The Lee Valley Lions looked to make up for a frustrating 8-4 loss on the road in Swindon the previous weekend as they welcomed the Basingstoke Buffalo to the Den. The Buffalo were sitting 11th in the standings coming into this game, having won just one game since November – and that was a 5-2 win over the Lions last month.
The Lions iced 13 skaters, with U18 forward Joe Miller making his home debut having made his first senior appearance in Swindon the weekend before. Brett Shepherd started in goal with Robyn Maby backing up. Lions captain Nick Alley was unable to play due to a knee injury, with James Andrew, Ben Duffy, Matthew Hepburn, Chris Fox, Arran Hartley, Tom Hurley and Ashley Earll also absent.
The Buffalo, wearing special jerseys in order to raise awareness for prostate cancer, brought 17 skaters including former Lee Valley favourite Blair Dubyk. Aaron Craft started in goal, with Kevin McGurk backing up.
1st Period: The home side started the first period well, with Simon Geldart going close early on. And they took the lead just over three minutes in as Matt Brown (3:05, assisted Ross Sin-Hidge) slotted the puck home for his ninth goal of the season after Craft in the Buffalo net could only parry a Ross Sin-Hidge effort. Lions defenceman Matt Jackson had started the move with a nice pass in his own zone. But this lead only lasted 38 seconds, Warren Jones (3:43, unassisted) capitalising on a Lee Valley giveaway to slot the equalising goal past Shepherd for 1-1.
And it would only take 33 seconds for the visitors to turn the game around and take the lead, with Basingstoke forward Cameron Buckle feeding the puck to fellow 18-year-old Samuel Brooks (4:16, assisted Josh Richards and Cameron Buckle) who finished past Shepherd on the breakaway to put Basingstoke 2-1 up and turn the tide in the game.
After this double blow, the Lions tried to regroup and get back into the game. But try as they might, they were unable to create too many concrete chances and, when they did, Craft was equal to them. The Lions were also unable to use a powerplay opportunity when Marcus Russell sat two minutes for tripping. And the Buffalo also had two more goals up their sleeve towards the end of the period to put themselves further ahead in the game. Firstly Warren Jones (15:17, unassisted) took advantage of another Lions giveaway, taking a shot that was deflected past Shepherd for his second goal of the game. And just two minutes later, Buckle (17:05, assisted Brooks and Gregory Martyn) slotted home coolly after a smart feed from Brooks as the Lions once again failed to deal with the speed and trickery of the young forward duo.
The period finished with the Buffalo 4-1 up and leading the shots 13-10, while the Lions defence looked all at sea.
2nd Period: The Buffalo swapped goaltenders at the beginning of the second period, with veteran Kevin McGurk replacing Craft between the pipes. The period started off quietly, with the Lions trying to find their way into the game and the Buffalo trying not to make any mistakes that would put their three goal lead in jeopardy. The Lions had another powerplay at the 27 minute mark as Matthew Levy sat two minutes for interference after a hard hit on Oliver Glover but, despite the efforts of Lee Valley forward Matt Brown, the powerplay was not able to fire and the home side remained three goals behind.
Just as the Lions were starting to get into the game and gather some momentum, the Buffalo struck with the first goal of the period to go 5-1 up, as 16-year-old forward Oscar Evans (31:06, assisted Buckle and Daniel Lackey) roofed the puck over Shepherd from a tight angle. A few minutes later, the Lions had another powerplay, with Brown again looking dangerous but still unable to find a goal. However with just 29 seconds left in the period, Brown (39:31, assisted Sin-Hidge) was finally able to get his second goal of the evening with a sweet finish on the breakaway after Sin-Hidge had set him on his way with a nice pass. It was Brown’s 10th goal of the campaign as he reached double figure goals in his first season for Lee Valley. This cut the deficit to 2-5, and it would stay this way until the end of the period – a period in which the Lions outshot their visitors 17-15.
3rd Period: That late goal at the end of the second period seemed to give the Lions renewed hope for the final frame, with the hosts coming out more aggressively in the third and looking to grab some further goals. And three minutes into the period they were able to do just that, as Sin-Hidge (43:41, assisted Joe Miller) cut the Buffalo lead to 3-5 with his seventh goal of the season. All the hard work in the build-up to the goal was done by 16-year-old Miller, as he battled hard for the puck in the corner and then fed a lovely pass to Sin-Hidge who buried it effectively past McGurk. The Lions kept up the pressure after this goal, however it would be the Buffalo who struck next to extend their lead to 6-3, Evans (47:43, assisted Brooks and Martyn) getting his second of the night after more impressive build-up play from Brooks.
The Lions still did not let their heads drop and threw everything they had at the Buffalo as they tried to get back into the game. And, when they got another powerplay opportunity as Josh Richards sat for tripping, they were finally able to score a goal with the man advantage as Ben Gillingham (51:12, assisted Oliver Glover and Daniel Tamasauskas) scored his third goal of the season after nice interplay with Glover and Tamasauskas. Sadly for the Lions, this lead would not last too long, as Gregory Martyn (53:36, assisted Brooks and Sam Dollin) finished off a nice Buffalo move to increase their lead to 7-4. The last few minutes of the game saw the Lions try everything they could to draw level in the game, but they were unable to score any further goals and the final buzzer sounded with the Buffalo running out 7-4 winners.
It was another frustrating evening for the Lions, who tied the second period 1-1 and the third period 2-2, but lost the game due to the poor first period in which they shipped four goals due to some inattentive play. One bright spot for the Lions in this game was the impressive performance of Joe Miller, who was rewarded with the Man of the Match award in only his second senior game. Samuel Brooks took home the award for the Buffalo.
Final Score: Lee Valley Lions 4-7 Basingstoke Buffalo
Period Scores: 1-4/1-1/2-2
Shots: Lee Valley 39-42 Basingstoke (10-13/17-15/12-14)
Penalty Minutes: Lee Valley 2-12 Basingstoke
Scorers: Lee Valley – Ross Sin-Hidge 1+2, Matt Brown 2+0, Ben Gillingham 1+0, Joe Miller 0+1, Daniel Tamasauskas 0+1, Oliver Glover 0+1
Basingstoke – Samuel Brooks 1+3, Cameron Buckle 1+2, Gregory Martyn 1+2, Warren Jones 2+0, Oscar Evans 2+0, Daniel Lackey 0+1, Josh Richards 0+1, Sam Dollin 0+1
Goaltenders: Lee Valley – Brett Shepherd (60:00 played, 42 shots/7 goals against)
Basingstoke – Aaron Craft (20:00 played, 10 shots/1 goal against), Kevin McGurk (40:00 played, 29 shots/3 goals against)
Man of the Match – Joe Miller (Lee Valley), Samuel Brooks (Basingstoke)
With the previously postponed game against Peterborough having now been awarded 0-0, all of the Lions’ focus will now turn to the season-ending home double header on Saturday 7th and Sunday 8th of April, with Swindon and Invicta visiting the Den on back-to-back days. Face-off for both games will be 5:30pm.