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.