After a weekend off, the Lee Valley Lions returned to action on Saturday as they travelled to Swindon to take on the NIHL2 Wildcats. It was to be a battle between the bottom two sides in the league, with Swindon sitting 13th and the Lions 14th coming into the game.
The Lions welcomed back Ashley West, Ross Sin-Hidge, Oliver Glover and Brett Shepherd, all of whom missed the previous game in Chelmsford. There was also a senior debut for Lee Valley U18 captain Joe Miller. Missing from the line-up were Ben Duffy, Chris Fox, Arran Hartley, Robyn Maby, Tom Hurley and Ashley Earll. This gave the Lions 15 skaters plus netminders Shepherd – who started in net – and James Andrew. Swindon iced a full roster of 20 skaters plus netminders Michael Crisp and Liam McGuire.
1st Period: The first period started off fairly evenly, with both sides creating a couple of early chances. It was the visiting Lions who took the lead in the seventh minute, Matt Brown (6:53, assisted Ben Gillingham) opening the scoring as he shot past Crisp in the Wildcats net. It took the home side less than a minute to respond however, Eliot Randall (7:48, assisted Callum Stockley-Phillips) equalising as he fired past Shepherd.
As the opening frame wore on, Swindon created more and more chances – they ended up outshooting the Lions 17-7 in the period – and they made one of those extra chances count in the 13th minute as Polish forward Adrian Dusznik (12:50, unassisted) gave the hosts the lead for the first time in the game. The first period would end with no further scoring, although Lions forward Simon Geldart was penalised for roughing with 16 seconds left in the period – meaning the visitors would start period two on the penalty kill.
2nd Period: The second period started off with a bang for the Lions – Matthew Hepburn (20:43, unassisted) chased the puck down brilliantly on the penalty kill before scoring a short-handed goal past Crisp to tie the scores at two apiece. And things got better for the Lions five minutes later as Geldart (25:47, unassisted) atoned for his earlier penalty with the go-ahead goal putting the visitors 3-2 up. At this point, the away side were playing well and looking like they could maybe take that long-awaited first win of the season.
Unfortunately the Lions would then suffer a mad seven minutes and five seconds in which they conceded five goals and allowed the momentum to totally swing back in Swindon’s favour. Captain Loris Taylor (26:57, assisted Christopher Leykam) started the ball rolling with the equalising goal for 3-3, before two goals within 14 seconds of each other saw the Wildcats go 5-3 up. First Harvey Robson (30:10, assisted Leykam and Adam Coakley) scored on the powerplay with Oliver Glover in the box for hooking, and then Jake Williams (30:24, assisted Ethan Easton and Corey Herbert) followed it up with Swindon’s fifth goal of the night.
The Wildcats weren’t done there, and just 52 seconds later they went 6-3 up as Reed Sayers (31:16, unassisted) bagged an unassisted goal. At this point, the Lions swapped goaltenders with James Andrew coming into net in relief of Shepherd. However this move could not prevent Swindon adding their seventh goal of the night just a few minutes later, Dusznik (34:02, assisted Sayers) scoring his second of the game and putting the hosts 7-3 ahead. There was no more scoring in the period, with the Wildcats winning the middle frame 5-2 having outshot the Lions 22-12.
3rd Period: For the third period, the Wildcats swapped goalies too with Liam McGuire coming into net in place of Michael Crisp. It was a fairly quiet start to the period, with Swindon using their much longer bench to run down the clock and conserve energy, while the five goal burst in the second period had taken the wind out of Lee Valley’s sails. The Lions’ cause also wasn’t helped by captain Nick Alley injuring his knee in a collision with the boards, and then further aggravating it with a hit. Alley left the game with ten minutes remaining and did not return.
The home side extended their lead in the 56th minute with their last goal of the night, Taylor (55:14, assisted Robson) making it 8-3 as he put the puck past James Andrew. However there was still time for the Lions to get a consolation goal, tying the third period at 1 goal apiece. The forward line of Ben Gillingham, Simon Geldart and Matthew Hepburn had worked hard all night, and they were rewarded for their efforts as Gillingham (58:11, assisted Hepburn) scored with just under two minutes to go in the game to make it 8-4.
As the final buzzer sounded, the Lions could once again look back on a game in which they were the better side for large portions, but a few moments of madness had cost them a win that they would have deserved. The Man of the Match award for the visitors went to defenceman Matthew Hamilton. The Lions will hope for a better result this Sunday when the Basingstoke Buffalo, currently 11th in the league standings, visit the Den.
Final Score: Swindon NIHL2 Wildcats 8-4 Lee Valley Lions
Period Scores: 2-1/5-2/1-1
Shots: Swindon NIHL2 Wildcats 50-33 Lee Valley Lions (17-7/22-12/11-14)
Penalty Minutes: Swindon NIHL2 Wildcats 8-8 Lee Valley Lions
Scorers: Swindon – Adrian Dusznik 2+0, Loris Taylor 2+0, Harvey Robson 1+1, Reed Sayers 1+1, Christopher Leykam 0+2, Eliot Randall 1+0, Jake Williams 1+0, Adam Coakley 0+1, Callum Stockley-Phillips 0+1, Ethan Easton 0+1, Corey Herbert 0+1
Lee Valley – Matthew Hepburn 1+1, Ben Gillingham 1+1, Matt Brown 1+0, Simon Geldart 1+0
Goaltenders: Swindon – Michael Crisp (40:00 played, 19 shots/3 goals against), Liam McGuire (20:00 played, 14 shots/1 goal against)
Lee Valley – Brett Shepherd (31:16 played, 33 shots/6 goals against), James Andrew (28:44 played, 17 shots/2 goals against)
Man of the Match – Matthew Hamilton (Lee Valley)