury during Sunday’s 7-4 win over New York. He is expected to miss 2 to 3 weeks, a serious blow for a Pistols team that is trying to snatch a playoff spot in the East. To replace Koskinen, the Pistols called up Hector Orinoco from their affiliate in Oshawa. The 23-year-old Orinoco has gone 13-11-0 with a 2.69 GAA and a .902 save percentage with Oshawa this season.
- On Tuesday, the Tigres placed LW Stellan Fisker on the disabled list. Fisker suffered an upper-body injury during the Tigres’ 3-0 win over Hershey. He is expected to miss 3 to 4 weeks. To replace Fisker on the roster, the Tigres called up LW Carl Bleyer from their farm team in Maine. Bleyer has put up 26 points (8 goals, 18 assists) with the Moose on the year.
- Wednesday was the trading deadline. The following trades were consummated at the deadline:
- The New York Night traded RW Mickey Simpson, D Andy Ruger, and a 3rd-round draft pick to the Washington Galaxy for RW Nori Takoyaki. (More details here.) After making the trade, the Night promoted D Craig Werner from their farm team in Utah and signed D Sheldon Harville to a minor-league contract.
- The Galaxy traded Ruger to the Kansas City Smoke in exchange for a 3rd-round pick.
- The Michigan Gray Wolves traded RW Cleo Rodgers, G Gus Parrish, and a 2nd-round pick to the Smoke in exchange for LW Kevin Starkey and D Scott Hexton. (More details here.) After the trade, Kansas City called up Parrish and LW Veikko Sikanen from their CHL affiliate in Omaha, and demoted G Jim Fleetwood to Omaha. They also released G Toby Kemper. Meanwhile, Michigan released D Igor Shovshenkov, demoted F Yann Eberlein to their affiliate in Cleveland, and signed Kemper to a minor-league deal.
- The Saskatchewan Shockers traded C Tanner Brooks to the Dakota Jackalopes in exchange for D Rusty Anderson. (More details here.) After the trade, the Shockers demoted D Valeri Nistrumov to their farm team in Virginia. They also released D Knute Skoeglin and signed F Marvin Cascio to a minor-league deal.
- The Hamilton Pistols traded C Pat Collistone, D Buster Kratz, and a 1st-round pick to the Galaxy in exchange for C Eddie Costello. (More details here.) After the trade, the Pistols called up D Russ Klemmer from their CHL affiliate in Oshawa, and demoted RW Michael Jennings to Oshawa. They also signed D Gresham Sourwine to a minor-league contract. The Galaxy demoted Kratz to their affiliate in Baltimore and promoted C Tucker Barnhill from Baltimore. They also released D Sheldon Harville.
- The Quebec Tigres traded D Kirby Hanlon, C Jacob Cunniff, and a 1st-round pick to the Jackalopes in exchange for D Matt Cherner. (More details here.) After the trade, Dakota released RW Omar Zdurchek; Quebec then signed him to a minor-league deal.
- Finally, the Seattle Sailors traded D Serkan Mratic to the Galaxy for D Stan Gallagher. (More details here.)
- On Saturday, the Jackalopes activated D Rodney Black from the injured list. Black, who was sidelined in only his second SHL game, missed two and a half weeks with an upper-body injury. Since Dakota was one player short of the roster limit, they did not make a corresponding move.
- Also on Saturday, the Hershey Bliss placed LW Lance Sweet on long-term injured reserve. Sweet was carried off the ice on a stretcher after being crunched into the boards late in the second period during Saturday’s 6-3 win over Saskatchewan. Sweet underwent surgery on his right leg, and is expected to be out for the rest of the season. To fill Sweet’s roster spot, Hershey called up D Seth Dowd from their CHL affiliate in Milwaukee. The 33-year-old Dowd, who last played in the SHL in 2016, recorded 27 points with Milwaukee this season.
Could this be the year? The SHL’s Eastern Division squad came into Wednesday’s third annual SHL All-Star Game hungry for revenge. In last season’s game, the West humiliated the East in a 9-2 rout. The West has always been considered the league’s stronger division, but the East has slowly been improving. The Quebec Tigres took the eventual champion Anchorage Igloos to seven games in last year’s finals. Eastern teams have been much more competitive in this season’s interdivision games. With a raucous and rowdy home crowd behind them at the New York Night’s Neon Sky Center, the East hoped that the third time would be the charm.
Instead, the rule of threes worked against the East, as the West scored three goals in the game’s first three minutes, and wound up winning by three, 5-2, continuing their unbeaten All-Star streak.
“I think we’re all getting pretty sick of those bastards,” said Hamilton Pistols LW Steven Alexander, who was held scoreless in the game. “We’ve got to win one of these.”
The Big Apple crowd definitely made its presence felt, even during the introductions. They cheered loudly for the four Night players who made the Eastern squad, while booing each of the Western players with remarkable vigor. They also booed their loathed rival Alexander, who responded by blowing kisses to the crowd, and Washington Galaxy C Eddie Costello, who won a slot that the Night’s fans felt should have gone to their own Brock Manning.
“One thing about the New York fans: you always know where you stand,” joked Anchorage’s Sam Castor, who coached the Western team.
Once the game started, though, the West wasted no time asserting control of the contest. Just 71 seconds into the game, Saskatchewan Shockers D Wyatt Barnes redirected a shot from teammate Elliott Rafferty into the top-left corner of the net to put the West on the board. Just over a minute later, Igloos LW Jerry Koons and RW Nicklas Ericsson got loose on a 2-on-1 rush, and Koons finished with a shot through the five-hole to make it 2-0. 35 seconds after that, Seattle Sailors RW Vince Mango fired a slapshot that beat Eastern goalie Jesse Clarkson on the glove side for the West’s third tally.
“They really came out firing,” said Clarkson after the game. “My head was just spinning trying to keep up.”
East coach Martin Delorme considered lifting Clarkson after the initial onslaught, but did not want to embarrass the netminder in front of his home fans. He did wind up relieving the starter after the first period, however.
The East’s backup netminder was Hamilton’s Lasse Koskinen, who started last year’s game but was removed after being rocked for five goals in the first period. He admitted afterward that he’d celebrated a bit too hard in the run-up to the game. He was much more solid this time around. Michigan Gray Wolves D “Mad Max” Madison greeted him with a screened blast from the blue line that found the twine 55 seconds into the period. After that, Koskinen stopped all but one of the 25 shots he faced the rest of the way. A deflection from Igloos C Jake Frost later in the second was the only other blemish on his record.
“I feel I made up for myself this time,” said Koskinen. “Not as much parties, not as much stay out late.”
Unfortunately for the East, any hope of a comeback was stymied by Michigan’s Dirk “The Bear” Lundquist, who smothered everyone of the 34 shots he faced over two periods. Even the East-favoring crowd gave Lundquist a standing ovation when he came up with a sprawling stop on a breakaway attempt by the Night’s Rick “The Stick” Nelson late in the first period.
“Lundquist is just a force of nature,” said Castor. “Nothing puts that guy off his game.”
Lundquist’s brilliance earned him the All-Star MVP honors, the first time a goalie has received the award. “When you consider the fact that the whole game is basically defense-optional,” said Barnes, “you’re that much more impressed about what The Bear did.”
Along with the award, Lundquist received a brand-new Kia Telluride SUV. “Wow, this is a big one,” said the Wolves goalie. “You could fit a whole kid’s hockey team in there. But I have no kids, so I can put all of my fishing gear in it.”
The East did manage to break the shutout in the third period, scoring twice against the Western backup, Anchorage’s Ty Worthington. Hershey Bliss RW Christopher Hart struck first, beating Worthington through the five-hole about five and a half minutes into the period. A minute and a half later, New York’s Chase Winchester scored on a wraparound that snuck past Worthington’s pad, touching off the largest cheer of the night, as the crowd saluted one of its own.
“We managed to save a little pride,” said Winchester. “But that’s no substitute for actually winning. Next year, it’s ours.”
If so, the East will need to win on the road; next year’s game is at Heartland Telecom Center in Kansas City.
SHL All Star Game West All Stars @ East All Stars, Neon Sky Center 1 2 3 OT F West All Stars 3 2 0 5 East All Stars 0 0 2 2 East All Stars G A PTS PIM +/- West All Stars G A PTS PIM +/- Alexander LW 0 0 0 0 -2 Koons LW 1 1 2 0 2 Sanchez D 0 0 0 0 -2 Kronstein D 0 0 0 0 2 Frye C 0 0 0 0 -2 Frost C 1 1 2 0 2 Milton D 0 0 0 0 -2 Madison D 1 1 2 0 2 Nelson RW 0 0 0 0 -2 Ericsson RW 0 1 1 0 2 Winchester LW 1 0 1 0 0 Collins LW 0 0 0 0 0 Mulligan D 0 0 0 0 -2 Barnes D 1 0 1 0 2 Beauchesne C 0 0 0 0 0 Beasley C 0 1 1 0 0 Risch D 0 0 0 0 -2 Pomfret D 0 0 0 0 2 Lafayette RW 0 1 1 0 0 Mango RW 1 0 1 0 0 Camernitz LW 0 0 0 0 -1 Airston LW 0 2 2 0 1 Aubin D 0 0 0 0 1 Chouinard D 0 0 0 0 -1 Costello C 0 1 1 0 -1 Rafferty C 0 2 2 0 1 Workman D 0 2 2 0 1 Fairwood D 0 1 1 0 -1 Hart RW 1 0 1 0 -1 Merula RW 0 0 0 0 1 ---------------------------------------- ---------------------------------------- TOTALS 2 4 6 0 -3 TOTALS 5 10 15 0 3 Scratches: WAS: none EAS: none East All Stars SH SV G Sv% ---------------------------------------- Clarkson 18 15 3 0.833 Koskinen 26 24 2 0.923 West All Stars SH SV G Sv% ---------------------------------------- Lundquist 34 34 0 1.000 Worthington 18 16 2 0.889 First Period ------------ GOALS: 01:11 WAS Barnes (Rafferty, Airston) 02:24 WAS Koons (Ericsson, Frost) 02:59 WAS Mango (Beasley, Madison) PENALTIES: None Second Period ------------- GOALS: 00:55 WAS Madison (Rafferty, Airston) 14:28 WAS Frost (Koons, Fairwood) PENALTIES: None Third Period ------------ GOALS: 05:35 EAS Hart (Workman, Costello) 07:03 EAS Winchester (Lafayette, Workman) PENALTIES: None SHOTS ------ 1 2 3 OT F West All Stars 18 13 13 44 East All Stars 18 16 18 52 POWER PLAYS ----------- West All Stars 0 for 0 East All Stars 0 for 0 INJURIES -------- None
The roster for the Eastern Division in the 2018 SHL All-Star Game, which will be held on Wednesday at New York’s Neon Sky Center, was announced today by coach Martin Delorme. The selections were as follows:
LW: Steven Alexander, Hamilton. This year’s Eastern Division voting was dominated by fans of the hosting Night and Alexander’s Pistols. The teams are fierce rivals, and both fan bases reportedly engaged in ballot-stuffing efforts intended to get their heroes chosen to the starting lineup. Hamilton’s fans won this one, voting their newly-married star to a starting slot in spite of what by Alexander’s lofty standards is a subpar first half. He recorded only 30 points (14 goals, 16 assists), although his +10 rating speaks to the success the Pistols have had with him on the ice. It’s Alexander’s third straight All-Star appearance and his second start. “This is my chance to rise up,” said Alexander.
D: Dominic Sanchez, New York. Sanchez has historically been among the SHL’s top offensive defenseman, which has earned him a starting spot each of the last two years. Thanks to Night fans’ increase in voting, however, the 29-year-old became the top defensive vote-getter for the first time. New York is having a strong season, and so is Sanchez: his 33 assists are fifth-best in the league, and his 41 points are good for fifth in the SHL. He’s also sporting a +12 rating, one of the best among league blueliners.
C: Calvin Frye, Hamilton. The Night-Pistols voting war was most intense at this position; Frye and New York’s Brock Manning were the two top vote-getters at any position. Frye wound up winning the spot by less than 3,000 votes. It’s his second straight start and third overall appearance. As usual, he has the numbers to back it up: his 25 goals are second-most in the SHL, and his 43 points are the league’s third-highest total. “The fans picked it right,” said Pistols coach Keith Shields. “Calvin is the best center in this league, bar none.”
D: Reese Milton, Hershey. Milton is the only player not from the Pistols or Night to crack the starting lineup. He has started every All-Star Game in SHL history, but this is the first time he has been outvoted by Sanchez. Not only that, he only narrowly held off Hamilton’s Hercules Mulligan for second place. Milton may have slipped a bit in the voting results, but he remains as strong as ever on the ice. Only Sanchez has more points than Milton’s 40 among defensemen, and no blueliner in the SHL has more goals than Milton’s 15.
RW: Rick “The Stick” Nelson, New York. Hard as it may be to believe, this is Nelson’s first All-Star appearance. Granted, his cocky personality has never made him a favorite among fans outside the Big Apple, and his reputation as a selfish one-way player has never endeared him to opposing coaches. However, Night fans have always loved their star; to them, his arrogance reads as confidence, and his defensive disinterest reads as a laser focus on scoring. And he’s the best pure scorer in the league so far this season; his 30 goals are tops in the SHL by a healthy margin, and his +10 rating shows that those goals aren’t just empty calories. “At last, the fans have learned to appreciate my greatness,” said Nelson.
LW: Chase Winchester, New York. Winchester may have lost to Alexander in fan voting, but there was no way that the SHL’s leading point man wasn’t going to get a spot on the East roster. It’s the first time Winchester has gotten an All-Star nod. He has a reputation as one of the league’s slickest passers, and the stats back it up. His 46 assists this season are ten ahead of his nearest competitor, and his 54 points are ten ahead of Night teammate Nelson atop the league leaderboard.
D: Jack “Hercules” Mulligan, Hamilton. The Pistols’ rugged young defensive star has earned notice around the league both for his vicious checks and his surprising facility with the puck. Among those who’ve noticed is Delorme, who chose Mulligan for his second All-Star trip. “He is one I wish I had on my team,” the Quebec coach said. “He is a wrecking ball on skates.” The Pistols are great at controlling the puck when Mulligan is on the ice, as his +9 rating attests. His 21 assists attest to the fact that he’s not at all lost on the offensive end. And his 41 penalty minutes attest to the fact that he’s not a player to mess with.
C: Alain Beauchesne, Boston. Beauchesne was the top pick in this year’s draft, and he’s been every bit as good as the Badgers had hoped. Delorme recognized his sterling performance by making him Boston’s lone All-Star. Beauchesne follows in the footsteps of teammate Lix Darnholm, who made the Eastern squad as a rookie last season. Boston may be struggling to perform on offense, but Beauchesne ranks among the league’s best. The 21-year-old Montreal native is in the top 10 in the SHL with 37 points (14 goals, 23 assists).
D: Clayton “Crusher” Risch, Hamilton. The 23-year-old Risch makes his All-Star debut sharing a defensive pairing with his Pistols teammate. Like Mulligan, Risch is known around the league for his hard hits; also like Mulligan, he is better offensively than his reputation would suggest, notching 14 assists and a +6 rating so far on the season. Risch and Mulligsn anchor a stout Hamilton defense that is allowing the second-fewest shots per game. “He has the body of a lumberjack,” said Delorme.
RW: Claude Lafayette, Hamilton. It’s somewhat surprising that Lafayette, Alexander’s close friend and linemate, hasn’t made the All-Star team before this year. Hamilton’s enthusiastic fanbase couldn’t lift him to a starting spot ahead of Nelson, but Delorme deemed him worthy of a spot. Like Winchester, he is an elite passer and facilitator; his 29 assists are good for fourth in the SHL. The normally-reserved Lafayette was thrilled to receive the honor, and vowed a win for the East. “I’m never gonna stop until I make ‘em drop and burn ‘em up and scatter the remains,”said Lafayette.
LW: Walt Camernitz, Quebec. Delorme picked only two of his own players to the Eastern roster; Camernitz was one of them. The rugged 31-year-old winger is a favorite of Delorme’s, but it was his strong play that earned him his first All-Star trip. Camernitz is in the top ten in the league in both points (38) and assists (24). “Walt is the ideal player in my eyes,” said the Tigres coach. “He is hard to knock down, and he always gets up again.”
D: Jean-Luc Aubin, Hershey. Aubin is another first-time All-Star. The veteran blueliner was something of a surprise selection, as his offensive numbers aren’t eye-popping (4 goals, 11 assists) and he is not known as a particularly rugged defender. However, he does lead the Bliss in plus-minus rating, with a +13 so far on the season.
C: Eddie Costello, Washington. Costello, who is the Galaxy’s lone representative in the game, makes his first-ever appearance as an All-Star. In a disappointing year in the nation’s capital, Costello is certainly a worthy representative, leading the team in points (34) and assists (24). However, the selection provoked controversy in New York, as Night fans were incensed that Manning didn’t make the team in spite of strong numbers (19 goals, 17 assists, +10 rating). Delorme responded to the outrage in Gotham with exasperation. “The rules are that every team must be represented,” said the coach. “I did not make the rule; I only follow it.”
D: Laurie Workman, Quebec. Workman joins Camernitz as the Tigres’ only representatives, both chosen by their coach. It’s the second straight All-Star honor for the sophomore standout. He’s tracking almost exactly with his performance from his rookie season, recording 18 points (5 goals, 12 assists) and a +7 rating in the first half of the 2019 season. Delorme said that he might have chosen fellow top-pairing defender Richard McKinley as well, had the rising young star not missed 15 games with an injury.
RW: Christopher Hart, Hershey. Hart makes his third appearance in the midseason contest. Unlike the last two years, Hart is the sole member of the Bliss’ “Love Line” to receive All-Star honors. Hart’s 27 assists place him fifth in the league, and his 36 points are second-best on the Bliss, behind only fellow All-Star Milton. “Being at the game without my brothers in arms is going to feel weird,” admitted Hart. “But hey, it means I’ve got bragging rights over them. Cool!”
Jesse Clarkson, New York. The fired-up voters in the host city managed to get one more of their own into the starting lineup, voting Clarkson into the starting slot ahead of Hamilton’s Lasse Koskinen and Quebec’s Riki Tiktuunen. It’s the first time that Clarkson has been an All-Star, and he doesn’t only owe his spot to the fervor of New York fans. He’s also having a career year, going 12-9-2 with a 2.62 GAA. His .930 save percentage is tied for the SHL’s second-highest mark. Thanks to Clarkson’s heroics in net, the Night are currently in line for a playoff position despite allowing a league-worst 38.75 shots per game.
Lasse Koskinen, Hamilton. In a mild upset, Delorme passed over his own goalie, Tiktuunen, and instead gave Koskinen his second All-Star nod. The two Finnish-born netminders have very similar statistics thus far in 2019. By coincidence, Koskinen has the same 12-9-2 record that Clarkson does; however, he has a superior 2.21 GAA, third-lowest in the league. His .925 save percentage ranks fourth in the SHL. According to Delorme, Tiktuunen was not offended by the snub. “He told me that he preferred the vacation,” the coach noted.
The SHL selected Hamilton Pistols G Lasse Koskinen as its Player of the Week. The 22-year-old Pistols netminder had a brilliant week, going 2-1-0 with a 1.33 GAA and a .953 save percentage. Koskinen’s brilliant goaltending helped Hamilton go 3-1-0 on the week, moving within two points of a playoff spot in the East.
Koskinen’s brilliance was highlighted by a pair of shutouts in interdivision games against the West’s top teams. On Sunday, the Finnish-born goalie stopped all 26 shots in a 2-0 win over Seattle. Then on Thursday, he turned aside every one of the 19 tries he faced as the Pistols shot down Michigan 4-0.
“Lasse is just a tremendous goalie, tremendous,” said Pistols coach Keith Shields. “It’s hard to remember that he’s only 22; he’s got the confidence and poise of a goalie who’s a decade older. He can go toe-to-toe with any goalie in this league, and I think he gets extra fired up to play the best in the league. That’s the mark of a champion.”
The 2019 SHL season is less than one-third of the way complete, but we’re starting to see the playoff picture take shape in the Western Division. Barring a dramatic change of fortune, the Michigan Gray Wolves and Seattle Sailors are the favorites to make the postseason. Similarly, the Dakota Jackalopes and Kansas City Smoke are nearly certain to be on the golf course come springtime. That means the Anchorage Igloos and Saskatchewan Shockers will likely be chasing the Wolves and Sailors in the quest for a playoff berth.
In the East, however, nothing seems certain. There is no obviously dominant team, and only one club appears to be out of contention. Each of the contending teams has key strengths, but also potentially fatal weaknesses. At this stage of the season, the East appears completely up for grabs.
“If you think you know who’s coming out of this division this year, I want to see your crystal ball,” said Pistols coach Keith Shields. “Looks like it’s anybody’s game right now.”
The first-place Hershey Bliss won the Vandy in 2017, and the fluky shooting-percentage issues that helped doom them last season aren’t plaguing them this time around. They’re fundamentally solid at both ends; they’re averaging 37.1 shots per game (second in the league) while allowing only 31.2 (good for fifth). They’re also benefiting from strong special-teams play, with their power play (26% conversion rate) and penalty kill (85.5%) both in the top three in the league.
However, these numbers mask a curious weakness in 5-on-5 play, which is exposed by their -7 rating. “5-on-5 has been a problem for us,” acknowledged Bliss coach Chip Barber. “It’s definitely been a bittersweet season so far.”
Hershey’s biggest problem, though, may be its longest-standing one. The Bliss have perennially struggled to find security between the pipes. They tried hard to land an upgrade during the offseason, only to strike out and settle for re-sign incumbent Brandon Colt. Colt’s 11-4-0 record is impressive, but his underlying numbers (2.97 GAA, .905 save percentage) are hardly dominating. If the Bliss are going to be serious contenders, they may need to improve in net.
The New York Night have surprised many observers with a strong start, and they currently sit in second, three points behind Hershey. They’ve been the league’s most potent offense (with 75 goals on 39.5 shots per game), which was expected. But they’ve traditionally been doomed by poor numbers at their own end. This year, they’ve been better than usual, thanks in large part to a strong performance from goaltender Jesse Clarkson (9-5-1, 2.78, .923).
“To me, Jesse’s been our MVP so far,” said Night coach Nick Foster. “He’s really saved our bacon.”
There’s more truth to Foster’s statement than he might intend. New York’s defense remains lackluster; they’re allowing 37.1 shots per game, tied for worst in the league. If Clarkson’s numbers slip back toward his career norms, or if he gets hurt, the Night might be doomed.
In addition, the team is benefitting from a 29.3% conversion rate on power plays. Even for New York, which traditionally thrives in man-advantage situations, that seems unsustainable.
The Hamilton Pistols made the playoffs for the first time last year, and they returned all the key players from last season’s run. They’re thriving 5-on-5, with their +17 rating the best in the SHL. Their defense looks even stronger than last season; they’ve allowed a mere 29.2 shots per game so far, third best in the league. They’ve gotten typically strong netminding from Lasse Koskinen (8-5-1, 2.22, .927). And C Calvin Frye (16 goals, 12 assists) looks like a potential MVP candidate.
So why haven’t they broken out of the pack? One key reason is their special-teams play. Last season, those units were among the league’s best. This season, their 13% power-play percentage and their 75.9% PK efficiency are both second-worst in the league.
Surprisingly, the Pistols’ biggest issue may be their biggest star. LW Steven Alexander is off to an uncharacteristically slow start; his 6 goals are tied for third-highest total on the team. It’s possible that the notoriously sensitive Alexander was rattled by his karaoke-bar birthday misadventures in New York. Or maybe the slump is just a temporary blip. But Hamilton typically rises and falls on Alexander’s stick, so they need him to turn things around soon.
The Quebec Tigres came within a game of winning the Vandy last season, and they have designs on making a return trip this season. So far, though, they’ve been unable to keep their heads about the .500 waterline. Offensively, they continue to click, with top scorers LW Walt Camernitz and RW Stephane Mirac continuing to produce at the rate that got them to the playoffs last year.
Ultimately, though, Quebec’s success is built around defense and goaltending, as always. And while they’ve been solid in those areas this year, they haven’t been quite as good as they need to be. They’re allowing 30 shots per game, fourth in the league. Good, but not top-tier. Goalie Riki Tiktuunen (6-6-3, 2.30, .923) has been good, but has not duplicated the form that won Goaltender of the Year last season. The team needs Tiktuunen to perform at that elite level to succeed.
Tigres coach Martin Delorme argued that the injury to top blueliner Richard McKinley has hit his team hard. “We are still trying to find our best pairings in his absence,” Delorme said. “To lose a player of his caliber, it is a challenge.” The coach did not rule out the possibility of Quebec upgrading their defensive corps via trade.
The Boston Badgers are surprisingly on the fringes of the race, despite the fact that they were an expansion team last season. Top draft choice C Alain Beauchesne looks like the Rookie of the Year front-runner so far (11 goals, 16 assists), and G Roger Orion (5-8-2, 2.75, .916) looks like the free-agent game-changer that Boston’s front office was hoping for.
“Rog is a good enough goalie to keep you in any game,” said Badgers coach Cam Prince.
In the long run, it seems unlikely that they’ll be able to contend this season. They’re currently being outshot 32.4 to 21.2 on average, and that’s too big a gap for even a scrappy Badgers team to overcome. “I’d never say never with this bunch,” Prince cautioned. “They’ve got a lot of fight in them.”
Even the last-place Washington Galaxy, stuck in last and seemingly headed for a dismal year, have a possible case for optimism. Their 7.95% shooting percentage is among the league’s worst, and seems due to revert to the mean. Then again, people said that about the Bliss last season, and they never recovered from their horrendous start. And Hershey’s defense was a lot better than Washington’s leaky unit (which is allowing 37.1 shots per game).
“When it rains, it pours,” said Galaxy C Eddie Costello. “And it feels like we’ve been living through a hurricane.”
There’s plenty of time for the race to shake out and for some teams to separate themselves from the pack. For now, though, it’s a wild and wide-open ride for the Eastern teams and their fans.
Eastern Division Series
As the Quebec Tigres prepared for the deciding Game 5 in their playoff series, RW Stephane Mirac dressed in silence. The winger is a local hero in Quebec, where the fans have nicknamed him “Stephane Miracle” for his goal-scoring prowess. But Mirac had been quiet in the postseason, with only a single tally to his name through the first four games. Several of his teammates – goalie Riki Tiktuunen, LW Walt Camernitz, even little-known winger Rupert MacDiarmid – had made a greater impact on the series.
“I felt it was time for me to make my mark,” said Mirac.
Sure enough, the winger made Game 5 into his personal showcase, scoring twice and leading his team to its first-ever SHL Finals appearance, as the Tigres whipped the Hamilton Pistols 4-1.
“I know this game meant a lot to Stephane,” said Quebec coach Martin Delorme. “To be able to be a hero in front of his home fans… this was his dream come to life.”
With the Pistols having won the last two games to seize the momentum of the series, it was far from certain how the untested Tigres would respond. Mirac set the tone for the game from the beginning. Just 26 seconds in, he got a perfect feed from Camernitz and beat Hamilton goalie Lasse Koskinen up high to grab a 1-0 lead.
“I wanted to score quickly, so we and the fans could breathe a little easy,” said Mirac.
The Tigres had numerous chances to expand their lead in the first, as the Pistols committed three penalties. But Quebec couldn’t convert on their power-play chances, and Hamilton controlled the ice during 5-on-5 play. Tiktuunen had to make several challenging saves in order for the Tigres to keep their lead through the end of the period.
“After the first, we felt like we’d been outplayed,” admitted Camernitz. “We were lucky to still be up.”
In the second period, the Tigres ratcheted up their forechecking pressure and slowed the game to their preferred pace. LW Stellan Fisker gave Quebec some much-needed breathing room four and a half minutes in with a wicked slapshot from the faceoff circle that deflected off Koskinen’s glove and into the net. But three minutes later, C Drustan Zarkovich – who took a lot of penalties in this series – was sent off for elbowing. Pistols C Calvin Frye deflected a shot past a screened Tiktuunen to make it 2-1, turning the mood at Centre Citadelle a bit anxious. The Tigres again came up empty on a late-period power play, and they went into the locker room still clinging to that one-goal edge.
“In the third, we were determined to put [the Pistols] away,” said Tigres D Richard McKinley. “We were looking for that knockout blow.”
But that blow remained elusive through a slow-paced first half of the third; both teams had chances, but they hit posts, shanked shots, or pushed them wide. Both teams seemed a bit nervous and uncertain.
Finally, with just under eight minutes remaining, the Tigres caught Hamilton in a rare odd-man rush, and MacDiarmid finished with a low liner that got between Koskinen’s pads to restore Quebec’s two-goal edge.
“We had them back on their heels,” said McKinley. “We just needed that last punch.”
Mirac delivered the knockout blow just over a minute later, as he crashed the net during a sustained shift in the Hamilton end. Camernitz skated hard toward the right post and faked a shot. Koskinen scrambled to seal up the right side of the net. Camernitz slid the puck over to Mirac, who buried it in the wide-open net to seal the win.
The Tigres star dropped his stick and skated toward the glass, waving his arms as he whipped the crowd – his crowd – into an ecstatic frenzy.
“In that moment, we reached heaven together,” said Mirac of his moment with the crowd.
Delorme believes that the closely-contested series helped his team prepare for the Finals. “Although I would have loved a sweep,” the coach said, “it was good for us to experience some adversity, to have to reach down within ourselves and find that extra strength.”
The Tigres move on to face a rested, battled-tested Anchorage Igloos team that enters the Finals as favorites. “We are not scared of them,” said Delorme of the Igloos. “We know we have the talent and the drive to beat anyone.”
Pistols coach Keith Shields congratulated his team on a hard-fought series and vowed that his team will come back stronger next season. “Man, what a ride!” Shields said. “Sure, we’d rather have won. But it was just a tremendous experience for us. I couldn’t be prouder of my guys and how hard they fought. We’re going to use this series and grow from it, and we’ll be just that much better next time around.”
E Final - Game 5, Hamilton @ Quebec, Centre Citadelle 1 2 3 OT F Hamilton 0 1 0 1 Quebec 1 1 2 4 Hamilton G A PTS PIM +/- Quebec G A PTS PIM +/- Alexander LW 0 1 1 4 -2 Camernitz LW 0 2 2 4 2 Smyth D 0 0 0 0 -3 Workman D 0 1 1 0 3 Frye C 1 0 1 0 -2 Zarkovich C 0 1 1 2 1 Risch D 0 1 1 2 -3 McKinley D 0 0 0 0 3 Lafayette RW 0 0 0 0 -2 Mirac RW 2 0 2 0 2 Gunnarson LW 0 0 0 0 -1 Fisker LW 1 0 1 0 1 Mulligan D 0 0 0 0 0 Ilyushin C 0 1 1 0 2 Constantine C 0 0 0 0 -1 Jones D 0 0 0 0 0 Werner D 0 0 0 0 0 Robinson RW 0 0 0 0 1 Patterson RW 0 0 0 2 -1 MacDiarmid LW 1 0 1 0 1 Campbell LW 0 0 0 0 -1 Pugliese D 0 1 1 0 1 Glasco D 0 0 0 0 -1 Kalashnikov D 0 0 0 0 1 Jennings RW 0 0 0 0 -1 Pentti RW 0 1 1 0 1 Soforenko LW 0 0 0 2 -1 Miller C 0 1 1 0 1 Dyomin D 0 0 0 0 -1 Wesson D 0 0 0 0 0 ---------------------------------------- ---------------------------------------- TOTALS 1 2 3 10 -4 TOTALS 4 8 12 6 4 Scratches: HAM: Zalmanis (inj), Kratz, Rodney QUE: Shovshenkov, Zhzhynov, Kane Hamilton SH SV G Sv% ---------------------------------------- Koskinen 27 23 4 0.852 Quebec SH SV G Sv% ---------------------------------------- Tiktuunen 31 30 1 0.968 First Period ------------ GOALS: 00:26 QUE Mirac (Camernitz, Workman) PENALTIES: 04:27 HAM Alexander 2:00 (Interference) 08:28 HAM Risch 2:00 (Interference) 18:52 HAM Soforenko 2:00 (Hooking) Second Period ------------- GOALS: 04:24 QUE Fisker (Pugliese, Zarkovich) 08:09 HAM Frye PP (Risch, Alexander) PENALTIES: 07:48 QUE Zarkovich 2:00 (Elbowing) 16:48 HAM Alexander 2:00 (Hooking) Third Period ------------ GOALS: 12:12 QUE MacDiarmid (Pentti, Miller) 13:24 QUE Mirac (Camernitz, Ilyushin) PENALTIES: 06:32 QUE Camernitz 4:00 (Unsportsmanlike Conduct) 08:29 HAM Patterson 2:00 (Slashing) SHOTS ------ 1 2 3 OT F Hamilton 14 7 10 31 Quebec 10 7 10 27 POWER PLAYS ----------- Hamilton 1 for 2 Quebec 0 for 5 INJURIES -------- None
Eastern Division Series
After the Hamilton Pistols dropped the first two games of the best-of-five Eastern playoff to the Quebec Tigres despite outshooting their opponent in both games, many observers predicted that the Tigres would make quick work of the series. Hamilton had finished the regular season on a cold streak, and it looked like Tigres goalie Riki Tiktuunen would extend their slump right out of the playoffs.
Pistols coach Keith Shields dismissed the naysayers. For one thing, he felt that Tiktuunen’s success wasn’t sustainable. “Tiktuunen’s a great goalie, but he’s not unbeatable,” Shields told reporters. “I feel like the puck luck is due to break our way. If we keep firing pucks at him, he’s going to crack eventually.”
Even more, though, he felt that the enthusiasm of the home crowds would shift the momentum in Hamilton’s favor. “You feed off the energy of your fans in your building,” said Shields. “Our fans are great, and I know they’re gonna be loud for us. That will give us extra energy and tilt the ice our way.”
The Pistols and their fans validated the coach’s faith in the last two games. After surviving a long grind and pulling out a double-overtime win in Game 3, Hamilton came out strong and used the energy in the building to fuel a 2-0 win, sending the series to a winner-take-all Game 5 back in Quebec. Tiktuunen looks mortal, and the Pistols’ top-notch top line is getting hot at the right time.
“Now, all those smart guys who were reading our obituary after the first two games, don’t you feel silly?” said Shields. “I told you this team was too talented to be held down, especially with our fans behind us.”
The game started slowly, as both clubs seemed a bit drained from their Game 3 marathon. But an early penalty on Tigres D Doug Wesson got the crowd fired up, and the Pistols quickly warmed to the task. They pinned Quebec in their own zone through the power play, and LW Steven Alexander broke through with a shot from the bottom of the left faceoff circle that snuck in above Tiktuunen’s blocker. If was only the second shot of the entire game, but it put Hamilton in front.
“Getting that first goal was huge,” Alexander said. “It fired up the crowd and fired up our bench, too. It was the shot of adrenaline we needed.”
As the second period began, the Pistols had found a rhythm. They nearly cashed in on another early-period power play, as RW Kenny Patterson fired a shot that dribbled between Tiktuunen’s pads. The Quebec netminder managed to sweep the puck away before it crossed the goal line, however. A couple minutes later, Hamilton killed off an elbowing penalty to LW Jamie Campbell, and the crowd roared and stomped so hard that the benches shook.
“It felt like it was an earthquake,” said Tigres C Mikhail Ilyushin.
Shortly after the Campbell penalty ended, Pistols C Calvin Frye grabbed a loose puck near his own blue line and fired a perfect pass to Alexander, who had leaked out of the zone. Alexander streaked up the ice, deked past Quebec D Hal Pugliese, and thundered a slapshot that beat Tiktuunen and went bar-down for a second goal.
That two-goal lead felt more like ten given Quebec’s challenges in jump-starting its sluggish offense. The Tigres had one more power play opportunity in the second and two in the third, but they couldn’t convert on them, and they found it virtually impossible to generate shots during 5-on-5 play.
“We need more quality and more quantity on offense,” said Quebec coach Martin Delorme. “What we saw tonight will not get the job done.”
Meanwhile, Pistols goalie Lasse Koskinen looked sharp, turning aside all 24 shots he faced. “Lasse really stayed on it tonight,” said Hamilton D Hercules Mulligan. “There were stretches were the action in our end was so dead he probably wanted to pull out a rocking chair and take it easy. But whenever they made it through to our end, he was on his toes and making the stops.”
All in all, it was a decisive win for the Pistols, and momentum is definitely on their side going into the deciding game. But will they be able to keep it going as the action shifts back to Quebec? Shields pointed out repeatedly that his team got a boost from the red-clad throngs at Gunpowder Armory; how will they do amid the orange-clad throngs at Centre Citadelle, rooting for their defeat? How badly will the Pistols miss third-line center Edz Zalmanis, who left the game late in the second period with an upper-body injury and is reportedly done for the year?
And what about Tiktuunen, who looked superhuman in the first two games but distinctly mortal in the last two? Will he rediscover his mojo on home ice, or have the Pistols figured him out?
A shot at the Vandy rides on the answers to those questions. Both teams can’t wait to find out what happens next.
E Final - Game 4, Quebec @ Hamilton, Gunpowder Armory 1 2 3 OT F Quebec 0 0 0 0 Hamilton 1 1 0 2 Quebec G A PTS PIM +/- Hamilton G A PTS PIM +/- Camernitz LW 0 0 0 0 -1 Alexander LW 2 0 2 0 1 Workman D 0 0 0 0 0 Smyth D 0 1 1 0 0 Zarkovich C 0 0 0 2 0 Frye C 0 2 2 0 1 McKinley D 0 0 0 0 0 Risch D 0 0 0 2 0 Mirac RW 0 0 0 0 -1 Lafayette RW 0 0 0 0 1 Fisker LW 0 0 0 0 0 Gunnarson LW 0 0 0 0 0 Ilyushin C 0 0 0 0 -1 Mulligan D 0 0 0 0 0 Jones D 0 0 0 0 0 Constantine C 0 0 0 4 0 Robinson RW 0 0 0 0 0 Werner D 0 0 0 2 0 MacDiarmid LW 0 0 0 0 0 Patterson RW 0 0 0 0 0 Pugliese D 0 0 0 0 -1 Campbell LW 0 0 0 2 0 Kalashnikov D 0 0 0 2 -1 Glasco D 0 0 0 0 1 Pentti RW 0 0 0 0 0 Zalmanis C 0 0 0 0 0 Miller C 0 0 0 0 0 Soforenko LW 0 0 0 0 0 Wesson D 0 0 0 2 0 Dyomin D 0 0 0 0 1 ---------------------------------------- ---------------------------------------- TOTALS 0 0 0 6 -1 TOTALS 2 3 5 10 1 Scratches: QUE: Shovshenkov, Zhzhynov, Kane HAM: Kratz, Jennings, Rodney Quebec SH SV G Sv% ---------------------------------------- Tiktuunen 31 29 2 0.935 Hamilton SH SV G Sv% ---------------------------------------- Koskinen 24 24 0 1.000 First Period ------------ GOALS: 03:31 HAM Alexander PP (Smyth, Frye) PENALTIES: 02:34 QUE Wesson 2:00 (Diving) 04:06 HAM Constantine 2:00 (Cross-checking) 14:06 QUE Kalashnikov 2:00 (Diving) Second Period ------------- GOALS: 09:07 HAM Alexander (Frye) PENALTIES: 01:37 QUE Zarkovich 2:00 (Tripping) 05:03 HAM Campbell 2:00 (Elbowing) 17:18 HAM Werner 2:00 (Interference) Third Period ------------ GOALS: None PENALTIES: 01:29 HAM Risch 2:00 (Holding the Stick) 14:35 HAM Constantine 2:00 (Holding the Stick) SHOTS ------ 1 2 3 OT F Quebec 7 8 9 24 Hamilton 8 11 12 31 POWER PLAYS ----------- Quebec 0 for 5 Hamilton 1 for 3 INJURIES -------- Edgars Zalmanis (HAM) -- Upper-body 20 games