The Lee Valley Lions kicked off their NIHL South 2 Cup campaign on Saturday with a tight 6-3 home defeat to the Invicta Mustangs.
The score had been locked at 3-3 heading into the final ten minutes of the game, before the Mustangs scored both a 5-on-3 powerplay goal, and a shorthanded goal, to seal the two points.
The Lions will play six Cup games this season – two each against Invicta, Haringey and Bristol – in addition to their 20 league games. The first of those Cup fixtures looked like being a tasty one, as the Lions welcomed an Invicta side against whom they usually have close games – and this one would prove to be no different.
First Period: Lee Valley, who handed a debut to forward Robert Cole, started the game off well and created a couple of early chances, most notably through Joe Miller who combined well with Leonie Charles and Tyrone Wells in the build-up.
It was Invicta who struck first however, as Jake Luton buried the puck past Lions netminder James Andrew in the eighth minute to put the Kent side 1-0 up. And they soon followed that up with a second goal through Harry Blake, making it 2-0 to the Mustangs with just over 10 minutes gone.
Invicta then let poor discipline get the better of them in the remainder of the first period, taking four minor penalties – but the Lions powerplay was not able to convert any of them, with Jordan Ho coming closest to scoring for the East London side as he pinged a shot off the post.
The first period ended with the Mustangs 2-0 up, despite being outshot 12-9 by the home side.
Second Period: The Lions came out of the interval fired up and looking to get back into the game in the second period. The hosts dominated possession and created several chances, with both Miller and Ben Margerison coming close, before the Lions finally scored their first goal of the night as Joe Berry netted in the 30th minute after a stretch pass from Lewis Blore.
This cut the deficit to 1-2, and the Lions tied the game up at 2-2 later in the period thanks to another breakaway goal, this time by Jordan Ho after a pass from Simon Jones.
The home side then had several chances to take the lead, with both Leonie Charles and Jordan Ho being denied by an on-form Matthew Passmore in the Mustangs net and the score remained 2-2 going into the intermission. At the other end of the ice, Lions goalie James Andrew was also on good form as he stopped all 15 shots he faced in the second period.
Third Period: Early in the third period, Lions defenceman Richie Pickering took a slashing penalty, and this gave the Mustangs a chance on the powerplay – which they duly converted through Luton who grabbed his second of the night.
The Lions didn’t let their heads drop though, tying the score at 3-3 just 46 seconds later as player-coach James Joseph fed Berry for his second goal of the evening.
It was only in the last ten minutes that the Lions lost the game, and they had special teams to blame for that. Firstly both Tyrone Wells and James O’Brien took penalties for the Lions, gifting the Mustangs with a 5-on-3 powerplay which they duly converted through Kevin Lake to make it 4-3.
The Lions then had a 5-on-3 powerplay of their own not long afterwards, as Regan O’Neil sat two minutes for interference and Lake was tossed from the game from checking from behind. But rather than capitalise on it, the Lions instead conceded a goal as O’Neil, fresh out the penalty box after his two minutes had expired, raced into the Lions zone and finished past Andrew to make the score 5-3.
The Mustangs then seemingly put the icing on the cake in the 57th minute as Aaron Ferris made it 6-3 – but the Lions still tried their best to fight back into the game, with Ross Sin-Hidge, Richie Pickering and Jordan Ho all having chances.
However, it was not to be, with the final buzzer sounding and the Lions going down 6-3, in a game they could have won had they not conceded two powerplay goals and one shorthander.
The Lions face the same opponent next Saturday 12th October away from home, also in a Cup game. Faceoff in Gillingham will be at 17:15.