A hush fell over the crowd at the Arena when it was announced who would be taking the Skipjacks' penalty shot to tie the game with 54 seconds remaining in regulation.
At least among the crowd of 3,829, right wing John Purves was a dubious choice.
"There was never a second of doubt," coach Robbie Laird would say later. "He is as good or better than anyone on the team one on one and he has great hands."
Purves, who has been mired in perhaps the worst slump of his career and has been taking a lot of heat from the Arena crowd, proved up to the task, beating Newmarket goalie Allan Bester low on the right last night to earn the Jacks a 2-2 tie with the Saints.
"It's no secret that I haven't been playing well," said Purves, who was playing in the fifth game since returning from a leg injury. "Maybe it was Robbie's way of giving me a chance to get the piano off of my back, so to speak. It certainly feels good to get a big goal."
The Jacks had other offensive guns on the ice when Saints defenseman Jeff Serowik intentionally dislodged the net from it moorings under heavy fire. Steve Maltais, Tyler Larter and Kent Paynter -- all with big shots -- could have easily gotten the call.
"In that situation, everyone wants a chance, but John is certainly a great one-on-one shooter," Maltais said. "It might have been a different situation if he hadn't been successful. There might have been some criticism. But John went in and got the job done and that's all you want."
Purves has often been seen skating away from the puck, and has botched several scoring opportunities.
"I'm trying to get my game back together," Purves said. "I've decided to go back to the basics and try to do the little things right. I don't want to fan on the puck. I want to get it out of the defensive zone. I want to get more into the action on the offensive end. Most of all I don't want to be a liability to the team."
Purves said he wouldn't make any excuses for his poor play of late.
"I come to the rink feeling good and I'm pumped, but when I get out there it seems like things don't go so well," said Purves, 22, in his second year with the Skipjacks. "I hope this [goal] turns things around a little and I can get some confidence in my game."
Saints coach Frank Anzalone was irate during the short period after Purves scored, screaming at referee Dave Jackson several times from the bench.
"After he called the penalty shot we wanted a timeout," Anzalone said. "We're entitled to it and we didn't get it. All I wanted to do was calm the crowd a little and talk to Allan [Bester] about Purves' strengths. I don't understand why he wouldn't give it to us, but it isn't the first time something like this has happened."
The Jacks (31-25-4), who fell into third place with the tie, had their own problems with Jackson two weeks ago, when he
disallowed three goals in two nights for various reasons.
When told that the Arena crowd hadn't been very kind to Jackson since the incidents, Anzalone said, "Well, they should be after tonight."
The game moved along slowly during the first two periods, with the Jacks taking the lead 1:21 into the game on a nice shot from Todd Hlushko in front. The Saints got a goal at 7:09 of the opening period from Joe Sacco and the go-ahead from Serowik with 3:33 remaining in regulation.
Some were surprised to see Jackson make the intentional delay of game call with less than a minute remaining and the Jacks with an extra attacker on the ice, but even Anzalone applauded it.
"How could he miss it?" he said. "It only happened right in front of him. It might have been the best call he made all night."