Photo Credits: Paul Foster (all)
Sunday’s game between Oxford City Stars and Wightlink Raiders was an edge-of-the-seat thriller that ended in a 2-2 tie. It will probably be seen as a point won by Stars and a point lost by Raiders in terms of their season ambitions – but it was certainly an exciting game for fans to watch and a showcase of netminding at both ends. Ben Ealey-Newman and Joe Edwards got the goals for Oxford while Craig Tribe and Matthew Lawday were on target for Wightlink.
Last weekend, Raiders were rampant in their own rink, punishing defensive errors and showing real class in their passing and finishing to give Stars a 7-2 drubbing. But Stars were buoyed after taking both points in a thrilling 15-goal game against London last Sunday while Wightlink arrived reeling from a bad 7-3 home defeat to Chelmsford Chieftains the day before.
Even worse for the Raiders, their star import Jaroslav Cesky had lost his temper just after the final whistle and earned himself a match penalty (and the resulting suspension) for cross-checking and were also without young defenceman Jordan Gregory. Stars meanwhile were still missing Alan Green due to his back injury and also had defenceman Tom Avery and forward Mike Whillock unavailable.
The game started quickly and both netminders were called into action within the first 30 seconds in some immediate end to end action. Then with just 44 seconds on the clock, Oxford’s Steve Osman and Wightlink’s Robert Streetly had what was little more than a shoving match in front of the Oxford goal – the ref was clearly in no mood for this and sent both into the penalty boxes on 2+2 roughing calls.
Oxford were the first to get off the scoring mark with a powerplay goal from Ealey-Newman after Danny Rose took a hooking minor. The move started with a blue-line slapshot from Shane Moore that was tipped towards net by Steve Osman. Matty Colclough in the Wightlink net made a superb save to deny Osman but he couldn’t stop Ealey-Newman from pouncing on the rebound and sliding it home.
Joe Edwards had a half chance a few minutes later after he intercepted a poor clearance from the Raiders zone but he had no support as Stars had been skating back for the expected Raiders attack and he was converged on by three Raiders players and couldn’t find a way through. Seconds later though he was able to get hold of a Nick Oliver pass
who was just able to get the puck out before being pulled down by a Wightlink defenceman. Edwards was able to dance around the remaining defenceman and beat Colclough on the glove side to double Oxford’s lead.
Raiders seemed to wake up at that point and Connor Ranby in the Oxford net was suddenly very busy, defending against first a goalmouth scramble and then making a brave move, putting his body on the line, to take the puck from Wightlink’s player/coach Jeremy Cornish in the crease.
Just before the 14 minute mark in the game, it was Raider’s turn on the powerplay after Andy Cox was given 2 minutes for slashing. Raiders wasted no time in capitalising on their man advantage scoring just 6 seconds into the powerplay. In a repeat of the Stars’ first goal, Ranby made an initial save from a Brendan Baird shot through traffic but could not stop Craig Tribe from putting away the rebound. The rest of the period continued with chances at both ends but neither side able to convert and the period ended 2-1.
Raiders came out of the second period flying, clearly having had some strong words said to them in the changing room by coach Cornish. An onslaught on the Stars net commenced but Raiders simply could not find a way past Ranby. Stars defenceman Joe Oliver also made a superb defensive move to cut out a pass on a 2-on-1 chance, stretching full length on the ice he was just able to get a stick to the puck and deflect the pass out of the zone. Stars were able to withstand the onslaught and after 5 minutes of constant pressure got back into the game and started creating chances of their own again. Stars then had 3 more powerplay chances when Nick Compton (interference), Chris Cooke and Baird (both holding) took successive penalties but were unable to capitalise. Raiders also had a further chance when Josh Florey was called for slashing but Stars penalty kill unit was working hard and also denied them.
Raiders finally got themselves even once the game was back to even strength and it was a super move. A cracking pass from Corey Watkins across the neutral zone found Matthew Lawday flying down the wing. He deked the sole Stars defenceman (Arnold), then had a lovely finish to slide to puck into the corner of the net just out of reach of Ranby’s desperate glove. More penalties were exchanged just before the end of the period with Oxford’s Cox (holding the stick) receiving his second, closely followed by Ingoldsby (roughing) and Jake Florey (delay of game – dislodging the net), leaving the Raiders on a rare 4-on-3 man advantage for the last few seconds of the period.
The third started with all three penalties still on the clock and despite the open play available with so few players on the ice, no real chances. Once the play returned to 5-on-5 the game seemed to flow better and both keepers were kept busy. Alex Sampford for Raiders came close but his final shot was under pressure from an Oxford d-man and Ranby was able to make a comfortable save. Edwards, who had looked dangerous all night also had a shot saved and then later made a quality short pass to a flying Dax Hedges but Hedges couldn’t quite find Nick Oliver with his final pass and the Raiders were able to clear.
More penalties followed and powerplays were traded between the sides with Josh Oliver (2+10 – checking to the head) and Danny Rose (roughing) each seeing the inside of the penalty box but the netminders had clearly used the period break to reattach the cling film across their goals and let nothing past them.
The last 10 minutes of the game was full of breathless end to end action with both sides desperate to find the winning goal and deny the other team a share of the points. With just over 3 minutes left on the clock, the ref indicated a delayed penalty against Oxford and Raiders had about 30 seconds of controlling the puck with an additional attacker on the ice replacing Colclough but were unable to find a way through. However, they had drawn a further slash from Cox during that passage of play meaning he joined Steve Osman, who’s original hooking call was the reason for the delayed penalty and Stars had to face 2 minutes of a 2-man disadvantage with just under 3 minutes left on the period.
Stars took a quick time-out to organise their defence and whatever coach Simon Anderson said, clearly worked as Oxford proceeded to give a master-class in how to defend a 3-on-5. Shane Moore, Joe Oliver and Josh Florey were somehow able to be everywhere in the Stars zone, cutting down the angles of attack for Wightlink, giving Ranby in nets the chance to see the puck coming when Raiders did manage to get a shot away and occasionally getting the puck out of the zone and forcing a reset for Wightlink. After a minute Sam Arnold and Nick Oliver joined Moore for the second half of the kill and continued in exactly the same vein. Raiders were limited to one really good chance through the whole 2 minutes but Ranby denied that with a big save to keep the Stars level.
Raiders themselves called a time-out when there was just 1 second left on the powerplay, which seemed a little pointless but was perhaps for Cornish to keep them focused and making sure that a Stars team buoyed by the fantastic penalty kill didn’t nick a goal at the end. In fact Stars had the final chance of the game when Nick Oliver sent a pass across goal but it was just ahead of Darren Elliott who couldn’t connect and the game ended 2-2.
For me it was a fair result – either team could have won it but the netminding showcased at both ends was excellent and it was an even end to end game that was a real advert for hockey. Stars were much improved on the previous weekend and the defensive errors that plagued them appeared to have been drastically reduced. Wightlink were not the same side as the previous weekend, seeming a little lack-lustre, they were clearly missing Cesky more than perhaps they should have given the quality of the other players in the team.
MOTM went to Colclough in the Raiders net and to Dax Hedges for Oxford.
Oxford: Ealey-Newman 1+0, Edwards 1+0, Nick Oliver 0+1, Osman 0+1. Ranby 51 shots (96.1%)
Wightlink: Tribe 1+0, Lawday 1+0, Paynter 0+1, Baird 0+1, Watkins 0+1. Colclough 51 shots (96.1%)