MK Lightning 4-3 Guildford Flames (22nd March)

By Paul Brookman

Was this a cup final? You would have been forgiven for thinking it was by the deafening roar of home fans as Smith Milton Keynes Lightning grabbed their first competitive win of the season against Guildford Flames in dramatic style at Planet Ice on Friday.

Down to three skaters following two late penalties Lightning were battling to preserve a slender one goal lead against the six skaters of Flames who withdrew goalie Chris Carrozzi with a minute to go when the whole arena – bar the travelling supporters – erupted to not be just the extra man but the additional ten!

Whether it was a clear message to the club owners for their passion for their little club or not it worked as the embattled heroes held on for a fantastic 4-3 victory. And the chanting didn’t stop at the final buzzer - it carried on for a good five minutes after throughout the post-match awards.

It was a respite – brief as it may be – for the fans who had endured a turbulent few days following the announcement of Lightning’s departure from Elite level to the less expensive waters of the National Ice Hockey League.

The victory won’t change anything in the league standings – the Surrey rivals all but having qualified for the play-offs and their former English Premier League colleagues still rooted to the bottom of the table 20 points behind the next best side, Dundee Stars.

In a low key opening few minutes neither netminder had much to do as both sides failed to get more than the odd shot away before Michael Fine found the smallest of gaps at the left pipe to open the scoring on 11mins 1sec.

But Lightning’s joy was short-lived because Guildford were level within 58 seconds – T J Foster supplying Evan Janssen who had two attempts at beating goalie Patrick Killeen as he equalised from close range.

A minute or so later Owen Griffiths attempted a shot from distance with a blast that was taken by the glove of Carrozzi and that was about the last of the chances for the first period.

MK edged ahead again on 21mins 34secs through a Robbie Baillargeon assisted shot from Tim Wallace – but only after referees Matt Thompson and Stefan Hogarth consulted a video replay as there was a slight doubt that the puck had crossed the goal-line.

If there were any questions about Wallace’s strike then there certainly weren’t when Georgs Golovkovs set up Andrea Valdix for a rocket which thundered into the back of the net at 22mins 22secs.

Flames knew then that were in a match but it took until after the half way stage for them to step up their game – Ian Watters’ attempt being blocked before John Dunbar’s shot from the edge of the left circle was saved.

Before the end of the second period Foster and then Brett Ferguson had unsuccessful efforts, ahead of Flames finally narrowing the gap when Watters fired in Jordan Abt’s pass from the right to make it 3-2 on 37mins 36secs.

Guildford started the third period on a powerplay following a last second call on Martin Mazanec in the middle period – the Czech going for interference. Although there was plenty of pressure MK’s penalty killer saw off the short-handed spell.

Hopes of securing two points were raised when Wallace sent Nelson Armstrong away to fire in on Carrozzi – the attempt was blocked but the puck trickled over the line for a 4-2 score on 49mins 1sec.

Once more Lightning soon conceded again when Foster was the provider for Jamie Crooks to narrow the deficit for Flames after 52mins 12secs.

With a one goal lead to defend the tension built with five minutes to go and it reached fever pitch after Lightning were caught with too many men at 57mins 30secs and then David Norris was sin binned for hooking with 42secs to go. But with the MKL army behind them Wallace’s warriors marched home to victory.

It was night to remember – and the fans played their part in a famous win - meaningless as it was.

Man of the match: Owen Griffiths (sponsored by Your Local Flyer)

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