Monday, 20 April 2015

Wightlink Raiders South 1 Play Off Champions - Report by NIHL South Editor Chris Randall

Wightlink Raiders celebrate their Play Off title win.
(Photo by Chris Cornford Photography)
The Nihl South 1 Playoffs had more twists and turns than an episode of Eastenders. A team determined to win the Playoffs was the Wightlink  Raiders who faced some adversity with the well published possible closure of their Isle of Wight rink . In a fitting finale the last weekend of the Nihl season saw the islands ice facility secured for the foreseeable future by Ryde Arena Trust  - a  community run company set up to take on the running of the rink.

The Wightlink Raiders saw off Bracknell Hornets  11-5 and London Raiders 20-9  at the Quarter and semi final stage . To set up an intriguing Final against League runners up and Cup Champions, the Invicta Dynamos. The Kent based outfit has a potent attack with the likes of Calum Fowler, Andy Smith and imports Juraj Huska and  Michael Oravec .

Most would have favoured the Dynamos over the two legs .however Wightlink won the home leg with a narrow 3-2 win.  A big crowd was on hand to hear the news of the rinks future and see a last home win. Head coach Jeremy Cornish admitted he wasn't overly confident of success given recent results in the Ice bowl over recent seasons.

It was a nightmare start as  Wightlink's  Star forward Alex Barker went to check a defence man , who ducked and Barker ended up injuring himself after just 38 seconds. To make matters worse  Dynamos Anthony Leone opened the scoring  for the home side at 3.36 . So tied on aggregate most thought the momentum would sit with the home side. However with team captain and local man defenceman Damon Larter playing his last  ever game before retirement the islanders were in determined fashion .

A spell of penalties to Dynamos with defenceman  Dewey and Import Oravec  both binned a 5 on 3 powerplay goal from Raiders Watkins got them back in front. Dynamos looked suspect at the back and Wightlink exploited this time and time again on the break . The Cesky, Tribe, Griffiths  line causing most of the Dynamos problems . Raiders took a rash of penalties as play became chippy. However the penalty kill was in good effect most of the game.

Raiders extended the lead as a 2 on 1 developed with Owen Grithiths score assisted by Ryan Webb. Invicta's  top Brit was increasingly getting frustrated by the tight checking of the Raiders . taking a succession of penalties as  frustration with no room and time  for his quick hands. The game plan seemed to be get Fowler of his game . Which Raiders agitator Corey Watkins was instrumental in succeeding at doing .

The shoe was on other foot when Dynamos finally scored a Powerlay goal as a Billy Phillips blast from the point got then back in the contest. A close first period ended all square 2-2 (4-5 agg) in favour of Wightlink. 

The second period and Raiders Tribe sat in the bin, but Wightlink’s Import Cesky had a shorthanded breakaway spinarama move saved by Dynamos net minder Lee.  With 10.41 left in 2nd period Mo's scored to tie it up on the night . Wigjtlink's Cesky like a man processed raced clear yet again to score from a right angle roofing the puck for 3-3 (5-6 agg) .

A bout of fisticuffs from Mo's Oravec and Raiders Hobbis (with the takedown)  saw  4 on 4 action. With just 46 seconds left on the period Wightlink's  defenceman  Carl Graham speculative dump on net was tipped by Webb to go 4-3 up .(7-5 agg lead) with just one period to go.

Wightlink Raiders owner Geoff Underwood with Chris Randall
(Photo by ...erm... Chris Randall...)
More drama was to unfold in the 3rd as Dynamos Oravec was racing down the wing  and was deemed to have been impended . A gutsy call by ref Paul Brooks saw a penalty shot awarded.  Oravec stepped up himself to take it, but Matty Colclough who put in a man of the match performance wasn't even forced into a save as the Slovak shot high and wide.  Then the dagger in the heart moment came as Stephen Balmer filling in for injured Barker scored from behind the net at 55.10 to further pile misery on the home side with the score at 4-5 to the islanders . Dynamos had a mountain to climb with very little time remaining. 

Timeouts followed as  Invicta Head coach Kevin Parish pulled net minder Lee with 2.20 left. A battle in neutral zone and the puck ended up in the empty net. Dynamos would score one last goal at the very end to trail 6-4. However Wightlink prevailed amid wild celebrations from the 150 strong away following to win 6-4 (9-6 agg ) and win the 2014/2015 Nihl South 1 Play off  Championship .

A great game that was slightly soured at the handshakes as Dynamos frustration got the better of them .  Wightlink Raiders Captain Damon Larter and head Coach Jeremy Cornish joy was obvious . After  being bridesmaids for far too many seasons than they both want to remember it was a great fitting end and  way to cap their season given  the uncertainties the club and rink faced this campaign  . 

Summer will be a sweet one down on the South Coast and the best news is that the Raiders will be back to defend their Play Off title next season!

Report by Chris Randall
Top photo by Chris Cornford Photography
Bottom Photo by Chris Randall