Photo credits: Nicky Craft (all)
So we finally kicked off the league season for Oxford City Stars. First up was a trip to the Isle of Wight where Stars faced last season’s playoff champions Wightlink Raiders and it certainly showed us the difference in standards in the leagues following last weekend’s thumping of NIHL2 Haringey Racers. Stars were solidly beaten 7-2 in a game that had action and controversy aplenty.
Like Stars, Raiders have seen quite a few changes this summer and welcomed 8 new faces to the team. Wightlink are generally accepted to be one of the teams in the league with a substantial budget and will be expected to challenge for the league title this season.
The first period started at a fairly breakneck pace with both sides testing each other and chances being made at both ends. A roughing penalty from Ben Ealey-Newman in the 8th minute gave Wightlink an early chance on the powerplay. Stars penalty kill was working well though and although there were chances for the home team they were not allowed to set up in Oxford’s end and put any real pressure on. Stars then had a chance to go on the attack themselves with a man advantage when Corey Watkins was given 2 minutes for charging, but this time it was Wightlink who showed how a good penalty kill should be done. Josh Florey did force a good save from netminder Matty Colclough in the dying seconds of the penalty with a great slapshot from the top of the circles but otherwise Raiders stopped them from creating any genuine chances.
The period continued with both sides creating chances but both keepers looking solid and turning everything away. That was until about 2 minutes to go when Raiders newcomer Alex Sampford found the back of Oxford’s net with a fantastic shot that flew past the shoulder of netminder Shannon Long. Just 9 seconds later Raiders doubled their lead when Danny Ingoldsby netted after combining with Jaroslav Cesky and Craig Tribe in a blink and you missed it move from the faceoff. Oxford continued to battle for the remainder of the period with Ealey Newman forcing a good save from Colclough after a lovely pass from Steve Osman but were unable to find the back of the net and the period ended 2-0.
In the second period, Raiders came out of the blocks flying while Stars seemed to be still reeling from the 2 goals late in the first. The opening shifts were dominated by the Raiders but they were unable to do more than force a tripping penalty from Darren Elliott which was killed off well again by the Stars. Shortly afterwards a defensive error on the Stars blue line saw them turn the puck over and let Watkins through. He made no mistake and made it 3-0.
Dax Hedges then said something he shouldn’t about the referee’s ability to call an offside accurately and was given a 10 minute personal misconduct for abuse of official leaving Stars to rejig the lines. Raiders looked that they had shifted up a gear and were putting a lot of pressure on the Oxford net, forcing several fine saves from their old team mate Shannon Long. Their fourth goal then came at around the halfway mark of the game after Long had made an initial save from Tribe but was unable to stop ingoldsby from slotting home the rebound. Stars were given a chance a second powerplay just afterwards when Long went for a puck at the side boards and Raiders’ Aaron Edwards forgot that goalies are not fair game regardless of where they are on the ice. The ensuing scuffle also saw Stars’ Elliott and Raiders Ben Paynter take conincidental roughing minors. Less than 30 seconds later Tribe was also given a hooking minor and Stars had a 2 man advantage. The powerplay looked very good with Stars testing Colclough several times, but the Raiders netminder seemed to have clingfilm across his net and Stars could not find a way through,
Stars seemed to pick up the pace and started to match Raiders break for break with a real end to end game entertaining the crowd. Andrew Magee came close with a shot that rebounded off Colclough’s head and dropped onto the line, but the whistle was blown for a headshot before anyone could just push it over. Just before the end of the period Raiders finally put the game out of Stars reach when crisp passing between Danny Rose and Nick Compton found player/coach Jeremy Cornish who matched the passing with an excellent shot to make it 5-0. They nearly made it six in the final minute of the period when another defensive error from Stars saw Ryan Webb on the breakaway – but Long was able to make a good stop to deny him. Long was then rather bizarrely given a 10 minute misconduct for illegal equipment (apparently for removing his helmet during the break in play). This was the final action of the second period and Stars players must have been wondering what they had to do to beat Colclough who had been superb in goal so far.
Oxford came out after the second break seemingly determined not to throw in the towel and finally made the breakthrough in the first minute. Ealey-Newman fired off a shot from a Josh Oliver pass to beat Colclough and find the back of the net – much to the relief of the Stars fans who were starting to think they would see the team shutout in their opening game. Stars seemed to be lifted by realising that Colclough was actually beatable and started to put further good pressure on the net. Josh Oliver also managed to beat the keeper but sadly not the goalpost and saw his shot deflect off the metalwork. The momentum was halted though when Hedges took a tripping penalty, putting Stars back on the penalty kill. Yet again the PK unit was pretty solid and apart from a couple of low percentage ones, Raiders were denied any solid chances to make it 6 and Stars actually came close to getting their second when a lovely pass from Magee found Osman in the slot but he was unable to find the target.
Oxford then had their own chance at a powerplay, including about 45 seconds with a 2-man advantage as first Tribe (holding) and then Watkins (tripping) were sent to the bin but Wightlink had clearly also been practising their PK as Stars were unable to make anything of the opportunity. Another Wightlink penalty was given with just over 8 minutes to go when Ben Paynter was caught hooking and Ealey-Newman was able to capitalise this time and scored a peach of a goal after excellent work from the whole line to get the puck into the zone, pass it around and then find Ealey-Newman in space. With less than 7 minutes remaining, Stars still had a mountain to climb in order to try and get anything from the game and it wasn’t helped when Joe Oliver was judged to have pulled down Cesky when he was clear through on net. If there is one person in this league that netminders probably don’t want to face on a penalty shot, it is probably Cesky – but Long did just that and was able to pull a fantastic save off to deny him.
The most controversial moment in the game came just seconds later. There was a crunching hit on the boards by a Raiders player and the ref immediately put his arm up. Long rushed to the bench thinking it was a delayed penalty. It appears the ref was actually signalling something else (we think delayed offside), or else he changed his mind as the arm came back down, play continued with the Oxford net left invitingly open for Sampford to score his second. Long then lost the plot and smashed his stick against the boards in anger. He was given a second misconduct which saw him thrown out of the game. Connor Ranby replaced him in net to finish off the last 5 minutes of the game.
Despite trying to get some stretching done in his net while play was down the other end, Ranby was not warmed up enough to prevent Tribe from sealing the victory after receiving a nice pass from Cesky. Ranby did go on to make some excellent saves as Raiders clearly didn’t want to stop there, but that was the end of the action and the game finished with a convincing 7-2 scoreline in Wightlink’s favour.
MOTM beers went to Ben Ealey-Newman for Stars and JOrdan Gregory for Raiders.
Stars need to work on their finishing and cut out the defensive errors if they want to be taking points from the league’s big teams like Wightlink. Having said that, they were not a million miles away either and the game was probably a little more even than the scoreline suggests. Wightlink absolutely deserved the win though – their finishing was clinical and Matty Colclough is probably one of the best netties in the league. I can certainly see them challenging for more trophies this season. I suspect they probably had a bit more in the tank as well and had the game been closer in the scoreline, they may have proved to have another gear.
Wightlink: Cornish 2+0, Sampford 2+0, Tribe 1+1, Watkins 1+1, Ingoldsby 1+0, Compton 0+3, Rose 0+2, Cesky 0+2, Baird 0+1. Colclough: 39 shots (94.9%)
Oxford: Ealey-Newman 2+0, OJosh Oliver 0+1, Cox, 0+1, Avery 0+1. Long 31 shots (80.7%). Ranby 7 shots (85.7%.