The SHL selected New York Night D Tuomas Nurmi as its Player of the Week. The Finnish-born blueliner was on fire this week, putting up 10 points (2 goals, 8 assists) on the week. Nurmi’s big-scoring weeks nearly doubled his season point total (from 12 to 22) and earned him a promotion back to the Night’s top defensive pairing.
Nurmi scored at least a point in every New York game in the week. His most impressive performance came on Wednesday, when he scored a goal and added two assists in the Night’s 6-5 overtime loss to Dakota. On Tuesday, Nurmi had a pair of assists to help New York to a stunning 7-4 thrashing of Michigan.
“Tuomas is an offensive-minded defenseman, but he doesn’t neglect the other end,” said Night coach Nick Foster. “He’s a tough, diligent, capable player and he has a terrific motor. He’s really shown me something.”
Hershey Bliss D Ruslan Gromov is an old-school, hard-hitting blueliner. His aggressive, take-no-guff approach to the game has won him both admirers and detractors. On Saturday, in an otherwise unremarkable 5-2 win over the New York Night, Gromov’s physical play went over the line and earned him a one-game suspension.
Gromov has been vocal about his lack of respect for New York’s speed-and-offense-based game. In the past, he’s said of New York’s game, “That’s not hockey; it’s figure skating.” Almost from the drop of the puck, Gromov sought to intimidate the Night with his physical play. He targeted one of New York’s more physical players, D Tuomas Nurmi, with a series of slashes and rough checks. About a minute into the game, a frustrated Nurmi shoved Gromov in the chest. Gromov responded by punching Nurmi in the side of the head. The two wound up dropping gloves and tussling for a couple minutes before being separated and assessed matching majors.
“I do not know what his problem is,” said Nurmi of Gromov. “He seemed like he is a crazy man.”
Later in the first period, the Night established possession in the offensive zone and began peppering shots at the Hershey net. New York F Elmer Sigurdson, Jr. tried to set up a screen in front of the crease. Gromov responded by drilling him in the back and riding him down to the ice, and was whistled for interference.
Early in the second period, Sigurdson tried to get even by laying a hard open-ice hit on Gromov. The Hershey defenseman popped up and flung Sigurdson into the boards, earning another two-minute penalty for roughing. The two seemed destined to scrap, and six minutes later, Gromov jumped Sigurdson on a faceoff and the antagonists began trading blows, resulting in another pair of fighting majors.
Gromov finally crossed the line early in the third period, when he rammed Night C Phil Miller in the stomach with the butt end of his stick. That earned the defenseman a double minor for spearing and a game misconduct from referee Brandon Fosse.
Gromov claimed that his spearing of Miller was unintentional, but showed no remorse for his actions. “I play a physical game,” the Bliss blueliner said. “If the other team cannot handle that, they should not be playing hockey.”
The league wasted no time slapping Gromov with a suspension. “While we don’t object to physical play in this league,” said SHL Commissioner Perry Mitchell, “there’s a difference between hard play and assault. Gromov’s actions were reckless, unprovoked, and dangerous. He could easily have injured someone with that kind of play. We don’t want to discourage him from playing hard, but he’s got to know where to draw the line.”
Gromov appeared undaunted by the discipline. In his first game back from the suspension, he got into two fights and racked up 12 penalty minutes. “I only know how to play one way,” said Gromov with a shrug. “I cannot change that.”
When Nick Fostersigned on to coach the New York Night this offseason, it was widely assumed that he had a mandate to make changes, potentially sweeping ones, in order to mold the team into a contender. With the team mired in the Eastern basement with an unsightly 3-7-0 record, Foster held a press conference on Friday to suggest that those changes might be coming sooner rather than later.
“I’m not the kind of guy to beat around the bush,” said Foster. “And right now, I’m looking at a team that’s not built to compete, and a team that’s not as good as they think they are.”
These statements were a major departure for Foster, who has responded to most personnel questions so far by saying that he’s “still evaluating.” But he hasn’t been shy about making moves, and sources close to the coach say that he’s fed up with the team and weighing a major housecleaning, possibly including trades of some of the team’s biggest names.
“Nick was hoping that this was a champion in the rough, one that just needed a few tweaks and a new voice in charge,” said the source. “But he’s quickly figured out that he’s got a team full of lazy, undisciplined egomaniacs, and that the best solution might be to take a fire hose and clean out the locker room. The hard part will be getting ownership on board.”
It took Foster all of four games to decide the Night needed a kick in the pants. After getting shut out by Quebec 1-0 last Wednesday to fall to 0-4-0, Foster called for an unscheduled practice on their off day Thursday. RW Daniel Bellanger and D Teddy Morrison skipped the practice, and Foster responded by benching both of them for the next day’s game, in which the Night finally recorded a win in an 8-5 romp over Hamilton.
As New York continued to struggle in Week 2, Foster continued tinkering with his lineup. He booted D Tuomas Nurmi and RW Rick “The Stick” Nelson off the top line, while promoting RW Ivan “Trainwreck” Trujwirnek and D Shane Gladchuk up to that line. He benched D Jean-Luc Aubin for a couple of games as well.
After Friday’s 4-3 loss to Hershey, Foster finally sounded off publicly for the first time. He didn’t call out any players by name, but team sources say that the coach is especially disenchanted with Nelson, Bellanger, and goaltending duo of Jesse Clarkson and “Jersey Mike” Ross, who have been roughly equally ineffective.
Foster is reportedly weighing benching Nelson and demoting Bellanger and either Clarkson or Ross to the minors. “We’re not going to get anywhere unless we try something different,” the coach said at his Friday press conference. “We’ve been trying the status quo for two seasons, and it’s gotten us nothing but mediocrity.”
The grand plans of Foster may meet resistance, however, from owner Marvin Kingman. Kingman is eager for a Vandy, but he reportedly believes that the Night can get there with the current roster. “He spent a lot of money on these guys,” said the team source, “and he want to keep them around.”
Asked on Friday if he expect Kingman to object to his planned shakeup, Foster responded, “Ownership wants to win, same as I do. We’re all looking for results, and I’m going to keep making moves until we get there.”
Assistant coach Biff Lombardi, who was a finalist for the head job, thinks Foster is on the right track. “Let me tell you, Nick’s not afraid of nobody,” said Lombardi. He’s not about talk; he’s all about action. Everyone’s going to need to get with the program, or they won’t be around long.”
In a move that comes as a surprise to few, the New York Night fired coach Preston Rivers. The move came at the end of a season of acrimony and disappointment, as the Night slogged to another mediocre season and an enormous and public rift developed between the coach and several key players.
“The only shocker was that he made it all the way to the end of the season,” said one player.
Rivers finishes his New York career with a record of 54-61-5, not nearly good enough for an organization that makes no secret of its lofty aspirations. Night GM Royce McCormick focused on the record as the prime driver behind the firing of Rivers. “Our goal is championships, nothing less,” said McCormick. “Preston failed to deliver on that expectation, so we decided it was time for a new voice to get to that next level.”
According to team sources, though, Rivers’ record wasn’t the real cause f0r the dismissal; rather, it was the fact that New York’s star players were increasingly open in their disdain for the coach. It started in midseason, when D Tuomas Nurmi claimed that Night players were being harassed as payback for Rivers’ boasting and taunting. Later in the season, RW Rick “The Stick” Nelsonbashed his coach and called for him to be fired. The feud ultimately escalated to the point that Nelson and Rivers nearly came to blows in the locker room, after which the star winger left the team for three games. It took McCormick’s intervention to get Nelson to rejoin the team.
The situation went from bad to worse over the final week of the season. The entire team boycotted a mandatory practice on Monday as a show of no confidence in Rivers. The coach stopped addressing the team in the locker room before or after games, preferring to lock himself in his office. RW Daniel Bellanger went home to Montreal with two games left in the season. G “Jersey Mike” Ross refused to take the ice for the final two games, although he did attend the games. And the entire team just went through the motions in the last game, a 6-4 loss to struggling Saskatchewan.
The team announced the firing while Rivers and the Night were still in Saskatoon. Rivers did not fly back to New York with the team, avoiding a potentially awkward situation.
Predictably, the coach went down swinging. “I know everyone’s thinking they’ve seen the last of me,” Rivers told reporters. “But they’d better think again. You can’t keep a good man down, and you sure as hell can’t keep this man down. I’ll be back, unless I go to work for Mr. Trump’s administration. Either way, you haven’t heard the last of me.”