Banners On The Road – Wightlink Raiders vs Chelmsford Chieftains 18/12/11

Wightlink Raiders 5-4 Chelmsford Chieftains

Pollard                      Long x 2

Murray                      Brears

Larter                        A. Green

Rand

Hopkins

 

With the Bison devoid of EPL action till Boxing Day, I like other Bison fans were left wondering what to do with ourselves. With my wife plotting and scheming (she wrapped presents and baked surprise Lebkuchen) I made one of my favourite trips and hopped over to the Isle of Wight for a clash of ENL South 1 heavyweights. This would be my second visit to Ryde this season after my visit at the start of season when Streatham were the visitors. I didn’t write that up for the simple reason that Wightlink won 14-0 and the entire piece would have consisted of me repeating that it was arguably the worst game of organised hockey I’ve ever seen in this country.

 

The game: This game had a bit of everything both good and bad. I should mention at the start for those of you not in the know, the ice surface at Ryde is rather small and sadly that didn’t help the game. Chelmsford have a great deal of pace in their forwards and you could tell by watching that the Chieftains like to plan a good passing game which is utterly negated by the fact a regular length pass covers nearly the length of the ice. Wightlink are obviously more used to the small pad but struggled at times with ideas and seemed to bounce from being a real offensive threat to looking utterly lost as to what to do with themselves.

Both teams showed a lot of desire and heart and the occasional bit of skills but sadly at times both teams looked somewhat inept.

The officiating stood out for all the wrong reasons at times. The linesmen seemed utterly confused by the concept of the offside rule and the referee seemed to be playing Wheel of Penalties which put a real dampener on the first two periods but lightened in the third thankfully.

It was however a decent game to watch; the game ebbed and flowed with momentum shifting multiple times between both teams. There were 9 goals, some good saves from the netminders and cheesy chips. Works for me!

 

 

The Raiders: It’s been a bit of an up and down season for the Raiders so far and this game sort of encompassed all the good and bad of that only with a happy ending.

The hosts came racing out of the gate and the top line of Pollard, Facey and Rand piling all sorts of pressure on the Chieftains net which resulted in the first goal. Then after that the Raiders seemed to forget what they’d done for the first 5 minutes and let Chelmsford back into the game. A powerplay goal and a delayed penalty goal given away because they forgot what the game plan was and allowed themselves to be ill disciplined.

The second started much like the first had ended only this period the Raiders started slow then woke up. The confusion with the second goal was it’s been credited to Alex Murray but unless Alex Murray grew a few inches, got blonde hair and became Canadian then that was Jeremy Cornish who scored the goal. Either way the Raiders had clawed themselves back into it then slacked off for a minute or 3 and boom, 3-2 Chelmsford.

The third period was vastly better than the other two and was a real see-saw battle. Larter’s goal was an absolute belter of a goal and a real captain’s goal at a time you want your on ice leaders to step up and score the goal. A bad mistake by McAllister gave the Chieftains their 4th as he thought he had the puck covered but it wasn’t so but it was simple, basic hockey that won the night for the Raiders. Cornish’s powerplay strategy in the last 2 minutes was simple but effective; get the puck back to Dom Hopkins who has a demon of a shot and everyone screen the goalie. It worked, 2 points for the home team.

I think there are a lot of things Wightlink need to work on after that performance. Bar the final effort that yielded the game winner the powerplay was woeful at times and couldn’t seem to even gain the zone properly. Also the team needs to play for 60 minutes and not relinquish control to the opposition so easily.

That said there were a lot of positives as well. Despite allowing 4 goals Liam McAllister gave a good performance in net making a couple of very pretty desperation saves. The defence were solid for the most part and when all was going their way, the forward combinations looked well balanced and effective. The previously mentioned top line was very good but I was impressed with all three lines at times. The third line went out and did their grinding job well but also provided a bit of an attacking threat to go with it which has to be an asset at this level where teams can find themselves short benched.

I didn’t agree with the man of the match choice. Whilst Joe Rand showed flashes of brilliance he was quiet for most of the game. My choice would have been his line mate Richard Facey who put in a solid 60 minute performance, assisted on two goals and generally played a better game than most of the others on the ice.

 

The Chieftains: Firstly, Dwayne Newman. Love the guy, always will, still a pleasure to watch him play whatever the level.

Chelmsford fans will be disappointed to have come away empty handed from this game and it was one of those occasions when a draw wouldn’t have been unfair to either set of players. A Chieftains fan on THF said the better team lost and I’d disagree with that as I don’t think either side were head and shoulders above the other but there were some good things to take from this for Gary Clarke’s side.

How Chelmsford played mirrored Wightlink’s performance; when they were good, they were good. When they weren’t it was a bit painful to watch.

Tom Long’s first period goals were well taken if over-celebrated but his positioning was spot on for both efforts, appearing in the right place at the right time to laser a shot through traffic into the Wightlink net.

Whilst as above I said Chelmsford’s game suffererd from the small ice they did stick to their game plan. They’ve got three forward lines who have a lot of pace and creativity in there (the aforementioned Long and Gary Clarke being the tip of the iceberg) and it’s easy to see why they are doing so well in this league. It’s intelligent run and gun hockey; they dump and chase when it’s right to dump and chase but can switch to a more passing orientated mode of attack when required. Sadly neither team looked like passing aficionados last night but points are earned for intention if nothing else. They always kept going for the net and never tried to be overly fancy which is what will win them hockey games at ENL level.

I don’t think Ben Clements had his best night in goal and did look shaky, at times appearing to make a bit of a meal of what should have been run of the mill saves. As this is the first time I’ve seen Clements play I won’t be too harsh on him but I think he’ll be chalking up last night as a bad one at the office.

Clements wasn’t helped on a couple of the goals by his defence’s inability to clear the net but on the whole I don’t think they had a terrible game. Danny Hammond had a very good outing on the blueline if ultimately an unsuccessful one.

Ross Brears was a very good choice for man of the match. Brears must have covered every inch of the ice surface three times over and just seemed to have that extra spring in his step. Between Brears, Alan Green and Tom Long that’s a good solid core of very good players.

The two people who were surprisingly quiet were Jakob Klima and Coach Clarke himself. Klima was invisible most of the evening, not much else I can say. As for the coach, the effort was there but not really the execution which is a shame really as Clarke has always been one of those players that you had to keep an eye on because he could score from nothing. It seemed last night wasn’t his night.

 

Overall: On the whole that game (bar some weird officiating) was a very good advert for ENL hockey. At £8.50 the walkup price is a bit steep for ENL hockey but for myself coming over on the combination ferry-train-match ticket deal for £18 I got my money’s worth. The game provided a good amount of entertainment, was played with an edge, had some shining moments and 9 goals.

I think people who watch EIHL or EPL hockey on a regular basis would have bemoaned some of the errors made on both sides but when you watch a higher level of hockey than ENL on a regular basis you need to take the ENL at face value. The skill level isn’t there but the same if not more dedication and passion is there.

Chelmsford’s lead at the top of ENL 1 South is now down to 1 point over local rivals Romford whereas Wightlink, last season’s champions are looking for ways to drag themselves back into title contention. This was a big win for the Raiders in the context of the season so far and to come.

I’ll always encourage people to go to the Isle of Wight for games, it’s an experience in and of itself. Getting the ferry, walking down the pier or getting the train, the small and inordinately cold rink, the cheesy chips; it all makes for a good day out. It’s made even better when the hockey entertains as well.

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