The Lee Valley Lions took on the Bristol Pitbulls on Saturday, with the home side still looking for their first points of the season.
The Lions once again had a multitude of players missing, leaving the home side with just 11 skaters as well as netminders James Andrew and Steve Grout. The hosts did hand a debut to 17-year-old Conner Smith, the former Streatham junior making his first appearance in senior hockey. Bristol brought 17 skaters as well as starting netminder Andrew Leckie and backup Ross Miller.
First Period – The opening period was not a good one for the Lions, as they started off slowly and gifted the Pitbulls a few early goals. Olly Shone (3:02, assisted Richard Hargreaves and Adrian Smith) opened the scoring just over three minutes in, and Giacomo Raffaelli (4:30, unassisted) doubled the visitors’ advantage just a minute and a half later. And it was to be 3-0 in favour of the Pitbulls in the ninth minute too, as Steve Osman (8:23, assisted A. Smith and Sam Shone) buried the puck past James Andrew in the Lions net – this despite the Lions creating two great chances just moments earlier, both coming through Joe Berry.
There were to be two further Pitbulls goals in the period too, as the scoreline started to get away from the home side; Grant Richardson (12:28, assisted David Manning and R. Hargreaves) made it 4-0 on the powerplay with Lions defenceman Jake Wadge in the box for hooking, before A. Smith (18:47, assisted O. Shone) completed the scoring for the period, making it 5-0 going into the first break. The Lions managed 13 shots in the first period, but scored on none of them whereas the Pitbulls converted five of the 23 that they attempted.
Second Period – Whatever Lions player-coach James Joseph said in the first intermission, it obviously worked – the Lions came out far better in the second period, looking more organised at the back and also more confident up front. They scored just 34 seconds into the period, Conner Smith (20:34, assisted James O’Brien and Tom Hnilica) scoring his first goal in senior hockey in his first senior game, after a lovely stretch pass by O’Brien set him off on a breakaway.
And things got even better for the hosts in the 29th minute, with Czech forward Tom Hnilica (28:12, assisted Gus Zimmerman) being fed a lovely pass by Gus Zimmerman and duly burying it past Leckie in the Pitbulls net. It was Hnilica’s seventh goal of the season, with Zimmerman picking up his fourth assist in just his fourth game in a Lions jersey. The Lions also thought they had a third goal, Smith putting the puck home but being adjudged to have been standing in the crease at the time, and thus the goal was washed out.
Sadly for the Lions, the Pitbulls got one back in the 33rd minute through Josh Galea (32:20, assisted Jamie Newton and Osman), who scored on the powerplay with Jake Wadge again in the box, this time for tripping. This didn’t put the Lions off though, and they created multiple chances towards the end of the period – with Hnilica, Joseph and Zimmerman all going close – but there was to be no more scoring in the period, as the Pitbulls led 6-2 going into the second break, having outshot the Lions 21-14 but losing the period by a score of 2-1.
Third Period – In the final period, the short bench of the Lions started to show as they made a few tired plays and let the Pitbulls extend their advantage; first Osman (42:55, assisted Newton and Galea) and then O. Shone (44:09, assisted A. Smith) scored to make the score 8-2 with over 15 minutes still to play. The Lions did come close to scoring a few times shortly after, with both Berry and Michael Jacobs testing Leckie in the Bristol net.
Things got even tougher for a tiring Lions team as Joe Trotter took a 2+10 for boarding with ten minutes left, effectively ending his evening; while Bristol did not score on that powerplay, they scored on another one soon after as Osman (53:06, assisted Jack Hayes) completed his hat-trick and made it 9-2 with Conner Smith in the box, before O. Shone (55:16, assisted Manning) completed his own hat-trick and made it 10-2 in the 56th minute.
The home side did give their fans something to cheer about late on, C. Smith (57:02) scoring his second of the night on the breakaway, before a crazy ending that saw three goals scored within the last two minutes of the game; Bristol made it 11-3 through Newton (58:12, assisted O. Shone and Michael Hargreaves), the Lions got it back to 11-4 as Zimmerman (59:11, assisted Hnilica and C. Smith) scored his first goal as a Lion, and finally Richardson (59:27, assisted Osman and A. Smith) scored Bristol’s 12th and rounded out the score for the evening.
After a crazy game in which they conceded five unanswered goals in the first period, won the second period 2-1, then tired in the third to lose the period 6-2 and the game 12-4, the Lions will look back at this one with mixed emotions. If they can play like they did in the second period over a full 60 minutes, they have a real chance of taking that elusive first win of the season really soon.
Connor Smith was awarded Man of the Match for a brilliant debut, in which he scored two goals and assisted a further one while looking threatening all night, while Olly Shone took home the award for the visitors.
Final Score: Lee Valley Lions 4-12 Bristol Pitbulls
Period Scores: 0-5/2-1/2-6
Shots: Lee Valley 43-81 Bristol (13-23/14-21/16-37)
Penalty Minutes: Lee Valley 22-6 Bristol
Scorers: Lee Valley – Conner Smith 2+1, Tom Hnilica 1+2, Gus Zimmerman 1+1, James O’Brien 0+1
Bristol – Steve Osman 3+2, Olly Shone 3+2, Adrian Smith 1+4, Jamie Newton 1+2, Grant Richardson 2+0, Josh Galea 1+1, David Manning 0+2, Richard Hargreaves 0+2, Giacomo Raffaelli 1+0, Sam Shone 0+1, Michael Hargreaves 0+1, Jack Hayes 0+1
Goaltenders: Lee Valley – James Andrew (60:00 played, 81 shots/12 goals against)
Bristol – Andrew Leckie (60:00 played, 43 shots/4 goals against)
Man of the Match – Conner Smith (Lee Valley), Olly Shone (Bristol)
The Lee Valley Lions are next in action at home on Saturday 15th December against the Solent Devils, and again the following day against the Chelmsford Chieftains. Faceoff at Lee Valley Ice Centre for both games will be at 17:30.