I was really looking forward to this game. It was the first time I’d had a chance to see Cardiff play (theirs are the only home games that are too far for me to travel to) and after the last time these two teams got together (only last weekend), it was promising to be a good game.
A little background: Cardiff Devils have been around for years – as the Cardiff Huskies they are, I believe, the most long-established sledge hockey team in the UK.
However, they only recently joined the BSHA Planet Ice League, and last year were in division two. Coming into the top division this year, they were probably considered the underdogs and their first two games of the season saw them losing 8-0 and then 14-0. However, with the kind of true grit and determination that is only found in hockey, they refused to give up.
Last weekend saw them at home against Manchester Phoenix. In a result that I’m not sure anyone expected (including the Cardiff players themselves), they came away with a resounding win of 5-2! If that doesn’t show what good training and dedication can do for a team in just a few months, I don’t know what does.
So yesterday’s game was the return leg of this head-to-head, this time with Manchester having the home advantage. Having spoken to some of the Manchester players beforehand, I knew they weren’t willing to give this one up easily, but on the other hand, Cardiff were still flying high from their fantastic game the week before. Neither team was going to go down without a fight, and that was evident from the very beginning.
Both teams played especially hard in the first period, with both netminders – Han O’Connor for Cardiff and Steve Midghall for Manchester – being put to work early and often. Manchester’s Anthony Booth had some extremely good chances during the period, but O’Connor refused to let him through, and by the end of the first, the score was 0-0.
Into the second, and no sooner had I tweeted “Who’s going to be the first to score?” than Booth finally found a way past O’Connor and got Manchester on the scoreboard. The second period was largely dominated by big hits, and a couple of patented Karl Nicholson breakaways, although neither of them made it into the back of the net. Although at one point, Cardiff’s Tim James made it into the net. Not the puck. Just him. Oops.
And then, with just one single second remaining on the clock, Cardiff’s captain, Russell Willey managed to sneak the puck past Midghall where it just barely crossed the line. Cardiff were ecstatic, Manchester not so much.
But that didn’t matter, because it took just 10 more seconds (and an intermission break!) for Nicholson to give Manchester the lead again. Which they held onto for about 5 minutes, until Cardiff’s Paul Furber swept the puck neatly into the top corner of Manchester’s net, and we were back at a tie on 2-2.
I was honestly starting to think we might get our first tie game of the season, as both teams were so evenly matched on the ice. But when Cardiff received two penalties in quick succession, they allowed Manchester more than a minute of 5-on-3 power play time. Their PK team worked hard, with O’Connor holding them at bay for as long as she could, and they killed off the first penalty. But a beautiful shot from Manchester’s Rob Allen found the back of the net, giving him his first goal of the season, and giving Manchester the lead with less than 6 minutes remaining on the clock.
As hard as they tried – and they really tried hard – Cardiff couldn’t pull it back and the final score was 3-2 to Manchester (of course, if you aggregate the scores from the two games, Cardiff won 7-5!).
MVP of the game was Anthony Booth who totally deserved it for his goal, although the other standout player in my opinion was Steve Thomas from Cardiff. Brilliant in the defensive zone overall, he has fantastic puck handling skills as well. Also, I had a complaint from a photographer friend that Nicholson was too fast on the ice and we needed to slow him down!
Next Saturday’s game is Kingston Kestrels vs Peterborough Phantoms. Due to Hull Arena closing for a couple of weeks, the game has been relocated to Ice Sheffield, albeit at the much later time of 21:30. I’m pleased as it’s easier for me to get to than Hull, but I know it’s going to be tough for Kingston, as they officially have the home advantage, but they won’t have their usual supporters around them. If you’re free on Saturday evening, please come along to the game.