The Lee Valley Lions welcomed reigning league champions, the Oxford City Stars, to the Den on Sunday evening. Oxford were lying second in the league while the Lions were still searching for their first win of the season, so it was sure to be a tough task for the home side.
It was not made any easier by the fact that a number of Lions players were unavailable for the fixture, leaving the home side with just 11 skaters as well as netminders James Andrew and Steve Grout, the latter returning after a few weeks out injured. Oxford brought 17 skaters as well as starting netminder Mark Duffy and backup John Dibble.
First Period – Oxford started the game extremely well, scoring five goals within the first eleven minutes of the game as they showed what a skilled team they are. Matthew Lawday, Michal Oravec, Tom Davis, Darren Elliott and Josh Oliver all got on the scoresheet for the visitors within the first 10:55 of the game, and it looked like the scoreline could get very high indeed. This is not to say that the Lions didn’t have chances – Joe Berry in particular was lively and created a few scoring opportunities for the home side, as did Richard Hodge and Gus Zimmerman, but the puck didn’t want to go into the net for Lee Valley in the early stages.
Credit to the Lions who knuckled down after conceding those five goals, tightening up at the back and not conceding again in the remainder of the first period. Zimmerman in particular was impressive on the blueline – he had played as a forward in his previous two games in a Lions jersey, so showed his versatility in this game by helping out at the back with a number of defencemen not able to play. The Lions also finished the period off well, as they scored their first goal of the game through Berry (18:33, assisted Richard Hodge) to make the score 5-1 in favour of Oxford going into the first intermission.
Second Period – The Lions’ hopes were further dashed at the start of the second period when Oliver Glover was unable to continue in the game, so the home side were down to ten skaters for the remainder of the contest. However, the Lions were again solid at the start of the middle period, holding off Oxford’s forwards and creating some chances of their own with Michael Jacobs, Czech forward Tom Hnilica and the aforementioned Gus Zimmerman – now playing as a forward – all coming close to further reducing the deficit.
Oxford did manage to score another goal in the 28th minute of the game to make it 6-1, with Jake Florey (27:26, assisted Josh Oliver) grabbing the goal, but the Lions will have been happy with the 17 minute gap between Oxford’s fifth and sixth goals. The home side would have been even happier just a minute and a half later as Hnilica (28:52, assisted James Joseph and Berry) raced through on a breakaway and finished past Duffy with a slick backhander to reduce the deficit to 6-2.
As the period went on, the ten men of the home side did start to tire; and the champions took full advantage as they scored three more goals through Lee Richardson and two from Joe Edwards; this meant that the score was 9-2 in favour of the visitors heading into the second break.
Third Period – The Lions’ aim for the third period would have been to stick to their systems and not give up a deluge of final period goals as they had done in the recent games against Haringey and Bracknell; this aim looked in danger just four minutes into the period as Oxford scored twice to make the score 11-2, Lawday (42:25, assisted Edwards and Dominic Hopkins) and then Oravec (43:30, assisted Elliott and Josh Oliver) doing the damage.
The Lions switched netminders at this point with Steve Grout replacing James Andrew, and this seemed to give the Lions the lift they needed to see out the rest of the game without conceding too many more goals. Although the visitors did make it 12-2 through a hat-trick goal from Lawday (46:07, assisted Hopkins and Davis), the home side then went the next twelve minutes without conceding again, as they kept their heads up and continued to work hard despite tired legs all around.
The home side scored their third goal of the game too as Berry (53:50, assisted Joseph and Jake Wadge) bagged his second goal of the game and got the score back to 12-3. And while Oxford finished off the scoring with just a few minutes left as Harry Harrison (58:52, assisted Elliott) scored a short-handed goal – following a 5+game penalty against Oxford forward Michal Oravec for high-sticking – the Lions would have been somewhat content with the 13-3 final score considering it was against probably the toughest opponent they had faced this season to date.
After only scoring one goal in two games the previous weekend, the Lions managed to score three goals in this game against the champions; while the defence looked more solid and composed in this game compared to the last few, despite being low on numbers. Man of the Match for the Lions was the versatile Gus Zimmerman who impressed both as a defenceman and as a forward, while Joe Edwards took home the same award for the visitors.
Final Score: Lee Valley Lions 3-13 Oxford City Stars
Period Scores: 1-5/1-4/1-4
Shots: Lee Valley 22-69 Oxford (8-21/5-29/7-19)
Penalty Minutes: Lee Valley 4-31 Oxford
Scorers: Lee Valley – Joe Berry 2+1, James Joseph 0+2, Tom Hnilica 1+0, Jake Wadge 0+1, Richard Hodge 0+1
Oxford – Matthew Lawday 3+2, Joe Edwards 2+2, Michal Oravec 2+2, Josh Oliver 1+3, Darren Elliott 1+3, Jake Florey 1+1, Tom Davis 1+1, Lee Richardson 1+1, Harry Harrison 1+1, Dominic Hopkins 0+2, Josh Florey 0+1, Macaulay Coppock 0+1, Conor Redmond 0+1, Alexander Staples 0+1
Goaltenders: Lee Valley – James Andrew (43:30 played, 53 shots/11 goals against); Steve Grout (16:30 played, 16 shots/2 goals against)
Oxford – Mark Duffy (60:00 played, 22 shots/3 goals against)
Man of the Match – Gus Zimmerman (Lee Valley), Joe Edwards (Oxford)
The Lee Valley Lions are next in action at home on Saturday 1st December against the Bristol Pitbulls. Faceoff at Lee Valley Ice Centre will be at 17:30.