After seven weeks away from home, the Lee Valley Lions finally returned to the Den for their first home game of 2018. The visitors were the Slough Jets, who beat the Lions 8-3 in Berkshire earlier in the season.
The Lions were only missing Ben Duffy, Robyn Maby, Jordan Turner and Michael Crosse, giving them a strong bench of 17 skaters as well as netminders Brett Shepherd – who got the start – and James Andrew. Former Slough forward Ashley West made his Lions home debut while Tom Hurley made his comeback from injury. Slough brought 16 skaters to the Den including former Lions defenceman Stuart Spence. Veteran netminder Chris Douglas was between the pipes, backed up by Matthew Lowden.
1st Period: The Lions started the first period off with a bang. They spent most of the first few minutes camped in the Jets’ zone, creating several chances – all of which were stopped by Douglas. After a hooking penalty against Jack Standing, the Lions went on the powerplay. They almost went behind, however, as Slough player-coach Lukas Smital stole the puck and countered quickly; but Lions netminder Shepherd was alert to the danger and stopped his shot on the breakaway to keep the scores level.
The Lions managed to get the first breakthrough in the sixth minute of the game, 18-year-old defenceman Daniel Tamasauskas (5:42, assisted Chris Fox) scoring his first senior goal as he collected the puck after a Chris Fox faceoff win and fired a well-placed shot past Douglas. The rest of the period saw both sides creating numerous chances, but 38-year-old Douglas and 17-year-old Shepherd both stopped everything that came their way. The first period ended with the Jets on the powerplay as Lions captain Nick Alley sat two minutes for tripping, but they were unable to convert and the Lions took a deserved 1-0 lead into the first break, having played one of their best periods of hockey this season to date.
2nd Period: The start of the second period was delayed due to some ice issues, and when it finally got underway the Lions still had 52 seconds of Alley’s penalty to kill – which they did successfully. As the period wore on, both sides created more chances but a combination of good goaltending, and lack of composure in front of net, meant the score remained at 1-0 until the 28th minute. At this point, the Jets finally grabbed an equaliser after several minutes of pressure as Harry Harcup (27:21, assisted Lukas Smital and Liam Underdown) found himself all alone in front of the Lions net, and finished calmly after a pass from Smital.
The Jets then went ahead for the first time in the game just one minute 45 seconds later, a speculative effort from Harry Wright (29:06, unassisted) taking Lions netminder Shepherd by surprise and finding a way through the 17-year-old and into the net. The Lions did not let their heads drop after this quickfire double, however, as they continued to put pressure on Douglas in the Jets net, and actually thought they had scored just before the end of the period, but the puck was adjudged not to have crossed the line. The second period ended with the Jets 2-1 up, but the Lions still very much in the game having led the shot count 16-14. There was also some drama at the end of the period as Lions forward Matthew Hepburn received two minutes for roughing, and Jets’ Timo Lindgren received two minutes for charging, both on the final buzzer.
3rd Period: The Lions started the third period in the perfect manner: captain Nick Alley (40:24, assisted Matthew Hamilton) buried past Douglas just 24 seconds into the period after a lovely stretch pass by blueliner Hamilton had set him free. This made the score 2-2 with almost a full period to play. And the next 20 minutes would be as tense as the 40 that had come before; both sides continued to create chances, but poor finishing and strong goaltending combined to keep the score tied.
The Lions had their hearts in their mouths midway through the period as Smital received the puck after a long pass and fired past Shepherd; however he was rightly ruled to have been offside and the goal was waved off. The home side also had two powerplay chances that they were unable to capitalise on, and as the buzzer sounded to signal the end of 60 minutes of play, the sides were locked at two goals apiece with the game heading to overtime.
Overtime: For the third time this season, the Lions headed into overtime having secured one point and looking to take home the other. Early in the overtime period, Lions defenceman Matthew Hamilton was called for tripping, putting the away side on a 4-on-3 powerplay. And they used this to perfection, Luke Reynolds (61:08, assisted Smital and Underdown) burying the puck past Shepherd after a patient feed from Smital, giving the Jets a 3-2 win on the night.
So for the third time in the season, the Lions had lost in overtime as they still await their first victory. However this game really could have gone either way and was perhaps the Lions’ best performance of the season. Daniel Tamasauskas deservedly took home the Man of the Match award after an accomplished performance – as well as scoring his first senior goal, he made good defensive plays all night – while Slough youngster Harry Wright took home the award for his side.
Final Score: Lee Valley Lions 2-3 Slough Jets (OT)
Period Scores: 1-0/0-2/1-0/0-1
Shots: Lee Valley Lions 46-41 Slough Jets (15-14/16-14/15-11/0-2)
Penalty Minutes: Lee Valley Lions 8-14 Slough Jets
Scorers: Lee Valley – Daniel Tamasauskas (1+0), Nick Alley (1+0), Chris Fox (0+1), Matthew Hamilton (0+1)
Slough – Liam Underdown (0+2), Lukas Smital (0+2), Harry Harcup (1+0), Harry Wright (1+0), Luke Reynolds (1+0)
Goaltenders: Lee Valley – Brett Shepherd (61:08 played, 46 shots/3 goals against)
Slough – Chris Douglas (61:08 played, 41 shots/2 goals against)
Man of the Match – Daniel Tamasauskas (Lee Valley), Harry Wright (Slough)
The Lee Valley Lions are next in action away to the Bristol Pitbulls (in Oxford) on Saturday the 3rd of February. Face-off is at 5pm.