MK Lightning 2-8 Guilford Flames (22 Sept)
By Paul Brookman
Smith Recycling Milton Keynes Lightning found themselves in deep Watters when they were shot down in Flames at Planet Ice on Saturday.
Canadian sniper Ian Watters struck four times to send Guildford Flames on their way to an 8-2 Challenge Cup victory as Lightning endured a miserable night against the Surrey side who are already showing they have built on the strengths of last season and are looking to challenge for a top four Elite League finish.
With Lightning already short benched the side were also without injured defenceman James Griffin – adding to the absences of injured Owen Griffiths plus suspended Martin Mazanec and Nelson Armstrong, still delayed by visa problems.
Coach Doug McKay drafted in defenceman Rihards Grigors who saw service with Edinburgh Capitals last season and forward Josh Martin, on loan from English National League side, Bracknell Bees. In truth they were always going to be there to make up the numbers against a Flames outfit who have a strength in depth that Lightning can only dream of.
Flames coach Paul Dixon was able to ice nearly four forward lines – even being able to give shifts to his less experienced British players once the lethal line of Ian Watters, Kruise Reddick and John Dunbar had made the game safe for the visitors.
And therein lies part of Lightning’s problem – with Griffin and Griffiths absent they were only able to ice two British skaters in Cole Shudra and Martin. Once more Lightning’s lack of numbers hit them hard – they already have their full complement of 14 imports so any team strengthening must come from the home countries. Unfortunately recruitment from that source is difficult, even at this stage of the season.
It was the sign of things to come as early as 1min 18secs when Jez Lundin set up Watters to beat goalie Patrick Killeen from close range. There was hope for Lightning when Tim Wallace was credited with getting the final touch to a blue line rocket from Ryan Lannon – Eric Neiley also having a hand in the equaliser.
But after the hosts survived an eighth minute hooking call on David Norris it was Flames who edged in front again at 13mins 41secs when Watters supplied Reddick out on the right to blast home.
Lightning had a couple of great chances towards the latter end of the period with Joonas Huovinen testing goalie Travis Fullerton before Norris battled his way through, only for his pass to be met by no one.
The home side were afforded a powerplay when Evan Ritt was penalised for delaying the game and they made the most of it to level the tallies on 19mins 48secs with a Clay Anderson blast from just inside the blue line.
That was to be as good as it got for McKay’s men despite a bright start to the second session in which they tested Fullerton with efforts from Huovinen, Wallace, Shudra and Georgs Golovkovs.
However once Flames re-took the lead when unmarked Watters was allowed to pick his spot after 24mins 14secs it was the visitors who dominated the remainder of the game.
Brit Ben Davies supplied Evan Ritt to make it 4-2 to Flames after 30mins 23secs before a cross checking call on Wallace led to Dixon’s charges extending the advantage to three with Reddick the provider for Jesse Craige. That signalled the end of the involvement of Killeen who was replaced by Adam Goss.
Within 38 seconds Goss was retrieving the puck from the net after Evan Janssen scored unassisted to send Flames into the second interval with a 6-2 cushion.
Few could see any sign of a Lightning revival in the final session – and so it proved as 6-2 became 7-2 when man of the match Watters completed his hat-trick, converting from Reddick and Corbin Baldwin on 45mins 2secs.
Just over two minutes later Flames completed their tally – that man Watters adding his fourth goal for an uncomfortable 8-2 final score.
Lightning refused to give up though and had a few worthwhile efforts late on but nothing was going to change the destination of the points.
Man of the match: Tim Wallace.