Banners On The Road – Wightlink Raiders vs Chelmsford Chieftains 16/4/16

NIHL 1 South Playoff final 1st leg

Wightlink Raiders 5-3 Chelmsford Chieftains

Tribe……………………….G. Bartlett sh

Cesky x3 (pp, ps, sh)Lascenko

Compton pp……………..Hammond

The game: After their unusual 0-0 second leg to see off the Invicta Dynamos, the Raiders headed into the playoff final minus Damon Larter who missed out with a separated shoulder. Matt Colclough took his place between the pipes. Chelmsford were aided by the additions of Jake Sylvester and Brandon Ayliffe with Euan King taking his usual spot between the pipes for the league and double cup champions. Whilst the ice pad at Ryde was small, it was certainly an unusual site for a playoff final to be run as a two man system as Blaine Evans and Juraj Solovsjovs both donned the armbands for the game.

The game started off with both teams trying to establish a physical style as lots of hard hits flew in but there wasn’t much in the way of clear cut chances in either direction.

The league champions seemed to be content to let the hosts make most of the running as Chelmsford played played solid road hockey in the opening stretches, allowing the Raiders to make most of the running but immediately clogging the passing lanes to make taking the zone a chore and even when a Raiders player took the zone they were instantly pushed wide making any chance easy for King to deal with.

A boarding call to Julian Smith gave the Raiders the first powerplay of the night. It produced a number of chances including one from Nick Compton that hit the back of the net. Unfortunately, he literally hit the back of the net with the shot as the shot went wide and hit the netting which brought the crowd out then quickly back into their seat as the Chieftains escaped the powerplay unscathed.

The game was opening up a bit more in terms of its chances and the visitors got their own powerplay chance when Craig Tribe was called for boarding. Chances came both ways as Corey Watkins had an opportunity snuffed out and Danny Hammond had a couple of shots stopped by Colclough.

The teams continued to trade chances and penalties through the period, including a spell of 4 on 4 but neither netminder was in the mood to give an inch. As the period was drawing to a close Danny Hammond took a necessary penalty as he pulled back Ryan Webb. However with the period in its final throes, Nick Compton gave the puck away behind the net to Grant Bartlett who was playing high on the forecheck and he managed to stuff the puck past Colclough at 19:36 to give the visitors the 1-0 lead at the end of the first.

The Raiders needed an early response. Having looked a little lost in the first period, Craig Tribe helped start and then finish the move as Jeremy Cornish, in his final weekend as a player, floated a superb pass on net that Tribe tipped past King at 22:01 to tie the scores.

Tribe also drew a slashing penalty that sent the Raiders back to the powerplay and it was his pass that fed Jaroslav Cesky in the slot and the former EPL player of the year slammed his shot low past King at 24:46. Having spent 20 minutes scratching my head at him, Tribe was now 1+1 inside 5 minutes at the start of the second.

Chelmsford upped their offensive game at this point in an attempt to restore parity which was aided with a crosschecking goal to Ben Paynter. Billy Phillips and Ross Brears had the better chances but Colclough, with the help of a well placed Nick Compton stick lift, kept the league champs at bay.

When Paynter returned, he thought he had drawn a penalty as he was knocked to the ice but no call came from either official. Instead Sean Barry’s pass set Olegs Lascenko away who took the step over the blueline and smashed a shot through Colclough’s 5 hole at 29:49 to make it a 2-2 game.

Chances started to fall both ways as both sides were now playing even more open hockey. The edgy, cagey, defensive focus of the first period was now long gone. Rose, Grant Bartlett and Webb all went close and drew saves from the respective netminders with no give either way.

Jaroslav Cesky had been having an industrious night and decided that he saw a gap to charge up the middle of the ice. Where he’d been denied an iron clad penalty shot last week he was hauled down again this week but this time, and a long moment of thought, Mr Solovsjovs raised his arms over his head to signal for the penalty shot. Cesky started out slowly before picking up speed and racing in and firing under the arm of King at 35:50.

This once again provoked a response from the Chieftains who put some serious pressure on the Raiders net and forced a superb double save from Colclough before a hook from Alex Sampford sent the visitors to the powerplay and that allowed more chances as the powerplay was set to go over the period break.

Cesky suddenly found himself on the puck with the clock winding down and as he looked up he saw King standing far too centrally in his net to cover the angle. The Raiders’ forward hammered a shot at the empty space to King’s left and it found the back of the net with less than a second left in the period. It was however not a controversial goal; whilst the buzzer sounded and the period ended at that point, the puck was well in the net before the buzzer but not at a point where anyone could have stopped the clock before it wound down. It was a good goal and a vital goal as the home side held the two goal lead heading into the final frame.

The third period didn’t start well for the Raiders. Sampford returned but Tribe was shortly called for hooking and then Ryan Webb decided that kicking a stick away whilst it was on the floor was a good idea, giving the visitors a 5 on 3 for 30 seconds. Lukas Zatopek had some good chances as he was set up for a pair of blasts but neither found the twine.

There was a scary moment a massive centre ice hit saw Ben Paynter take a massive, legal hit, stagger to the bench, momentarily collapse before thankfully being OK.

A somewhat bizarre charging penalty to Nick Compton sent Chelmsford back to the powerplay with half of the final period to go. I say bizarre because it’s unusual to see a man called for charging when he’s standing still and his feet don’t leave the ice.

Whilst their offence hadn’t really been firing on all cylinders on the night, Chelmsford had won 3 trophies this season for a reason and showed it with their 3rd goal. A simply lovely set of passing saw the puck go from Cameron Bartlett to Lukas Zatopek to Danny Hammond who was foolishly left alone in the slot to slam a shot past Colclough at 51:32 to bring his side within one goal.

More penalties seemed to keep flying around as the Raiders got back to back powerplays. James Ayling was sent to the box for delay of the game but the hosts couldn’t find another way past King. It was the second penalty as Matthew Turner was called for interference when he got in the way of Corey Watkins that cost the visitors. It took just 6 seconds for the puck to come out of the faceoff and Jordan Gregory fed the puck into the wheelhouse of Nick Compton to blast home at 57:12 for 5-3.

The end of the game saw more tempers flare with both Bobby Streetly and Juraj Huska called for crosschecking but they had no impact on the result as the buzzer sounded on the last game for Jeremy Cornish at the Ryde Arena with a Wightink Raiders win.

The Raiders: It goes without saying that when you’re heading into a final against a team that has won every other trophy this season, the Raiders need to make the most of home ice against the Chieftains and get a win. I mentioned in last week’s report that Wightlink needed to take less penalties and find a way to try and try and impose their game on the Cheiftains to have a chance. The first they certainly did and they did enough of the second to grind out the win.

Matt Colclough got man of the match for a decent enough display but really feel that Jaroslav Cesky with his second period hattrick where he scored on the powerplay, with a penalty shot then shorthanded combined with his overall good team play across the 60 minutes was closer to the beers in my estimation.

The other person I think worthy of mention for the beers is Jordan Gregory. If the combination of Baird and Cooke led the defence last week for the Raiders, then it was Gregory this week who just has such good vision and positioning on that ice pad to not just stop the play but be able to turn things around and get them going the other way.

It was a very good team performance from the Raiders who played with a lot of guts and determination. When they were going forward, they were confident and tried to be multidimensional in their attack. When they were under pressure they did their best to be composed and if they couldn’t be composed then people were putting their bodies on the line to get in the way. Obviously that “never say die” attitude will help but a solid, composed and focussed defensive game is going to be key in the second leg. Chelmsford at times have been free scoring at home and the longer the Raiders keep the Chieftains off of the scoreboard and frustrate them, the better their chance of retaining their playoff title.

The Chieftains: This was not a vintage performance by the current treble winners. The first period saw them play really good road hockey and saw them manage to knick a goal but when they went behind, they needed to up their attacking game and it never really seemed to click at times. It seemed that having sat back for stretches and not gone for the all out attacking approach that when they needed to, it just didn’t get going at full speed. It also wasn’t helped by Euan King allowing 4 goals on 6 shots in the second period and finishing the night with a 79% save percentage on the night.

In spite of all that, the problem for Wightlink? It was really obvious watching Chelmsford play why they have been so dominant at this level and they can pull things out of their back pocket like that third goal from man of the match, Danny Hammond. The sheer depth of this Chelmsford roster at NIHL level is staggering and you can see the way that they try to use the space and view the ice is a level above. It’s easy for Wightlink to impose their game on teams at Ryde because it’s Ryde; the place is unique. Can they do that on a bigger ice surface at the Riverside against a team with that much speed and skill who know how to use it?

Whilst 2 goals is a deficit to claw back, it would be easy to say that it’s a lead that’s well within Chelmsford’s capabilities to claw back. Roll on tonight at the Riverside.

Overall: This was not the greatest game of hockey in terms of the quality of some of the passing or its officiating, both of which were somewhat confusing. However this was a massively entertaining game played by two sides playing the strategic puzzle that is playoff hockey. Strategies changed throughout the 60 minutes as the situation demanded and the game see-sawed back and forth. This was well worth the £9.50 entrance fee.

I do need to mention the man of the hour; Jeremy Cornish. There was no fairytale last goal at Ryde but the assist for Craig Tribe’s goal was right out of the playbook of his old friend, Doug Sheppard. I say it enough that Ryde is a unique place and Jeremy Cornish, a unique character within British hockey has made himself part of the furniture and folklore on the Isle of Wight and to see the reception he got from the fans last night was lovely to see. ProHockeyNews writer and Streatham defenceman Dave Carr said that Cornish has brought a professionalism to the NIHL and I can’t help but agree; it’s an amateur league but that attitude and approach of Cornish has benefited hockey at Ryde and the league in general. I won’t say Cornish deserves to leave hockey with the playoff title because such things are earned. I don’t think many of us would begrudge him it though.

All the best to the players and officials at both organisations tonight. May the best team win.


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