Category: Match report – First thoughts

November 23rd, 2015 by Nancy Carpenter

For the first time in a long while, Oxford City Stars started a game against one of the ‘big 4’ clubs as favourites in their home tilt against Wightlink Raiders. Oxford’s home form recently has been nothing short of stunning recently with huge wins against other title prospects Chelmsford and Invicta and another performance was hoped for by many fans.

Unfortunately it was not to be.  It was a tense and exciting game and while Oxford did not play really badly, they didn’t reached the heights of performance that were seen against Chieftains or Invicta. Wightlink meanwhile played a really smart game of hockey (other than a moment of madness that saw Baird receive 5+Game for a 2 handed slash after the whistle on Alan Green), with tight defensive hockey that was more counter-attacking than all out attack but which did what it needed to do.

Stars needed to come out all guns blazing. They had the benefit of rested legs while Raiders had to scrap for a win against their namesakes from London the day before. It didn’t quite happen though – where we saw full commitment to chasing every puck and closing down every opposition player previously, they seemed just a pace behind where they had been. Perhaps it was the lack of a training session for the team that week (while the shiny new nets were installed) but there just seemed to be some cobwebs where none had previously been seen. The passing was the same story.  In the games against Invicta and Chelmsford I was struck by the tape to tape passing that was quick, accurate and which split the opposition defence open. Last night it was just a little ‘off’ – more ‘tape to skate’ with too many passes being just behind the player and making them break stride to collect and lose momentum. It was these small things that were the difference and Wightlink took full advantage.

They were better in the third period and did come out hard, Wightlink also came out hard though and that period especially was a real classic if you like tough battling hockey with both sides giving everything they have got. There was even a brief fight that some fans had been anticipating since Shane Moore joined the team, as he and Cornish came together in the last 10 minutes. It wasn’t perhaps the classic tilt fans had been hoping for and was over pretty quickly once they actually stopped dancing around each other. Both got in punches, but Cornish used his extra height and reach to his advantage and I would have to give it to him on points.

Overall, I would have to say that Wightlink played an incredibly solid defensive game – they took care of business at the back before thinking about coming forward. This really cut down the genuine scoring chances that the Stars had and limited them to more shots from sharp angles or long range ones that gave Colclough plenty of time to see the puck. It made for a very cagey game overall and that was reflected in how low scoring it was. I have to give credit to Jeremy Cornish for coaching a very good game – it wasn’t the same Wightlink I saw 2 weeks ago against Cardiff where the hallmark was quick release shots and fast movement down the ice – but it was probably what was needed here.

Stars can still take a lot of positives from the game. They were absolutely not outclassed and large portions of the game were even with both teams creating chances. Wightlink are a very good outfit and while I think they have probably dropped too many points already to be real title contenders this season, I wouldn’t be overly surprised to see them pick up some silverware in one of the competitions. There were brief spells, especially in the third, when both teams really showed their best and it was fast, fluid and exciting.

Last night just wasn’t the Stars’ night though – for whatever reason they just didn’t reach their best performance level and were punished for it. Next weekend is going to be a testing one. They are away to London, which is never an easy game and then have a final chance to take something from their series with Streatham at home. They need to shake off the disappointment of this loss and work out how to go back to the masterful hockey they displayed against Chelmsford a few weeks ago.

For Wightlink, it was a big 4 point weekend that lifts them into 2nd place. The points last night were hard earned and the same on Saturday from all accounts and they can justifiably be very pleased with their performance.

My final word actually goes to referee Jurijs Solovjovs. I will admit that I have not been his greatest fan previously, but I think he actually reffed a really good game last night. I’m not saying I agreed with every call (nobody ever does) but I agreed with a lot of them. He got the big call right, ejecting Baird for the two handed slash (you can’t use your stick as a weapon like that and expect anything less than a 5+game) and made my day by actually calling a netminder for freezing the puck behind the goal line (Shannon Long was about a foot behind the goal) – completely the right call but one that few refs ever make. Overall, he let the game flow, only called the really blatent penalties, didn’t get over-excited by the fights and kept the game under control. Good job mate!

Posted in Match report - First thoughts

November 22nd, 2015 by Nancy Carpenter

482 Days went to their first NIHL2 game this season in what we expected to be a close fought game against two sides chasing a playoff spot in the Western half of NIHL2 this season.

Unfortunately the game was a bit of a blow out with Basingstoke Buffalo taking an incredibly convincing win 6-0 against their hosts.  To be honest, while Buffalo had had some good results this season so far, I thought this would be Bristol’s game beforehand as the fire-power available in the Bristol team should have netted them some solid goals.

Actually, I came away incredibly impressed with the professional way that Basingstoke conducted themselves and the way they played real team hockey. There were a few stand outs in the team: Ryan Sutton up front looks very good and there is great chemistry between himself and Paul Petts to make for some great attacking play; in defence David Collins really caught my eye – he was calm and possessed when he got the puck and also made some great shot blocks and poke checks to stop Bristol’s attacks from getting to net.  Jordan Lawday in nets also had a good game, although I did think Bristol made him look good on a couple of occasions – any time you get a 33-shot shut out, you’ve clearly come up big!

But despite the stand outs, the biggest thing about Basingstoke was the way they played together as a team. The passing wasn’t as sharp as I am used to seeing in NIHL1 or the movement up the ice as fluid, but even so, Buffalo definitely had a ‘one unit’ feel to their play that caused Bristol issues all night.  They attacked as 5 and defended as 5 and that was the biggest difference between the two teams in my eyes.  All three of their lines were balanced and the team came across as a solid and cohesive unit.

For Bristol, discipline (or lack thereof) was their greatest downfall. While there were maybe 2 calls from the ref that I would describe as ‘a bit harsh’, I thought the rest were pretty much spot on and actually thought the ref had a pretty good game.  In total, Bristol gave up 12 minors to Basingstoke’s 2 and as a result spent a lot of time on PK in return for just 10 seconds of PP in the dying moments of the game.  If their aim was to physically intimidate their opponents, they didn’t – they just left themselves short time after time and it cost them (3 powerplay goals and less opportunities to score themselves).

When they actually knuckled down and tried to play hockey, it was a much better performance. The two Dolphin brothers (Josh and Zach) both skate really well and have great hands and a solid work ethic. Logan Prince also looked very good and was another who worked hard to create chances. Despite shipping 6 goals, I thought there defence was actually overall better than their offence. Yousif Abu Saada is very good player at this level and is calm and collected and just looks solid, Dan Pettitt is also a very good young defenceman and both he and Abu Saada were also integrating well into the attacks. The biggest surprise for me was Chris Moore. In all honesty, he is not a player I have ever rated before, and I saw quite a lot of him in Stars’ NIHL2 years. Last night though he absolutely worked his ass off and while he is not the most skilful player, he won a lot of the 50/50 pucks he was going for simply because he gave everything to the fight for them.  He well deserved his MOTM award and his work ethic last night is something some of the other Bristol senior players perhaps should be taking a look at as there was way to much coasting going on from a lot of them. The final shout goes to John Dibble in the net. Yes he let in 6, but actually he made some excellent saves and was hung out to dry by his team way too often. I actually thought that he had a pretty good game last night and at least he worked from start to finish which is more than can be said for some in that team.

So overall, I would have to say that Basingstoke absolutely deserved the win and while the scoreline was perhaps a little flattering, it wasn’t by much.  This was a big game for both teams as with Cardiff Fire looking so dominant, it’s likely that the rest will be fighting for the second place playoff spot at the end of the season. Basingstoke just took a huge step forward in securing that tonight.

Posted in Match report - First thoughts

November 15th, 2015 by Nancy Carpenter

So Oxford City Stars beat Invicta Dynamos for the first time since March 2010 (and it’s even longer since they won in a game that had any meaning, as Invicta had already won the league before that game).  So for Oxford City Stars players and fans, this was a huge victory and a massive sign that the team’s fortunes were on the up. More importantly, it was a convincing win with Stars looking like the better team across most of the game.

Invicta looked lack-lustre to my eyes, this was not the team I watched twice back in October, who beat both Streatham and Wightlink in games that had them battling for the entire 60 minutes.  Their game at home against Wightlink especially, I remember being really impressed with their speed on the break, their ability to soak up pressure and then bomb down the other end of the rink and create a chance of their own.  This just didn’t seem to be present tonight.  I don’t know if they took Oxford too lightly, given the history between the teams, or if they are simply so dependent on Ozollapa to score that when he disappeared (apparently with an equipment failure) fairly early on in the game there was no plan B.

Invicta had spells of pressure.  In one of their powerplays they were almost camped in the Oxford end and I remember one 5 minute spell at the beginning of the third period when they had a great spell of attacking hockey that had Stars loosing their shape and collapsing in towards net somewhat with some desperate defending.  Both those periods were not sustained and it was like they gave up when they didn’t make a breakthrough.  Don’t get me wrong – there are some very good players on that team – and some young exciting talent there that could well push for spots at EPL level soon. I thought both Bailey Wootton and Conor Redmond had decent games and were probably two of Invicta’s best players in the game. Wootton’s goal was very well taken – beautifully placed and with a quick release while still skating at speed that left Shannon Long with little chance. Redmond worked hard the whole game and created a lot of the chances that Invicta had. In defence, Zosiak and Strawson both impressed and Strawson had some very good chances from the point that required big saves from Long.  But somehow, nothing was clicking for the team and the hard work and energy that was present when I watched them before just seemed to be missing last night.

Oxford on the other hand played in a similar manner to their win against Chelmsford 2 weeks before.  It was what I think of as the ‘whole team’ approach with every single line and in fact every single player contributing both offensively and defensively to the result.  The biggest difference for me this season is that Simon Anderson has every player working incredibly hard in both directions.  The fact that for once we have players to spare in the squad means that the boys know they are fighting for their spot in the team in every game. Missing both your import forward (Ondrej Pekarik) and last season’s top goal scorer (Josh Oliver) due to injuries would normally be big blows for the team but there is clearly more than enough offensive talent to cover them.

Nick Oliver and Joe Oliver both returned to the team after missing a period with ankle injuries and both looked like they had never been away.  Nick in particular played better than I remember seeing him play before – he was everywhere on the ice, working in corners, covering defensively and being a real playmaker offensively. I had the honour of being asked to select the MOTM awards last night – and Nick came very close to getting the beers. Ruzicka in defence was again really strong and his goal was an absolute bullet. Darren Elliott is also having a great season this year, and it looks like handing he head coach responsibility to Anderson was a smart move as he is free to concentrate on his own game and it shows.

Shannon Long, I have to really call out though for being exceptional.  I have to admit, that I have not rated him that highly in the past.  If I am honest I thought that young Connor Ranby was simply a better netminder and that Oxford would do better with a classic 1-2 netminder order instead of their ‘winner stays on’ system they have at the moment. Long absolutely proved to me last night why Simon Anderson rates him equally to Ranby.  He was absolutely solid – gone were the silly and ill-judged attempts to leave his crease and leave the net exposed.  Instead he simply pulled off some fantastic saves and perhaps most importantly, let very few rebounds drop in front of him so that Invicta didn’t get a second or third bite of the cherry.

Oxford’s home form this season has been exceptional with 13 of their 17 points gained at Oxpens Road so far this season. In a tweet last night I suggested that this may be partly a ‘Shane Moore’ effect. The fact that his only two away games coincide with Oxford’s other 4 points perhaps brings some credence to this theory. That’s not to say he is winning games on his own. Absolutely not, he played well last night – he was calm and collected and his goal was well taken but it wasn’t a stand-out ‘best thing on the ice by a mile’ performance in any respect and he was simply one of a team who were all playing well.  Perhaps it is simply that his presence lends a confidence to the rest of the team that they have the ability to beat anyone?

 

Posted in Match report - First thoughts

November 7th, 2015 by Nancy Carpenter

A comfortable win for Wightlink Raiders over struggling Cardiff tonight, but in this case the scoreline doesn’t reflect the game completely.

Don’t get me wrong.  Wightlink were clearly the better team and have depth through all three lines. Cardiff by comparison have a couple of good players but lack the same depth of squad and were mostly over-run by the Raiders. I have to give some credit to the welsh side here though – they really embodied a ‘never-say-die’ attitude for me tonight  They didn’t give up right up to the final buzzer and through themselves at everything to try and stop the onslaught and also to try and make something of the chances they did get.  Late in the second, Brown threw himself in front of a Cesky shot with no regard for his own safety – which is saying something about commitment to the cause when you are already 6-1 down and the game is effectively gone.

Thomas Stuart-Dant and Jonathan Nash for Cardiff were real standouts for me, both in terms of individual performance but also in how well the two combined with each other.  The majority of Cardiff’s genuine scoring chances came from these two and Cardiff just need a few more players like that to have enough of a core squad to be able to start getting themselves out of trouble. In nets, Miller just seemed to grown in stature as the game went on. In the third, he was absolutely superb.

For Wightlink, Larter has clearly made an impact in his return and looked both solid and dangerous. Cesky is sheer quality from start to finish and what impresses me a lot about him is how hard he works in both directions.  As a team, the biggest thing they do well for me is the speed at which they release the puck when shooting.  Too often players will wait and try and pick the perfect spot. Raiders seem to have an ethos of ‘shoot early’ – admittedly it means shots are not always the highest quality BUT the big difference is that is gives no time for the netminder to set up – and you will score that way.  It’s a real skill to do and it looks like it is one that Cornish has worked on with the squad and it does make a difference.

Wightlink as a squad has real depth – Danny ingoldsby for example I thought was very quiet tonight – I don’t know if he was being partially rested but I didn’t notice him on the ice much – which did surprise me as when I have seen him before I have rated him very highly.  That’s not a dig at Ingoldsby, but more to say that when one player has an off day, for this squad, there is plenty of other quality to pick up the slack.  Tribe and Watkins for example, both played well and were busy working hard at both ends.  I’ve used the word ‘depth’ about this team a few times already, but it is the most appropriate word I can think of.  Cornish has put together 3 strong lines of players that work well together and while there are a few standouts, the biggest thing is that when one is having an an off day there you can get away with it because there are 14 others who will pick up the slack.

So, despite the fact that the game was effectively over in the first period.  This all added up to being entertaining from start to finish.

Posted in Match report - First thoughts

November 1st, 2015 by Nancy Carpenter

Last night was one of the most incredible performances by the Oxford City Stars that I have ever seen.  In a 6-4 win, that gave the rest of the league hope that Chelmsford were in fact fallible, the Stars put together the kind of consistent and determined game that they have been threatening for a while.

Let’s not get carried away here.  I am not going to pretend that Oxford were far and away the better team on the ice last night.  I’m honestly not sure that they were the better team at all – but I am not taking anything away from their win by saying that – if anything that’s what made it so impressive. For three incredible periods, Oxford were determined, disruptive and never say die. Chelmsford had more possession throughout the game than Oxford, especially in the second and third periods and came forward with wave after wave of attacks that were absolutely relentless.  I think it wasn’t until we scored the empty net goal to make it 6-3 with 1:26 left on the clock that I honestly started to believe Oxford would take both points! That’s how good the Chieftains were – you could see them getting a draw or even taking both points and turning the scoreline on its head right up until the end.

In the first period, Oxford’s defending approach was ‘throw anything and everything in front of them’ – and it worked, but it was a little desperate at times. The second and the third periods are where I have to give major credit to coach Simon Anderson as he clearly changed the system to help soak up the pressure and played more of a 2-1-2 game with the centre mostly staying high on the attack so that he would be back in time when Chelmsford broke.  This meant we usually had three players back straight away which was needed as Chelmsford almost attack as a three. Yes, they had the occasional one or two man rush but this is a very well drilled team who excel at moving forward as a unit, weave and pass brilliantly and if you don’t defend as a team you will be sunk.

What Oxford did more than anything else was play smart – from their goals to their defence. Their third goal on the powerplay from Boris Ruzicka was a case in point.  He got the puck on the blue line and everyone expected the bullet from the blue line that has already become his trademark.  Instead, he saw a gap, skated in and scored with a well placed wrist shot from the top of the circles instead that simply fooled Clements, who probably would have been ready for the blue line slapshot.  The empty-net goal at the end from Ben Ealey Newman was another case of smart play: a hard forecheck stole the puck in the neutral zone, but instead of immediately shooting on the open goal, he pushed forward, dodged an oncoming defenceman and skated close enough to be 100% sure of netting his shot.  Even if he hadn’t got past his man, this play would have wasted more time than an early shot, ensured no chance of an icing call and showed a calm beyond his years.

Stars 4th goal, late in the second period was a mixture of both this smart play and a really good dose of luck.  Tom Avery came out of the penalty box at the perfect moment and found himself behind the Chelmsford defence, on top of a puck that came loose. But instead of rushing forward himself, Avery saw Green flying down centre ice and made an unselfish and perfect pass that went right onto Green’s stick so he didn’t even have to break stride to collect it, meaning he entered the Chelmsford end still flying and in complete control of himself and the puck and able to finish with the kind of skill he is known for.  Would Avery have scored if he went for it himself? Maybe. But what he did was the smarter play in the circumstances, showed an awareness of his team mates and that was the trademark of this performance for Oxford.

The other big difference for Oxford last night was an absolute ‘never say die’ attitude.  They went after every single loose puck, went hard and won pucks that that maybe they shouldn’t have.  They certainly won more than their fair share of the 50/50 pucks last night by sheer hard work and determination.  When they lost the puck, they didn’t pause for a second but instead gave everything they had to win it back.  I remember one incident in the third period when Ruzicka had the puck stolen from him by James Ayling on his own blue line. He immediately turned and stole it right back again before Ayling had the chance to gain complete control and that just summed up the attitude of Oxford last night.

The best words I have to describe Oxford’s defending last night are ‘disruptive’, ‘high concentration’ and ‘occasionally desperate’.  The disruptive part comes from the fact that they simply did not allow Chelmsford to play their usual flowing game.  They got their bodies and their sticks in the way, so that even if they didn’t outright win the puck, they did enough to deflect it and stop Chelmsford from setting themselves up.  The high concentration was absolutely vital in this game, Chieftains punished every break in concentration, as was shown by their 4th goal when Grant Bartlett was given time and space to pick up a loose puck in the Stars goal and he showed the kind of finishing that I expect from Chelmsford to send the puck flying over Ranby’s shoulder before he had a chance to set himself. But those breaks in concentration were rare last night – the defensive errors and sloppy neutral zone passes that plagued the Stars defence in their opening few games were barely evident last night. The defending was occasionally desperate and Stars really did throw everything they had to try and get in the way. It did cause them to pick up a few minors as a result, especially in the third (and the penalty shot that was brilliantly put away by Cam Bartlett was another case of this) – but for once I am not going to have a go at Stars for their discipline as the penalties were not silly and unnecessary ones and certainly nothing malicious, but more a case of just getting it just slightly wrong or being ill-timed in a bid to stop yet another Chelmsford attack wave.

The fact is that Chelmsford are no mugs.  They play beautiful, flowing hockey and have depth through the team which means they don’t have a weaker line.  Huska, Hammond and Brears together were occasionally breathtaking – and Huska for me was far more noticeable last night than he was last week and yet he didn’t actually pick up a point.  Cameron Bartlett was the biggest stand-out in the team last night though.  His two goals were really well taken: the penalty shot was played like a game of cat and mouse with Ranby – he didn’t come at the goal with speed, but instead moved from side to side, forcing Ranby to move with him until he had created a gap to shoot through; his second goal was the opposite – a one-time shot at a really tight angle that was just pure sniper. Given he is only 18, that kid is going to be a real force to be reckoned with and if he has the ambition to play at a higher level I have absolutely no doubt that he will succeed.

For Oxford, I almost don’t want to call out individual players because this was first and foremost an incredibly strong team performance.  There is not a player on the Stars team that had less than a magnificent game.  But there were a couple who went even beyond that.  Ranby in nets was absolutely superb, even with his defence working damn hard to stop the shots coming through, he still faced more than 50 shots and just kept stopping them.  Alan Green was also at his best tonight, using his speed and sniping abilities to his advantage and working really hard at both ends of the ice.

I’ll wrap up by saying, absolute credit to Stars for the win – I’ll be honest, they exceeded my expectations of what they were capable of (and that was while missing some key players  with Elliott, Whillock, Nick and Joe Oliver and Clarke all unavailable tonight). Chelmsford did not look to be playing much worse than they did when they won 6-1 in the reverse fixture last week. I can’t say if that was a particularly bad performance from them as I don’t see them play often enough to judge it – I still think they are the best team with the strongest line up in the league by a considerable margin.  Teams are going to have to come up with a game plan and stick to it in order to beat them and I don’t think it will happen often.

Stars take on Streatham in South London tonight.  If they have a live leg muscle left between them I will be surprised!  But then Streatham had a hard loss last night, going down 8-2 to Wightlink in the cup while Stars may well still be buzzing, so who knows!  If you had offered me a single point out of this weekend, I would have bitten your hand off, so whatever the result tonight I’ll still say ‘incredible job this weekend’.  Whatever happens, Stars will remain in at least 4th place and will maintain at least their 50% points total (in fact they are only 5 points shy of last season’s total already).

Posted in Match report - First thoughts

October 24th, 2015 by Nancy Carpenter

So the big Chelmsford machine moves on with a 6-1 win over Oxford City Stars tonight.  But I would have to say that the scoreline did not really reflect the game. Don’t get me wrong, Chelmsford were absolutely the better team out there.  Their one touch passing and the speed of their transitions was something else.  But I have to give credit to Oxford as well – they actually played very well and had some good moves of their own.

At the end of the first, with Chelmsford 5-0 up, the game was effectively over.  But nobody bothered to tell that to the teams.  Maybe Chelmsford took their foot off the pedal very slightly – but honestly not by much.  The difference was that Oxford came out of the dressing room with a hell of a lot of intent. They hadn’t actually been playing that badly before during the first period – Chelmsford were just in a different league to them and it was the little lapses in concentration that cost goals (or in a couple of cases, the genius of the Chelmo players).

The biggest difference to this and other Oxford losses I have seen has to be the Oxford work rate. It was absolutely spot on tonight.  Every player was giving everything every shift. Forwards were getting back to defend, defenders were pushing forward to pressure the Chelmsford net and Shannon Long in the Oxford net had by far and away the best game I have seen from him. You might have expected at 5-0 down after only 20 minutes for the team to shrug their shoulders and go ‘well they are better than us’ – instead they seemed to say ‘then we need to be better than we are to try and match them’.  They didn’t quite have the skill levels to match Chelmsford but their hard work actually made up some of that.  They didn’t give Chelmsford time on the puck to set things up, there was always an Oxford player in their face as soon as they gained possession.

Particularly good from Oxford tonight was their penalty kill.  It was very well organised and again incredibly hard working. They needed to be because Chelmsford looked incredibly dangerous on the powerplay!  They had really slick passing around the zone, probing for gaps and pushing themselves into the gaps when they found them.  But Oxford mostly kept the gaps closed and kept their box shape superbly.

Also an important positive for Stars was the fact that they only gave up 4 powerplays to Chelmsford (and received the same in return).  Discipline was absolutely better than in previous games where silly penalties seemed to come at just the wrong time, stopping their momentum.

What about Chelmsford though? Well I am not sure I have enough superlatives for them.  They are so well organised and their movement and passing is top notch. They came at Oxford with so much speed, I think it just caught Stars off guard in the first period.  The finishing was also excellent.  What’s really scary is that I am not 100% sure that they ever really reached top gear tonight. That’s not to say they weren’t working hard and trying hard, but I have a sneaking suspicion that if any team actually manages to come close this season, we might find Chelmsford have that extra gear to be truly amazing.  All three of their lines looked slick and I would expect to see plenty of goals spread out.  James Ayling and the two Bartlett boys were probably the players that stuck out to me most from them.  All three just have bags of talent and I am surprised Ayling has never tried his hand at EPL as he would certainly be good enough from what I have seen.  The two Bartlett lads are still young and I suspect could make the move if they want to within a year or two.

The only surprise for me tonight was Huska,  I thought he was incredibly quiet tonight and only noticed him on the ice a few times.  Not sure if he was being rested and not out there much or if he was simply a bit anonymous tonight in a team as high quality as this one was.

Overall, a far more entertaining game than I was expecting (especially after the first period) and Oxford can really hold their heads up.  I may be wrong, but I think they are the first team to even take a period from Chelmsford at home (they won the second period 1-0).  I chatted to a couple of fans throughout the game and they said Oxford were also the best team they had seen here so far this season. Chelmsford must be locked on for a lot of silverware though.  I’ve now seen every team in action and none of the others even come close.

Posted in Match report - First thoughts

October 19th, 2015 by Nancy Carpenter

Oxford City Stars enjoyed their first 4 point weekend in NIHL1 for five years and it was a pretty masterful performance at Milton Keynes to seal their victory tonight.  Their game was confident and assured, with free-flowing hockey and strong passing being hallmarks of the game.  It may just have been the best I have seen them play, certainly this season.

Oxford came out of the blocks fast and were one up just after the 3 minute mark.  Dax Hedges turning in a pass from Joe Edwards.  The pressure throughout the game from Stars was excellent. When they are playing well, Oxford really click together and this was one of those nights. The last Oxford game I watched was the dreadful 5-4 loss in Cardiff and this was like a different team out there.  Stars were forechecking hard (and Alan Green’s goal came from stealing the puck on a forecheck), passing really well and playing for each other all over the rink.  They dominated the first and second periods with their fast players, and kept MK confined in their end for long periods of time.

MK’s performance surprised me to be honest, I really expected them to be stronger, especially on home ice. Jamie Line still looked very good and his speed on the puck is simply outstanding.  Ross Bowers also showed glimpses of what he was capable of.  However, as a team they just didn’t seem to be clicking and had gaps in their defence that you could have driven a truck through at times.  They seemed to only wake up after their 2nd goal and the final ten minutes of hockey gave us a real game with MK throwing themselves at the Oxford net.  Unfortunately for them, the Oxford defence had themselves well organised and played good percentage hockey, limiting MK mostly to shots at angles or from distance.  But the game definitely turned from being dominated by Oxford to one that was much more even and while, as an Oxford fan, I am very happy with the reslt – as a hockey fan I wish MK had played like that from the start of the game as i think it could have been one hell of a good match to watch if they had.  They certainly showed much more of what they were capable of then in the first 50 minutes where we saw just the odd glimpse.

So for Oxford, the positives have to be that all three forward lines were very much in form and seem to be a little more settled, at least for now.  Import defenceman Boris Ruzicka already seemed to have settled in and will certainly be one of our top defenders this season.  He may not have scored this weekend, but more important to Stars is the solidity and strong play he brings to their defence. Oxford’s second new import, Ondrej Pekarik, looked a little rusty still – perhaps unsurprising as this was only his 2nd game in two years – but he showed promise – and perhaps more importantly is already scoring goals even when he is probably not at 100% fitness yet.  The goal he scored tonight was calm and well taken, showing a sense of knowing his own ability as he deked King – moving him out of position and then calmly slotted the puck into the net.

Oxford negatives – discipline again.  Not as bad as in some games, but still taking some silly minor penalties and giving away powerplays.  I actually think that the Stars PK unit is mostly working fairly well at the moment, but we are using it a lot more than we should.  The other issue tonight was the netminder.  Yes Shannon Long made some good saves and earned himself a 94% save rate tonight – but he just takes too many stupid risks tonight.  For me, a netminder should be absolutely certain that he can get the puck if he is going to come out of his crease – but on 3 different occasions tonight Long failed to do this.  He got away with it twice (although it could be argued that had play not stopped because his helmet came off when he fell over the second time he came out, the outcome could have been considerably worse than him simply looking like a muppet).  On the third occasion though – when he went for a puck in the corner that he had no business being near, he missed the puck and Jamie Line was able to swoop in, take it behind the net and slide it home. Long needs to stop trying to play his team-mates’ positions and stop being so keen to leave his crease.  On Saturday, assuming that Simon Anderson sticks with his ‘winner stays on’ method of selecting goalies, he will play against Chelmsford and he needs to make sure that his concentration is much higher.  Chieftains will punish any lapses in concentration and foolish plays a lot more than MK did today.

But overall, I have to give credit to the Stars for an excellent performance tonight.  Two bigs wins this weekend is really important.  They have the chance to make amends somewhat as they play Cardiff again at home next Sunday.  If they play like they did tonight, they should blow Cardiff out of the water.  In some ways they need to concentrate far more on that game than the one against Chelmsford the night before.

 

Posted in Match report - First thoughts

October 13th, 2015 by Nancy Carpenter

After watching Cardiff vs Oxford the night before, I was struck by the massive difference in the speed, skill and the intensity of this game compared to that one, especially given that it was in the same league.

This was a game that was a real joy to watch as a neutral because both teams seemed to leave nothing on the ice, giving everything and a bit more to beat the other. In all fairness to Wightlink, they could, and possibly should have taken at least a point from this game as on the balance of play they seemed to have more chances and more possession.  But at the same time, I don’t want to take anything from Invicta who did everything to limit those Wightlink chances and who were so fast on the break that you could have seen them scoring again at any point, even when penned down in their own end.

The game was really quick – at least to someone more used to the opposite end of the table and there was considerable skill shown by both sides with free flowing passing that split the oppositions defence and both netminders have to be called out for some stunning saves – if either of them had been having an off day the score would not have been 2-1!  There was very little silly stuff in terms of bad hits (despite the Invicta fans reaction to Cornish’s hit on Ozollapa), dirty play and fights.  I’m not saying there weren’t any of course (this is hockey after all) but even when it did happen, both teams went back to playing good hockey rather than trying to escalate or retaliate.

For Invicta – Ozollapa was huge.  He scored both of their goals – the first due to a hard forecheck that allowed him to steal the puck behind the Wightlink net and then he showed great skill to spin and squeeze the puck between Coclough and his post incredibly quickly. The second came after an almost comedy moment where it looked like Invicta players were stuck in the gate as some tried to get on and others to get off the ice at the same time.  Ozollapa seemed to be propelled out of the gate onto the ice right onto the puck, but the rest was definitely all skill as he carried the puck into the zone at speed and turned under pressure from a Wightlink D-man before finishing well.  His work rate throughout the whole game was impressive though and he constantly looked dangerous.

Invicta’s other import Zosiak isn’t flashy in the same way, but he also deserves praise – what he does, he does very well.  He’s one of those really solid defenders who just doesn’t give anything up in his own end and makes strong passes out to help start offensive moves. Others who caught my eye were team captain Nicky Lewis who seemed to be everywhere at once, always skating hard in both directions; youngster Bailey Wootton who again was involved often in the attacks and has a good eye for getting himself into dangerous positions and young defenceman Andrew Henderson who played a lot older than his years and was string on and off the puck. Netminder Mcgill was absolutely immense of course and made some really excellent stops – at one point I thought he must have clingfilm behind him and he was unlucky not to earn himself a shutout.

My overall assessment of Invicta is that they have been massively underestimated by everyone (myself included) this season. Everyone seems to talk about this being a rebuilding year, including their own management, but actually I think this team may actually be better than last season.  They certainly play with a lot more passion than any Invicta team I can remember – yes there is some inexperience there, but that is a flaw that should only be improved as the season goes on and the speed at which they can break was almost breathtaking. They looked good when they beat Streatham last week but this week they looked even better,  Even more important is the fact that in tight games, like here and at Streatham last week, they still have the concentration under pressure added to moments of brilliance that allow them to win tight games.

For Wightlink, I think against another netminder on another day they could have won this game (but then again with another netminder on another day they might have lost by a lot more). They looked constantly dangerous going forward and their movement on the puck was excellent.  There were passing moves that split Invicta’s defence like a knife going through butter and the transition from defence to attack was made at speed and accuracy that created chance after chance. Cesky was the standout player you would expect – he is another player that seems to be everywhere on the ice and his skill carrying the puck is fantastic. Danny Ingoldsby also stood out as being one to watch and is another youngster who plays with a maturity beyond his years. In defence, I thought Jordan Gregory had a very good game and was strong in the corners and carries the puck well.

Wightlink’s biggest strength is their depth though – yes they struggled at Oxford without Cesky, but tonight they looked to have 3 very strong lines and while Cesky’s class made him stand out, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see any of the Wightlink lines scoring. Their passing and movement down the ice was exceptional and created so many chances.  The only comment I would have is that too many of the final shots seemed to be at the keeper’s body – and trust me, Mcgill doesn’t need help to make him look good!

Overall, the game was a fantastic advert for NIHL hockey and I hope that both teams can push themselves even harder and try and stop Chelmsford, who’s early season dominance is looking ominous, from having it all their own way.

Posted in Match report - First thoughts

October 11th, 2015 by Nancy Carpenter

Oxford City Stars went into last night’s game without a win in Cardiff at senior level for 1800 days. As of this morning it is now 1801 days as they once again failed to take home the points from a game at the big blue tent.  So why does Oxford have just a terrible record in Wales?  It would be understandable if we were talking about Chelmsford or Invicta – teams that have more resources than Oxford, but this is Cardiff, a team that almost certainly has a smaller budget and which on paper, Oxford should have beaten comprehensively.

Cardiff to be fair to them, played their own game.  They were consistent throughout the game and worked hard in pretty much every shift. It has beaten technically superior teams before and did so again last night.  Oxford looked disinterested in the first period – there was one goal where our defence seemed to just watch Jonathan Nash skate past them on his way to goal, rather than going to him and at least putting some pressure on.  They simply looked off-sync – there were missed passes and miscommunications all over the ice and nothing seemed to click.  In the second, the Oxford team that I watched last week against Solent came out and it was a completely different game – Oxford looked good and had a multitude of scoring chances, dominating Cardiff and getting themselves back into contention.  At the end of the second, I actually thought – this is it, this is the game we finally break the Welsh curse.

Unfortunately, I think Oxford got over-confident at that point, they realised they could be the better team on the ice but didn’t realise that they still had to work hard in order to stay the better team. They went back to their performance in the first period instead of continuing the game they had been playing in the second.  All credit to Cardiff here – they took advantage of the opportunities provided to them by an Oxford team that just didn’t seem to be taking the game seriously and earned the points fair and square.

Oxford were missing some players, true – although with Shane Moore there are rumours going round supporters at the moment that he will “only be playing a certain number of games” which is usually a euphemism for “won’t travel” – if this is true it is going to be very concerning as he is clearly an influential player on the ice and if Oxford have to travel to every game without him then this is likely to be disruptive to the team to say the least.  Mercurial Josh Oliver was also on the missing list – and he can make the difference in games as well.  However, look at the team who were there – Green returned from his back injury for example and the fact is that this was a game that Stars should have had a comfortable win in. If nothing else, the second period proved this as they showed the quality they can produce when they want to.

There were some bright points – the return of the aforementioned Alan Green was obviously one.  I don’t think he was quite back to his best but there were still enough sparks of the Steamy Green we know and the combination between him, Osman and Elliott looked like it could be very good. The new import Boris Ružička (or “BoRo” as I have now been told he will be known) looks like a decent pick up by Simon Anderson. He plays intelligent percentage hockey, has an eye for a good pass and one hell of a shot (as evidenced by his goal). He’s still settling in but for a first performance I think it was a pretty good one.  Steve Osman also remembered where the back of the net was – something I suspect will come as quite a relief to him.  I don’t actually think he has played badly so far this season, but the lack of goals has been surprising and I worried that the longer it went on the more it would potentially prey on his mind. His two last night were both well taken finishes and he was a well deserved MOTM at the end of the game.

For Cardiff, despite this win I still think they are going to really struggle in the league this year.  They can’t rely on other teams under performing in order to get points.  Having said that I haven’t seen Bracknell yet this season and from all reports they will be challenging Cardiff for the relegation place.  I will say that both Miller in nets and Stuart-Dant in goal both looked very good though – but they seem to lack depth and in this league depth is crucial.

Oxford will have comfort themselves with the thought that they will never have to play in the big blue tent again.  Their second away game against Cardiff will be in the new arena next year and maybe the new venue will help them put their demons to rest.

 

Posted in Match report - First thoughts

October 4th, 2015 by Nancy Carpenter

It was a cracker of a game – with both teams giving everything they had to try and take home the points.  In the end, Oxford fans were jubilant while Solent fans will be going away wondering how it is they got nothing from a game that was so even.

As a spectacle to watch – it was an exciting game, but the second period was dominated by penalties – there were only 4 spells of 5-on-5 hockey, none longer than 2 minutes and which added up to just over 5 minutes.  What that gives you is a game that just doesn’t flow.  Hockey is supposed to be a 5-on-5 game, not a 4-on-3 (as quite a few parts of this period were). Solent, to their credit coped much better and scored all four of their goals in this disjointed period. Only one while they had an actual man advantage – but 2 others when it was 4 vs 4.

Oxford, by comparison lost their way a little in the second.  They looked disjointed, mistakes started creeping in, defensive errors were in evidence again and nothing seemed to click. I don’t know if this is because they are simply better when they have 5 on the ice, or whether they were just getting frustrated with the constant stop-start nature of the game. They did score a powerplay goal at the start of the period (and it was a really good one after Osman fed Josh Florey on the point with a light touch and Florey just sent a bullet in that was never going to be stopped), but Solent most definitely outplayed them for the rest of the period.

The first and the third were much more free-flowing and it was so much better to watch. Both teams were working hard to create chances and it was exciting end to end hockey.  I’ll give both of those periods marginally to Oxford, but I thought overall it was a pretty even match and Solent can justifiably feel that they deserved to have got something out of it.

Positives from the game for Solent – they battled back from 2-0 down to reverse the 2 goal deficit.  When things were clicking for the team, they were really clicking and they were dangerous – strong passing moves, hard work off the puck to get themselves into positions that helped their transition game to work. Dominik Hegyi looks good as well – he didn’t get on the score-sheet tonight but I think that may be a rare occurrence for him as he is a strong puck carrier and seems to read the game well. I thought Richard Brown, Solent’s second import had a quiet game, but there were flashes of excellent play from him too. They have some good British players too – Norcliffe and Mitchell Murray really stood out for me tonight and both worked really hard and created chances.  Both scored nice goals too – I didn’t see Norcliffe’s first but his second was a great bit of individual skill as he was being harried by an Oxford defender and still managed to swing in and get a low hard shot away. Murray’s goal was also very well taken – a breakaway during one of the 4-on-4 periods that was a quality finish – high over the shoulder of Shannon Long in the Oxford net.

Positives for Oxford – I have quite a few here. Despite losing their way a bit in the second period, they worked really hard all night.  The fore-checking, which had previously been lacking was hard and aggressive and resulted in 2 of the goals tonight – when a hard fore-check in the Solent end turned over the puck and created the scoring opportunity (one from Josh Ealey-Newman for the third goal and one from Dax Hedges for the winning goal).  The passing was also much better tonight – with sharp passes again helping to create offensive chances – Josh Florey especially seemed to have a real eye for this tonight and made a lot of really accurate passes out of the defensive zone.  More importantly, the sloppy passes in the neutral zone that plagued Stars against Streatham last week were drastically reduced.

in terms of individual performances: Josh Ealey-Newman is as exciting a talent as his brother Ben. Despite only being 17, he did not look out of place in the slightest at this level – as mentioned before, his hard fore-checking was responsible for the third goal as he picked the pocket of a napping Solent defender and followed it with a quick drive to the net.  His shot was saved but it was hard enough that Chico Cole couldn’t do more than parry it straight to the stick of Darren Elliott who slotted it home. He then scored in his next shift less than 2 minutes later with an excellent shot under pressure that flew into the top left corner of the net. His brother Ben had a quieter night, but still looked threatening on the puck and was unlucky not to get on the score sheet himself.  Josh Florey switched to defence tonight and he was excellent. He’s a very strong forward as well – but his transition passes out of defence tonight were simply excellent and he was strong against incoming forwards, finding the right move more often than not to halt Solent’s attack.  His goal from the point was also superb. Jason Ikin continues to impress – he definitely plays older than his years and I think he is a fantastic signing this season as I think he will continue to improve.

For both sides, the biggest negative has to be discipline. Yes, I thought Cuglietta (the ref) was a bit quick with her whistle at times and was maybe a bit picky – but at the same time both teams were playing very chippy hockey and a lot of those penalties were unnecessary.  In addition, the number of flair-ups where players were losing their temper over little things got silly and both teams were punished as a result of daft penalties – Oxford by allowing the game to be disrupted and conceding 4 on the bounce in the second, and Solent by throwing away their chance to get a point in the dying minutes of the game when they had to penalty kill. In the end, there were 27 minor penalties in the game – and that is just too many!

Overall though – a very entertaining game of hockey from two teams who gave everything and provided a great contest for the fans to watch.

 

Posted in Match report - First thoughts