NLL: Halifax thunders past New York in debut game

NLL – Halifax Thunderbirds vs New York Riptide – Scotiabank Center, Halifax, Nova Scotia – December 7, 2019. Halifax Thunderbirds F Kyle Jackson (47) tries to shake the check of New York Riptide D Tyson Bomberry (14). (Trevor MacMillan/Halifax Thunderbirds)

The Halifax Thunderbirds brought the thunder as they beat the New York Riptide 12-4 at the Scotiabank Centre in Halifax on Saturday night. It was the inaugural game for both sides as Halifax moved from Rochester this season and New York is an expansion franchise.

“It was awesome,” said Thunderbirds defender Jake Withers on getting to play in Halifax. “We were expecting a good fan turn out and we got that, and we are just happy we got a good show for the fans.”

The local fans enjoyed watching their home team for the first time. The attendance was 6,847.

“We’re very excited to have a professional team in Halifax,” said Chris Huyghue, who was wearing a Thunderbirds jersey. “We can support it, we have great fans, there is a lot of great people and I think the team will do well. They just have to win games and keep us happy.”

“So far I’m very impressed,” said Derek Quigley, who was wearing a team hat. “I’m impressed with the crowd they have here and how active everybody is. The game is fantastic. It’s a little lopsided but that’s okay.”

The atmosphere was great before the game. The fans were buzzing and loudly booed New York as they stepped on the field, already partaking in one of the NLL’s most fun traditions.

The Thunderbirds wasted no time giving their new fans something to cheer about. Ten seconds into the game, Withers rushed down the right wing and fired the ball past New York goalie Alex Buque.

Halifax Thunderbirds owner Curt Styres arrives for his team’s game vs New York Riptide – Scotiabank Center, Halifax, Nova Scotia – December 7, 2019. (Trevor MacMillan/Halifax Thunderbirds)

“It is a big honour,” said Withers about the goal. “To be completely honest, I didn’t think it would be me that would do that.”

Halifax scored again three minutes after the first goal. Brad Gillies fired a stretch pass down the whole field to Austin Shanks. Shanks was in alone on Buque and deked him to put the Thunderbirds up 2-0.

Eric Fannell, Ryan Benesch, Mike Burke, Gillies and Shanks also scored for the Thunderbirds to put them up 7-0 at the end of the first quarter.

“It (the team’s offence) is something I see every Wednesday at practise and something I have to try to defend, so I was not surprised whatsoever,” said Withers about the offensive explosion in the first quarter.

Kyle Jackson continued the onslaught 35 seconds into the second quarter. He outworked a New York defender behind the net and immediately dove to the side of the net to backhanded the ball in.

A few minutes later, New York scored their first goal in team history. First overall draft pick Tyson Gibson shot the ball at the side of the net, but it was stopped. He retrieved the rebound and ran behind the net, scoring on the wraparound.

Eric Fannell for Halifax and Connor Kelly for New York also scored to finish the quarter at a score of 9-2.

New York scored the lone goal of the third with one second left. Dan Lomas received the ball at the left side of the net and fired it in to make the game 9-3.

The game was defensively tighter in the second half. Halifax was just as good, but New York closed the front of the net, making it tough for Halifax to get quality scoring chances.

“I think we sat back a little bit too much,” said Thunderbirds’ coach Mike Accursi. “We stopped moving the ball, we stopped moving our feet, we stopped doing things that made us successful in the first half. It was hard because we had such a big lead and guys were cutting it lazy and that’s what happened.”

Stephen Keogh scored twice for Halifax and Cory Becker scored another one to put Halifax at 12 goals. Lomas scored again for New York to finish the game.

In the last 15 seconds, the Halifax crowd gave the Thunderbirds a standing ovation.

Even though it was both team’s inaugural game, Halifax had played together in Rochester and had 13 players transfer from that team. New York is a new team with a group of players who haven’t played with each other before and Accursi thinks that gave Halifax an advantage.

“We have some future hall of famers on this team, we have two-time defenceman of the year, (Graeme Hossack) we have one of the best face-off guys (Withers), we’re not a new team, we’re an experienced team,” said Accursi. “They (New York) have lots of experienced guys but they haven’t played together, and I think that’s definitely a factor in a game like this.”

Halifax outshot New York 58-44. Shanks lead the way offensively with two goals and an assist. Lomas scored two goals for New York and Tyler Digby had two assists.

The Thunderbirds’ next game is at home against the expansion Rochester Knighthawks on Dec. 21. The Riptide are on the road against Vancouver next on Dec. 14.