By Len Bardsley
Times of Trenton
TRENTON, N.J. – It was the perfect ECHL storm, an intense rivalry, a packed arena and a team needing a win to get in the playoffs.
The date was March 29, 2003, when the always electric meetings between the Titans and the Atlantic City Bullies provided a thunderbolt of excitement.
The Titans won that night, 7-2, in front of a raucous crowd of 7,958 at Sovereign Bank Arena. They played with the kind of emotion coach Bill Armstrong had been looking for all season.
The game provided devastating hits, a few fights and a highlight film goal by Marco Charpentier to cinch the win.
“It was a pretty crazy environment,” Scott Bertoli said of the game that is his favorite in the Titans-Bullies rivalry. “It was a packed house and it gave us a shot to get into the playoffs. We played well, played with the lead and there were fights and big hits.”
Bullies coach Matt Thomas, who was an assistant to then-Bullies head coach Mike Haviland, remembers how far players were willing to go to win that game.
“That was the pinnacle of the rivalry,” Thomas said. “(Kevin) Colley tried to spear (Kam White) in the face (and) it was a brawl. You knew guys were willing to chop each others heads off to get a win.”
Friday, the Titans and Bullies have one more chance to top that memorable evening when the Bullies visit Sovereign Bank Arena for a 7:30 p.m. faceoff. The Titans host the first-place Reading Royals at 7 p.m. tomorrow in another crucial game.
Tonight will be the final regular-season meeting between the two New Jersey teams. The Bullies will relocate to Stockton, Calif., at the end of the season.
Games between the Titans and Bullies always have the potential to raise the hair on the arms and quicken a heart rate. Twenty of the 45 games played between the two teams the past four seasons have been one-goal decisions. The last four meetings between the Titans and Bullies have been decided in the final minutes, with the last three going to overtime.
Add in the fact that a Titans win would move them within a point of the Bullies in the standings sets up another potential classic.
That Rich Kowalsky also makes his return to the Titans’ lineup after missing a month with a groin injury only increases the intensity level a few more notches.
Thomas, who has had some heated exchanges with Haviland during Bullies-Titans games this season, took a shot at the Sovereign Bank Arena crowd, just to add a little more juice to tonight’s proceedings.
“The (fans) behind the bench are not as (rough) as they were in the past,” said Thomas. “They have lost a step – you can print that. They usually have a good joke for me when I walk out there.”
It should be fun to see who has the last laugh tonight.