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.