Tigres, Bliss Dueling for Playoff Position in East

The SHL’s playoff picture is slowly but surely coming into focus.  The Portland Bluebacks officially clinched the Western title this week, and the Anchorage Igloos have established a clear upper hand for the second and final spot.  In the East, the defending champion Hamilton Pistols are almost certainly going to make the postseason for the third straight season.  But the Pistols’ opponent remains very much up in the air.  The Eastern playoff will feature a rematch from one of the last two years, but which one?  Will Hamilton face their opponent from last season, the Hershey Bliss, or their 2018 foe, the Quebec Tigres?

For most of the season, the Bliss have been the odds-on favorite for the spot.  They’ve been in one of the top two spots in the division for almost the entire year.  As usual, their offense has been paced by the “Love Line” of LW Lance Sweet (25 goals, 50 assists), C Justin Valentine (34 goals, 32 assists), and RW Christopher Hart (17 goals, 45 assists).  Goaltending has long been a problem for Hershey, but this year they seem to have located a reliable tandem.  Christien Adamsson, who signed as a free agent in the offseason, has been a solid starter (20-18-4, 2.89 GAA, .911 save percentage).  Meanwhile, rookie Nash Gould (8-5-1, 2.91, .909) has excelled in a backup role.  Add in a defense that’s been solid if unspectacular, and it’s no surprise that Hershey has been a contender.

Chip Barber

“We’re just playing good steady hockey,” said Bliss coach Chip Barber.  “Not too high, not too low, as smooth as a perfect ganache.”

The Tigres have little use for the kind of graceful, balanced game played by the Bliss.  Martin Delorme‘s crew relies on a rugged, hard-hitting defense to win.  It might not be pretty, but it is effective.  Quebec allows a paltry 28,9 shots per game, the stingiest mark in the league.  Relatedly, they lead the league in blocked shots (16.6 per game) and goals-against average (2.32)

“Everyone on our team is working together on defense,” said LW Walt Camernitz, “We work together to make the other team’s life miserable.”

Until recently, Quebec’s grinding defense was good. but not quite enough to get them into contention.  Then at the trading deadline, the Tigres acquired C Warren Marlow from Michigan, strengthening the team’s weakest position.  Marlow has been reasonably effective with Quebec ( 8 points in 14 games), but more importantly, he seems to have been the missing piece that unlocked Quebec’s most effective lineup.  After a brief losing streak following Marlow’s arrival, Quebec is now on a nine-game unbeaten streak.  Fittingly, it’s been a rather homely streak; four of the games were ties, and two others were overtime wins.  But the Tigres have been slowly accruing points and climbing in the standings.

On Saturday, the Bliss and Tigres faced off at Chocolate Center.  Despite coming off a streak of five straight overtime games, Quebec came out full of energy.  The Tigres outshot the Bliss 14-9 in the first period, and RW Weldon “Candy” Kane got Quebec on the board in the first period with a rebound from the slot.  In the second, Hershey has a 14-9 shot advantage, and C Spencer Kirkpatrick got a power-play tally to even things up.  Early in the third, D Steve Cargill had another man-advantage tally to put Hershey in the lead.  But the Tigres, showing their trademark grit, fought back.  LW Rupert MacDiarmid evened the scored with a laser-beam shot from the left faceoff circle midway through the third, and RW Stephane Mirac put Quebec ahead a couple minutes later.  After that, the visitors managed to grind the clock and hold on for a 3-2 victory.

The win lifted the Tigres into second place with eight games to go.  “We’ve fought really hard to get this far,” said Mirac, “and now that we’re here, we’re not going to let go.”

If the Bliss do come up short, they may look back with regret at the trading deadline.  Like the Tigres, they inquired about Marlow.  As the deadline approached, however, they pulled out of talks and instead struck a deal with Dakota to acquire RW Arkady Golynin – a deal that was vetoed by the league as too one-sided.

“We can’t let ourselves think about that,” said Barber when asked about the vetoed trade.  “We have to focus on what we can control.”

So it call comes down to this: eight games for all the marbles, including one more head-to-head match on Tuesday in Quebec.  Will the Tigres’ unyielding defense outlast the Bliss’ balanced attack?  Fans across the SHL look forward to finding out.

Continue reading “Tigres, Bliss Dueling for Playoff Position in East”

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”

SHL Player of the Week – Week 10

Walt Camernitz

The SHL selected Quebec Tigres LW Walt Camernitz as its Player of the Week.  Quebec wen 3-1-0 this week, fueled by a rare outburst of offense, and Camernitz was one of the chief contributors to that outburst.  This week, Camernitz recorded 11 points (5 goals, 6 assists), nearly half of his season total prior to the week.  Thanks to his monster week, the winger is now in the SHL top 10 in goals with 19.

On Sunday, Camernitz had the game-winning goal and an assist as the Tigres edged Hershey 2-1.  On Tuesday, in a stunning 9-1 thrashing of New York, Camernitz scored twice and notched four assists.  And on Thursday, Camernitz had two more goals and another assists in a 4-1 victory over Washington.

“This is the Walt Camernitz I am accustomed to seeing,” said Tigres coach Martin Delorme.  “If he has rediscovered his scoring touch, this team has become much more dangerous.  Hamilton and Hershey should watch out for themselves.”

Interview of the Week: Walt Camernitz

This week’s interview is with Quebec Tigres LW Walt Camernitz.

SHL Digest: This week, we’re talking with one of the league’s strongest two-way wingers, Walt Camernitz.  Walt, thanks for speaking with us.

Walt Camernitz: Glad to do it.

Walt Camernitz

SHLD: You’re sort of an unsung hero in the SHL.  Your name isn’t typically mentioned among the league’s big stars, but you’re a consistent 20-to-30-goal scorer and you’ve been to three SHL Finals.  Why do you think you get overlooked?

WC: Well, I’m not a flashy personality.  I’m definitely more of a lunch-pail guy.  I get my share of goals, sure, but I focus on the unglamorous parts of the game, like wall work and getting into the dirty areas.  I don’t have a big hard slapshot or a fancy goal celly.  So it makes sense that people don’t think of me next to those big names.  It doesn’t bother me.

SHLD: On the other hand, you are highly appreciated by your teammates.  Everyone we’ve talked to in Washington and Quebec says you’re the perfect teammate.  Why do you think they appreciate you so much?

WC: I think of myself as a glue guy.  Some players focus on themselves first, and others focus on team first.  I’ve always had that team-first mindset, and I think other players appreciate that.  Especially here in Quebec, where it’s a team-first clubhouse.

SHLD: You’re now in the third year of your five-year contract with the Tigres.  Before that, you’d been with the Galaxy, and you were an integral part of the team there.  Was it tough for you when Washington let you go in free agency?

WC: I understood the situation.  Thurm [LW Casey Thurman] and I both came up for contracts the same year, and [then-GM] Ace Adams made it clear that there was only room in the budget for one of us.  They picked Thurm, and I get it.  He’s a great player, and he’s got that star personality more than I do.  You sell more tickets with Thurm.

SHLD: And Quebec certainly made you a generous offer.

WC: That’s the way I prefer to think about it.  Instead of thinking about whether DC wanted me or not, I thought about how much Quebec wanted me.  The first thing Coach [Martin] Delorme said to me when we met was, “You are the player we are missing.”  Obviously, it’s flattering as hell to hear that.  And they backed it up with a lot of cash.  They made my decision easy.

SHLD: And you proved your worth in your first season there, leading the Tigres to their first-ever Finals appearance and winning MVP honors.

WC: I honestly didn’t think I deserved the MVP, but it was nice of them to pick me anyway.  Going to the Finals was the best part.  I really want to see us get back there.

SHLD: The East looks highly competitive this season.  You’re right there in the mix with Hamilton and Hershey, and Boston and New York are hovering around the periphery.  What do you think you’ll need to do, individually and as a team, to get back to the postseason?

WC: On a personal level, I’m not lighting the lamp the way I should be.  So I need to be crashing the net a bit more, generating some opportunities.  As a team, we’re playing good lock-down D, our special teams are solid, but we need to generate a little more heat on offense.  I think that’s our key.

SHLD: Do you think you’ve got a good shot at the Vandy?

WC: If we play up to our best, absolutely.  There aren’t any pushovers in this division, but we’ve got what it takes to get there.

SHLD: All right!  Well, thanks for the time and an interesting interview.

WC: Thanks!  Hopefully, I’m holding the Vandy the next time I talk to you.