This was only the second sledge hockey game I’d seen live, and the first time I’d been to Silverblades in Altrincham. This was the fifth game of the 2014 Planet Ice Sledge Hockey League season, and based on historical encounters between the two teams, Peterborough were the favourite to win.
However, some pretty serious scheduling issues meant that the Phantoms travelled up from Peterborough with only 5 players. Considering that there should be 6 of them on the ice at any one time, it was a little concerning. Two last-minute stand-ins, in the form of retired-player Matt Lloyd and Barry Sprakes (who had never played sledge hockey before) from the Widnes Wild, meant that the game could go ahead.
When Peterborough received their first (and only) penalty of the game less than a minute into the game, it gave Manchester a power play opportunity that team captain Karl Nicholson put to good use. That wasn’t the last goal he would score in this game. Not by a long-shot (please excuse the pun). With Lloyd in goal, the usual netminder for Peterborough, Rob Gaze, was playing outfield for the first period. But both of them could only watch as two more goals went in for Manchester; another for Nicholson, and one for Anthony Booth (which, of course, Nicholson assisted on). But Peterborough weren’t going down without a fight and just after Manchester’s third goal, Peterborough’s Matt Coleman pulled one back for the team, much to the delight of the travelling Peterborough supporters. The end of the first period ended 3-1 Manchester.
The length of his retirement was starting to show, as Lloyd came off at the end of the first having some pain in his shoulder. Gaze picked up his usual kit and headed back into goal for the second period. By now, with only 6 players remaining dressed for the team, it meant that there were no more substitutions for the Phantoms. Every player would be on the ice for every minute of the game.
They still fought back though, causing Gaze to have to make some pretty impressive saves, piling on the pressure, ignoring the obvious exhaustion they must have been feeling. Despite their efforts though, Nicholson managed to get the puck into the back of the net twice in the second period, taking the score to 5-1.
The third period was much the same, with Manchester not giving an inch, and Peterborough fighting to try and keep some control. But even despite his brief stint in the penalty box, nothing was slowing Manchester’s captain down. Another two goals for Nicholson, taking his tally to 6, and it seemed like that would be it. However, through the fatigue, relative newcomer to the Phantoms, Jon Le Galloudec, managed to get the puck past Manchester’s netminder, Steven Midghall, with around three minutes left on the clock. It was his first ever League goal and gave Peterborough a final burst of energy to see them through to the end.
The final score was 7-2, with the Planet Ice MVP beanie going to Nicholson for his double hat trick, although I’m pretty sure that the Most Valuable Players were Matt Lloyd and Barry Sprakes for jumping in at the last minute to allow the game to go ahead!
On a personal note, it was the first time I’d seen Peterborough play, and I knew going into it that they were short of a few of their top players, but they played really well. For those guys to play two full periods with only a brief intermission in between was one of the more impressive things I’ve ever seen in this sport. True meaning of teamwork and dedication right there on the ice. Also, I’m pretty sure that if Manchester wanted to, they could field just Nicholson and they’d still manage a win. Shout outs to Rob Allen and Graham Wilson for Manchester, for each getting 3 assists in the game. And special thanks to Graham for advice that helped me actually get to the game on time – stupid public transport in Manchester!
The next two games are head-to-heads between Cardiff and Manchester. The first leg is in Cardiff on 5th July, with the return game in Manchester on 12th July.