Don McDermott reports on a good weekend for the East London ice hockey teams.
The London Raiders will be relieved to have finally booked their place in the NIHL South 1 division playoffs whilst the Lee Valley Lions further cemented their fourth place position in the NIHL South-Eastern 2 division with 4-0 win over the Invicta Mustangs.
The Raiders started their weekend with a dramatic 7-3 victory over ninth-placed Bracknell. They travelled to the John Nike Leisuresport Complex with unfinished business after suffering an 8-5 defeat to the Hornets last week. However, the impressive win left the Raiders needing just one point from their Sunday home fixture against Oxford City Stars in order to clinch the final division 1 playoff spot.
After failing to take any points from the visiting Stars, the Raiders’ fate was left in the hands of previously beaten Bracknell who, with a win over 3rd placed Wightlink, could have held the East London side’s playoff hopes hanging in the balance for at least another week.
Yet, Bracknell had no answer for the attacking prowess of Wightlink who celebrated a 12-1 victory and consequently, London’s place in the playoffs was confirmed.
The Raiders will now turn their attention to achieving the best possible draw in the playoffs. They are currently on course to play league leaders Chelmsford Chieftains (28-2-2), who have defeated the Raiders seven times this season in league and cup matches and outscored them 44-12. The closest the Raiders have come to defeating Chelmsford was in a 5-3 home loss in the South East Cup.
It is possible for the Raiders to move up to seventh or even sixth place but they will need some positive results from their four remaining fixtures if they are to do so – during which they will visit Wightlink before having the huge task of trying to match the league nemesis that is Chelmsford at the Lee Valley. Failing to win those games will leave them having to rely on other team’s results once more.
The Raiders will hope to end the season with a winning run to maximise their chances of moving up, but they will need to avoid falling behind early like they did against Bracknell on Saturday if they are to achieve this goal.
Although London were clearly the better team, the Hornets scored two goals late in the first period and then struck again just 47 seconds into the second period to take a commanding 3-0 lead.
But halfway through the period, the momentum changed. In the 32nd minute, David Oliver stabbed home the puck from just a few yards out to get the Raiders on the scoreboard, and just one minute later, Slovakian international Marek Nahlik wristed a shot over the glove of goalie Matthew Smital to pull the Raiders to within one.
The Hornets clung on to their lead for the rest of the period. However, the Raiders finally drew level four minutes into the final period as Mason Webster scored off a rebound from Rio Grinell-Parke’s shot.
Man of the match Grinell-Parke scored just minutes later to put London in the lead for the first time, this time knocking in his own rebound.
Bracknell’s JJ PItchley was given 2+10 for a moment of ugliness when he cross-checked a London player in the head, opening things up for John Connolly to score off a Raiders power play.
Nahlik and Grinell-Parke scored one more goal apiece to finish off a glorious comeback for the Raiders in which they scored seven unanswered goals, with five of them coming in the third period.
The Lions’ win over Invicta on the same night marked the first time that both Lee Valley teams have won on the same day since the 6th December.
The Lions scored three goals in the final three minutes, with Ben Duffy earning a hat-trick, to sink the Mustangs. Lee Valley are now three points ahead of Slough Jets in the Eastern 2nd Division and with a game in hand, they now sit comfortably in fourth position.
If the Lions can stay ahead of Slough, it will mark the first time in the club’s history that they have managed to finish a league campaign above the Jets.
The Lions will next play on 27th March in a tough home match against leaders Chelmsford Warriors. The Raiders will travel to the Isle of Wight on Sunday to play third-place Wightlink.