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!