After a huge 5-4 win in Epinal on November 12 and a tight 6-4 win at home against Strasbourg 1, the Puckers remained the only undefeated team in the league and travelled to Strasbourg for the return game on Sunday.
Strasbourg is a young, skilled and fast team and they wanted revenge for the loss in Luxembourg last week. But it was the Puckers that would open the scoring on the first shift, just 25 seconds into the game. Momo Lutov dumped the puck towards the net from centre ice and it somehow trickled in between the pads of the Strasbourg goalie for the 1-0 lead. But just 6 minutes later, Strasbourg blocked a David Donzel shot from the point on the powerplay and scored shorthanded on a breakaway. With Ainars Freimanis in the box for tripping, the Puckers returned the favour when Donzel redeemed himself by scoring on a pass from Lutov. But less than a minute later, on the same powerplay, Strasbourg would score to tie the game again. The game announced itself to become the reverse of the game in Luxembourg where Strasbourg opened the scoring on a miscue by Thierry Van der Kallen on a similar play and the score was tied 2-2 after 20.
And like the week before, the guest would have the upper hand first in the second period. Playing the cycle deep in the Strasbourg zone, the trio of the two leading scorers Jonathan Laforge and Nick Aubin together with the captain Yves Barthels combined for the tie-breaking goal when Barthels put it far-side on a nice feed from Aubin and Laforge just three minutes into the second period.
Questionable officiating saw 3 Puckers goals denied in the first half of the game. Each time, with the puck free in the crease and no whistle blown a tap in goal was reversed by the referees after in-depth discussion. Then, strangely enough, the Puckers went up by two when Aubin took the pass in the slot from Barthels and put it behind the Strasbourg netminder and this after the referee blew the play dead and gave the Puckers a bench minor for protesting (!!). Even though the play on ice was well carried out and the penalty was more than questionable, the goal should have technically been disallowed. But after the three disallowed goals, hell would have broken loose as a result. The Puckers felt good going into the break with a comfortable 2-goal lead.
But just like the week before, the home team would turn the tables in the third and come back to win the game. With the referees seemingly intent on changing the outcome of the game, Strasbourg benefitted from a 5-on-3 powerplay to get within one goal. Then, with 8 minutes to play, Strasbourg took advantage of a bad defensive play, a turnover and bad defensive coverage to find a player all alone in on Thierry Van der Kallen to even the score. And just 70 seconds later a shot from the point by Strasbourg was deflected with a high-stick and went past Van der Kallen. Strasbourg would withstand the flurry of shots and attacks by the Puckers in the final five minutes (including 90 seconds with an empty net) with some help again by the referees and win the game 5-4.
Even the Strasbourg team felt embarrassed by the officiating and agreed that most of these calls were questionable, including the allowed and disallowed goals. In a very nice get-together after the game, the two teams shared their views in a great display of fair-play. The Puckers don’t want to take anything away from the way Strasbourg played and how skilled the team is and thus accept the defeat, but the ride home was not without some bitterness about an unfair loss and a game that didn’t see the Puckers’ best performance.
Hardest worker and thus entitled to the Puckers’ hard hat was Thierry Van der Kallen. The new tradition started in Epinal with Charles Vallée being the first keeper of the hard hat. Momo Lutov got it after the game last week.
Next game is at home against the Strasbourg 2 team in Kockelscheuer next Saturday, December 17.