Two Big Rallies Highlight Wild Saturday

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.

Jerry Koons

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.

Walt Camernitz

“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.

Continue reading “Two Big Rallies Highlight Wild Saturday”

Tigres Topple Night in Wild 7-5 Contest

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.”

Continue reading “Tigres Topple Night in Wild 7-5 Contest”

2018 SHL Finals – Game 3

ANCHORAGE IGLOOS 3, QUEBEC TIGRES 1

After taking the first two games of these Finals on the road, the Anchorage Igloos came home to Arctic Circle Arena with a chance to take a stranglehold on the series.  They did just that, completely muzzling the Quebec Tigres and rolling to a 3-1 victory that puts them one win away from a clean sweep of the playoffs.

“This is a group that’s hungry for the title,” said Igloos LW Jerry Koons, who had a goal and an assist in today’s game.  “We’re all driven with one singular purpose: winning the Vandy.”

During the division playoff, the Igloos used frantic, fast-paced first periods to get early leads and set the tones.  The Tigres managed to frustrate those attempts in the first two games, but Anchorage successfully turned up the heat in this game, outshooting Quebec 15-7 in the opening frame.

The Tigres were set back on their heels early thanks to a couple of quick penalties.  They succeeded in killing both of them off, but Anchorage held the puck in the zone after the second penalty ended, pinning Quebec in its own end.  Goalie Riki Tiktuunen tried to fall on the puck to give his players a much-needed breather, but was unable to secure it.  The puck wound up on the stick of Koons, who drilled it home over the prone Tiktuunen to draw first blood.

A couple minutes later, the Igloos’ Les Collins and Ben Summers broke out on an odd-man rush.  After a couple back-and-forth passes, Collins fired a shot that tucked under the crossbar to make it 2-0.

“That was important for us, to get a fast start and get the crowd pumped up,” said Summers.

The Igloos managed to kill off a 5-on-3 situation later in the period and went to the locker room with their two-goal edge intact.  Less than a minute into the second, however, Broni Zhlotkin was whistled for diving, and Quebec needed only 10 second of power-play time for Rupert MacDiarmid to convert, cutting the deficit in half.

“This postseason has been a real showcase for Rupert,” said Tigres coach Martin Delorme.  “He has been a highlight for us.”

But Anchorage managed to virtually extinguish the Tigres’ offense after that.  Quebec would only record three more shots in the remainder of the period.  The Igloos didn’t accomplish this through trapping and slowing the pace of the game; rather, they maintained possession of the puck and skated past the Tigres.

When Tigres RW Sindri Pentti went off for tripping just before the halfway mark of the period, Igloos RW Nicklas Ericsson ripped a shot between Tiktuunen’s legs to restore Anchorage’s two-goal edge.  For the rest of the second period and all of the third, the Igloos maintained control of the game for long stretches, and the Tigres struggled to gain possession of the puck, much less to get shots off.  Quebec registered only four shots in the third period; for the game, they were outshot 37-15.

“Our guys just put on a clinic out there on playing with a lead,” said Igloos coach Sam Castor.  “We just controlled play and dominated the ice, and just slowly sucked the life out of them.”

As for the Tigres, they’ll need to win on enemy ice in Game 4 to avoid being swept, and they’ll need to win four in a row – including the next two in Anchorage – in order to win the series.  “We have dug ourselves into a very deep hole,” said Delorme.  “We have only one choice now if we’re going to win this.  It will not be easy, but it is the task we have left for ourselves.”

Continue reading “2018 SHL Finals – Game 3”

2018 SHL Division Playoff – Game 5

Eastern Division Series

QUEBEC TIGRES 4, HAMILTON PISTOLS 1

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