Banners On The Road; Wightlink Raiders vs Cardiff NIHL Devils 28/9/13

Wightlink Raiders 7-6 Cardiff NIHL Devils

Annis (sh)                 Balmer x 3 (1 pp)

Taylor                       Giacomo Raffaelli

Osman                     Brown

Compton                  Wood

Facey

Barker

Cornish

The game: There’s one thing that probably needs addressing off the bat; dear Wightlink Ferries, why are you charging £22 for a Raiders Flyer ticket when you can buy an evening flyer for £7.50 and Raiders adult match entry is £9?

Now the maths lesson is done, it was the usual fun experience of getting to the Isle of Wight and the usual fun pre-game cup of tea with Dave Logan, Raiders team secretary Heather Jepson and her daughter Becky before heading to the Ryde Arena for a game that, I confess left me undecided as to what to expect. I genuinely didn’t know what Cardiff would be like or whether they’d bring a full team as other teams haven’t done when I’ve been to the island, so instant points for the NIHL Devils.

The Raiders were at full strength but an injury to former Raiders goalie Mike Brabon saw the Devils start Luke Takel in net who was called into action almost immediately as the Raiders broke towards him off the faceoff but Takel stopped the first attack.

The game was a scrappy affair as the Raiders tried to get their systems going but the Devils used their speed and tenacity to stifle the hosts. The Wightlink powerplay also failed to fire as Joe Morris was sent to the box for boarding Richard Facey as the best chance fell to Adam Wood who sprinted in short handed but Colclough and the Raiders defence managed to scramble back and cover.

The Raiders however drew first blood but they had to go down to 4 men first as Facey was in the box for an innocuous hooking penalty. The Devils powerplay seemed to work as well as the Raiders’ had and Steve Osman raced into the Devils zone. Takel saved the initial shot but Osman picked up the rebound and fed the onrushing Kieran Annis who made it 1-0 at 12:05.

The Raiders had taken control and looked to play their usual physical brand of hockey, punctuated with a devastating centre ice hit on Giovanni Raffaelli but the Devils were still coming at Wightlink and closing off the passing lanes. It was frustrating the home team who took two quick penalties as first Matt Vizzari and then Dan Pye were sent to the box to give the Devils a 5 on 3 which they failed to capitalise on and Nick Compton took a late hooking call that was called by everyone in the rink with a resounding sigh. The first period drew to a close but the game was a lot closer than many expected it to be.

The Compton powerplay carried over into the second period and the Devils put the pressure on. The penalty expired and shortly after parity was returned to the scoreline as Steven Balmer cross the blueline and fired a laser into the top corner of the net over Colclough’s net at 20:57.

It got worse for the Raiders shortly afterwards; Dan Pye got tangled up with a Devils player along the boards and out of nowhere Pye started pummelling the Devils man who curled up in a ball in the hope the beating would stop. As Pye was being held back by the linesman, Joe Morris stepped in to have a few words that Pye didn’t appreciate so he punched him in the face as well. Somehow Pye only took a 5+game roughing penalty whilst Morris got a misconduct but it put the home team on a 5 minute penalty kill and the visitors took their chances well. It was reported that Pye reacted to a butt end from the Devils player but I’m not sure the reaction was proportionate.

30 seconds later Steven Balmer decided to try the same trick he had before but from slightly farther out and it worked as the puck sped past Colclough to make it 2-1. Steven Osman had a good shorthanded chance but the Devils got another on the board 4 minutes later. The Devils piled the pressure on and a shot from Giacomo Raffaelli trickled through Colclough towards the line. The Raiders netminder reached back and thought he’d swept it off the line but the goal judge put the light on and an official pointed to the goal so it was 3-1 Devils.

The Raiders looked all at sea; passes weren’t coming off, there seemed to be little direction so they decided to return to basics. They crashed the net. Nathan Taylor went to the front of the net and the puck squirted over the line but the pile of Devils and Raiders collapsed on top of Luke Takel in the Cardiff net. Sadly that was the end of the night for Takel, the Devils bench reporting a groin injury and he was replaced by 17 year old James Whiting at 31:31. Sadly it wasn’t long before he was picking the puck out of the net as 22 seconds later as some neat passing set up Steve Osman for a tap in at the back post to tie the scores.

However the Devils just wouldn’t take it lying down and were right back in front. Sadler fed Brown in the slot who fired past Colclough to score Cardiff’s 4th goal of the period and the second period ended with a deserved lead for the visiting team.

However it was the hosts who started the third period better and forced the Devils into taking quick penalties which gave the Raiders a 5 on 3. Just after the first penalty expired Damon Larter fed Nick Compton in the slot who shot and buried his own rebound at 42:59. The Raiders then took the lead a couple of minutes later as they again drove to the net as Richard Facey took the feed from Osman and potted the puck past Whiting to give Wightlink the lead back.

The Devils appeared to have run out of steam but the young netminder Whiting was keeping them in it making impressive stop after impressive stop. The Raiders did have a goal washed out at 53:07 as the whistle had already gone to give the home team a powerplay but it took Wightlink less than a minute to add to their lead. Alex Barker, having seen what Cardiff had done decided to try the “gain the zone and slam a shot up high” trick which worked to make it 6-4 and it appeared to be the nail in the coffin at 54:05.

Instead Cardiff were sprung to live and the game got really interesting; Balmer reckoned he could do what Barker had done better as he completed his hattrick by gaining the zone and beating Colclough under his arm at 55:39 to make it 6-5. Less than a minute later Niall Bound’s shot hit Whiting on the shoulder and looped over the young man’s head into the crease for Jeremy Cornish to tap home at 56:24 for 7-5. Then the Devils’ Adam Wood walked into the Raiders zone and let a Howitzer fly into the top of the net at 57:28 to make it 7-6 and the crowd was nervous as to what would happen next.

The Raiders took their timeout to try and kill the momentum but the Devils kept coming. Stephen Deacon was released on the 2 on 1 but could only hit the outside of the post and time ran out with Wightlink picking up the two points.

The Raiders: To say the Raiders made a meal of this would be something of an understatement. The offensive systems never really got going, there were more errant passes than fans at times and it just made for a scrappy game as the Devils just shut down the flowing and physical Raiders style of play for large swathes of the game. It was also an off night for Matt Colclough in the Raiders net who probably let in goals that when he was on his game he would have stopped. Matt is a keeper where normally if he sees the shot he will stop it so last night he will hopefully just file under “these nights happen” and not dwell on it.

Dan Pye’s reaction to a reported buttend was over the top. If you’re going to fight a guy because he’s done that to you, then fine, square up and fight the guy rather than put your team in a position where it faces 5 minutes short handed at a time when they’re clearly not firing on all cylinders. Many Raiders fans were shocked that he did it because Pye has at times been accused of being too placid on the ice but last night saw him go Incredible Hulk at the worst time.

That said there were some good performances and Yousif Abu Saada was a really well deserved man of the match. He was consistent throughout the night with good positioning and making a number of really good defensive plays. Whilst some quarters questioned the signing, on last night’s showing he is more than a suitable choice for coach Cornish.

The other obvious thing to say is that if you play badly but score 7 goals and win then it does speak to the quality of the side. Wightlink were rocked by a determined Cardiff side but they got off the canvas to outlast their visitors. The Raiders will need to play a lot better and Coach Cornish will want more production from import forward Matthew Vizzari but sometimes you take a few knocks. They don’t give extra points for pretty wins and Wightlink won, job done.

The Devils: I wouldn’t blame the Cardiff players for being upset at last night’s result as they were arguably the better side. They used the small ice better, broke down and frustrated the Raiders with a really smart game of road hockey.

Irish international Steven Balmer had a cracking night and rightly got the man of the match award for a superbly taken hattrick made up of 3 stunning goals. James Whiting also made a really excellent performance in relief of Luke Takel in nets and certainly looks one for the future. It was a composed performance from the 17 year old and I can’t help but wonder if a more permanent NIHL or even EPL role isn’t in the immediate future for the young man. Some may say he was lucky to face the Raiders on an off night but you can only stop the shots that come at you and Whiting was more than up to the task. We might need to keep an eye on this lad. The word from Devils’ assistant coach Dan Brabon was that Takel re-injured his groin on the play that saw him leave the game which was a shame as Takel was also playing well. I wish him a speedy recovery.

I will admit to being pleasantly surprised by the Devils who clearly realised they wouldn’t win a skill or physicality contest with their hosts set about winning in the catagories they knew they could win, namely speed and play disruption. The difference in quality however told as they arguably just emptied the tank too soon. However on another day there’s nothing to say this Devils team won’t cause havoc for the top sides in the league. Underestimate them at your peril.

Overall: It wasn’t a hockey classic for the ages in terms of the quality of play but it was an exciting game and the crowd certainly got its money’s worth of excitement. There’s things for both sides to work on from this game; the Raiders need to have a better plan B and get going quicker and Cardiff need to fine tune this road game that they play so they can last 60 minutes with it.

Looking back at this result at the end of the season will draw different reactions from bith sides. Cardiff will look very firmly at this as the one that got away; 4 goals in the second period and 3-1 and 4-3 up away from home to then lose and if this is the game that could have given them a better playoff draw then they will be frustrated. Wightlink will look at this as a lucky escape. A game they should have comfortably won but instead they were knocked off their game on their own ice and were made to work really hard by a team that they will have wanted to quickly put to the sword.

The Raiders have a big home game against Solent and Gosport which they hopefully shouldn’t need too much effort to gee themselves up for. The Devils are away to Chelmsford who hopefully have taken notice of tonight’s result. The season is still young and we’ll see how both teams push on from here.

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