On Sunday, the Hamilton Pistols and New York Night faced off for the first time this season at Gunpowder Armory. Even though the teams came into the game with very different records, with the Pistols undefeated and the Night winless, the game between the two bitter rivals was expected to be very closely contested.
In case anyone thought that the mutual enmity between the clubs had cooled since last year, Night coach Nick Foster happily re-stoked the flames in his press conference the day before, stating: “We’ve had this one circled on our calendar since the schedule came out. We’re excited to come to Tank Town and skate into that festering old dump and snatch a win from the Nutcracker and his boys. My guys all got their tetanus shots and their cups, so they’re ready. As long as we get out before the roof caves in, we’re good.”
Pistols star Steven Alexander shot back, “It’s too bad [the Night] can’t play as good as their coach runs his mouth. Apparently Foster forgot who won the Vandy last year.”
The match lived up to its advance billing, as a sellout crowd got to see a fast-paced see-saw of a contest with action from beginning to end. Regulation wasn’t enough to settle things, but in the end the Night backed up Foster’s boast, heading back to the Big Apple with a 7-6 win.
According to league sources, the Pistols sought permission from the SHL to delay their banner-raising ceremony until this game, but the league vetoed the idea. So instead, when the Pistols took the ice for the pre-game skate, Alexander came out holding the Vandy over his head and took a lap while the PA system played “We Are the Champions.” As Alexander skated past the New York bench, the visitors greeted him with upraised middle fingers.
Once the game began, it took the champs a mere 25 seconds to get on the board, as D Burt “Hacksaw” Hampton deflected a shot by RW Ben Summers into the lower right corner of the net. The rest of the period, however, belonged to the Night. Just over two minutes after Hampton’s goal, the visitors struck twice, as D Rocky Winkle and C Rod Remington scored just eight seconds apart to give the Night the lead. When Hampton went to the sin bin for high-sticking late in the period, Remington banged home a slapper to make it 3-1.
In the locker room between periods, Pistols coach Keith Shields exhorted his team to get back into it. “Coach Shields never curses,” said Alexander, “but you could tell he wanted to. ‘All right, boys, let’s go stick it to those flipping buggers!’”
Hamilton drew back even early in the second. About ninety seconds into the frame, LW Magnus Gunnarson finished an odd-man rush with a shot that went through the five-hole on Night netminder Sherman Carter. Less than a minute later, LW Jamie Campbell got the equalizer on a shot from the bottom of the faceoff circle that snuck in above Carter’s catching glove. The score remained even for much of the second, but Night LW Charlie Brooks jammed one in from the slot with just under seven minutes left to give New York a 4-3 edge, which they took to the dressing room.
Less than two minutes into the third, Campbell got his second goal of the night, finishing on a beautiful pass from RW Kenny Patterson that split the Night defenders. Campbell waved his arms to the crowd, which responded with ecstatic approval. That tie lasted barely over three minutes, before Brooks scored again on a tip-in for a 5-4 New York. A few minutes later, Alexander scored on a laser-beam slapper that bounced off of Carter’s blocker and in. The feisty winger by holding his stick like a rifle and firing “shots” at the New York bench, who responded with another middle-finger salute. Alexander was later fined by the league for his actions.
The crowd was roaring for more; they got it with six minutes remaining, as C Calvin Frye redirected an Alexander slapper just under the crossbar to give the Pistols their first lead since the opening minutes. If the Hamilton fans thought it was over, though, they had another think coming. Two minutes after Frye’s go-ahead tally, rookie C Norris Fletcher jabbed home the tying goal for New York, prying it loose from under the pad of Pistols goalie Lasse Koskinen. The Pistols argued vigorously that the play should have been whistled dead, but the referees denied their appeal. As boos filled the arena, Fletcher smirked and cupped his hand to his ear.
Less than two minutes later, Fletcher cemented his status as Public Enemy#1 in Hamilton by felling Alexander with a high stick that opened a gash under the winger’s eye. Alexander went down the tunnel to get stitches, and Shields argued that Fletcher should be ejected for attempting deliberate injury. Instead, he got a double minor. Angry fans poured beer on the rookie as he sat in the penalty box; Fletcher responded by blowing kisses.
In the wake of the penalty, Hampton challenged New York D Donald Duckworth to answer for Fletcher’s high stick, but Duckworth declined the invitation. “Typical New York,” Alexander fumed after the game. “Big talk and cheap shots, but they won’t back it up.”
The Pistols tried furiously to score the game-winner on the ensuing power play, but their shots kept missing the net. The penalty continued into the overtime session, when a sewed-up Alexander returned to the ice to rapturous applause. Even with their star on the ice, though, Hamilton couldn’t get the puck over the line. Finally, about midway through the overtime session, LW Chase Winchester scored from a severe angle to give the Night the win.
The visitors celebrated by blasting Ace Frehley’s “New York Groove” in the locker room – “loud enough for [the Pistols] to hear,” said RW Rick “The Stick” Nelson. In his postgame press conference, Foster sarcastically thanked the Pistols for their pre-game Vandy skate. “That gave us all the inspiration we needed,” the coach said with a grin. “No matter what else happens this season, we’ll always remember we got our first W here in Tank Town. Love you guys!”