The most prestigious trophy of the varsity series once again drew a sell-out crowd as the University of Nottingham ice hockey team fell 7-5 to Trent. Throughout 40 minutes of high octane action the Uni team more than matched their rivals, and it was only late in the final period that Trent pulled away, unleashing a devastating flurry of shots which all but ended the Uni bid to regain the ice hockey crown. Impact’s Peter Klein tells the story.
As ever, the rival audiences were loud and proud from the start, but it was Trent who did the talking on the ice, their blistering speed and a trigger-happy offense piling pressure onto the Uni defence from the first face-off. Richard Griffiths was forced to work hard in the Uni goal, a string of excellent saves coming between his team and a disastrous opening 5 minutes. Griffiths would continue in this vein throughout the game, his stalwart goaltending deserving more than the poor defending which allowed Trent to take a 2-0 lead within the first 10 minutes. Becky Cooke was the architect of a comical first goal, utilising time and space behind the net, a gift from the Uni defence, to fire a hard pass into the Uni goal crease. A goalmouth scramble ensued, resulting in several deflections before the puck eventually found its way past the helpless Griffiths. If Uni head coach Simon Hopkins found this hard to swallow, then the second goal would have left him furious with his defence. After a short period of Uni failing to clear the puck from their zone, Trent left wing Yann Hafner was inexplicably allowed to drift to the back post unmarked. Meeting a killer pass with a first time snap shot, Hafner planted the puck high in the Uni goal. However, the criminal ease at which this play was executed seemed to awaken the Uni top line, who finally picked up their offensive game and tallied some shots on goal.
This led to a slice of luck for Uni, defenseman Stuart Bates firing a hard shot between Trent goalkeeper James Cantle and his back line, and causing momentary confusion as both sets of players collided in their attempts to control the puck. An awkward ricochet later and Uni were on the scoreboard, injecting a vital shot of motivation into a team which had previously seemed slow and content to defend their zone. This heightened sense of determination was evident in some furious penalty killing at the end of the period. Going a man down after a high sticking call went against them, Uni not only contained the Trent advantage, but scored a shorthanded goal courtesy of Kenneth Klinge. The Finland native broke away from his defensive zone with explosive energy, ensuring he was first to meet a rebound in front of the Trent goal. The game was tied, and a stunned Trent were by far the happier team to hear the buzzer sound at the end of the first period.
Trent were clearly wary of their opponent’s new found offensive capabilities in a messy, physical second period. Spending much more time in their own zone, the Trent defence turned to big hits to solve the emerging confidence of the Uni forwards. Unfortunately, midway through the period Trent handed a 2 man advantage to Uni. Ben Wood was led to the penalty box for a hooking call, and less than a minute later Uni found themselves in a golden offensive position as a holding call went against Trent. Star players Jack Clarkson and Tom Griffiths stepped up, exploiting the advantage with some nice 2 on 1 play. Unable to hold onto Clarkson’s blast from the left, Cantle spilled the puck out in front of the goal, where captain Griffiths was waiting to rip a shot up into the top shelf. For the next few minutes the tables had well and truly turned, with Uni displaying utter offensive dominance; this was only stifled through some magnificent goaltending by Cantle, who stonewalled a Nick Dodwell breakaway 5 minutes before the break. It seemed as though Uni were likely to end the period ahead, until Trent were awarded their own two man advantage though some sloppy play by Tom Griffiths and Thomas Koch. Immediately, Trent seized the opportunity to scramble their way back into the game, with Richard Griffiths’ continued excellence in the Uni goal just falling short of stopping a Zandy Cleves laser from between the circles. With the game tied once again, Griffiths killed off the remaining Trent offence with a flashy glove save in the closing seconds.
Trent appeared to take their momentum into the final period, rediscovering their ability to attack quickly and shoot on sight. A tired looking Uni line, possibly fatigued from an energetic 2nd period, found themselves chasing the puck, and they turned once again to Richard Griffiths to quell the Trent tide, which threatened to overwhelm. He stepped up to the challenge admirably, shielding the net from a spray of shots, including a stunning point blank save 2 minutes in. This stellar effort appeared to be even more crucial as 5 minutes into the period the Uni first line found themselves with some rare possession in the Trent zone. A neat series of passes around the Trent defence led to a nice interchange between Tom Griffiths and Clarkson, who found the puck in a glorious position directly in front of goal. There was no doubt that Clarkson would score, and Uni celebrated a surprising lead in a game which had seemed to swing back and forth from the opening period. As if to emphasise this, Trent shrugged off their disheartening defensive effort and stepped up to make their next power play count. Will Weldon’s patience paid off as he waited alone outside of a goalmouth scramble, picking up a loose puck and slotting home from close range. Weldon and Gareth O’Flaherty, the helping hand who assisted the goal, would be huge for Trent in the remainder of the period, notching multiple assists and goals between them.
In a much more open game, in which the refs began to allow some minor foul play go uncalled to let the game flow, the Trent offense reverted to its pacey breaks and rapid shooting style in an attempt to kill Uni off. 7 minutes from time it appeared to do exactly that, with a spectacular O’Flaherty solo effort putting Trent back in the lead. Winning the puck in his own zone, O’Flaherty accelerated down the length of the ice, outskating Uni’s forwards before pulling up and ripping a wrist shot past Griffiths. A minute later, he scored again, taking the initiative on a power play which Jack Clarkson really shouldn’t have conceded at such a crucial point in the game. Uni would need a miracle if they were to tally twice within the remaining 5 minutes, but any remaining hope was snuffed out by Trent Man of the Match Weldon, who converted a nice O’Flaherty pass from in front of the goal. With less than 2 minutes remaining, both Sam Chandler and Uni Man of the Match Clarkson tried unsuccessfully to claw Uni back into the game, but Uni were only realistically fighting for consolation at this point.
This came in the form of a Roland Soltys beauty, smashed from just over the blue line into Cantle’s net with under a minute remaining. Soltys would then become tied up in a brawl with Trent forward Ben Wood. To the delight of the crowd the refs allowed it, and Wood found himself on the receiving end of some heavy punches before being pulled away by the refs, who had seemingly decided that the crowd had had their fill of blood for the day. In the resulting Uni power play, Trent played safe hockey to see out the remaining 20 or so seconds, their Trent army in the stands making a point of counting down the clock on their 7-5 victory.
Ultimately, Uni lost because of their lacklustre offence. Their most dominant period was by far the second, in which they brought their shot tally to 29, a mere 3 shots off the 32 made by Trent (mostly in the first period). In the final period, the Uni offence failed to summon up more than a pathetic 5 shot effort, which was outgunned by Trent’s massive 22. Ric Griffiths just couldn’t be expected to handle such a continuous barrage of shots. To put it simply, if you don’t shoot, you can’t score. If you can’t score, you can’t win. The Trent army chants of “you couldn’t score in Ocean” were justified, although “you couldn’t score in a brothel” might have been more accurate.
On the upside, after the game it was nice to hear a large contingent of the Trent army shouting for their own cheerleaders to “get your tits out”. Failure to comply resulted in resounding boos directed towards the indignant ladies. I guess we’ll take that bitter moral victory.
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