SWINDON, UK – In the EPL scoring tables for week 18 the Wildcats’ Jonas H öög stayed a point ahead of team mate Aaron Nell who has increased his lead over the Flames’ David Longstaff by a single point. But in the Brit chart Nell has replaced Longstaff by game average, and along with Höög these three players are the only ones to have an average above two points per game.
No change in goal scoring with Nell leading the EPL, although the Flames’ Curtis Huppe still has the edge by game average. Also no change as far as assists are concerned with the Phoenix’s Tony Hand heading all charts on total and average.
The highest scoring D-man is still the Jets’ Mindy Kieras while the Steeldogs’ Ben Morgan closes the gap on second placed Marcel Petran to three points; a gain of two on the previous week. In the Brit chart Morgan no longer shares the top spot with the Flames’ David Savage, and currently rules alone.
The total players having played in goal this season increased to twenty-five with the addition of a forth netminder for the Steeldogs, and the league’s first import, Dalibor Sedlar. No prizes for guessing the Bison’s Stevie Lyle remains the leader by save rate although his lead has been reduced to below one percent by the Lightning’s Alex Mettam, the second such assault in recent weeks with the Jets’ Greg Rockman the previous assailant.
While the Phantoms’ Jozef Sladok still heads the EPL in penalties, the Jets’ Adam Greener returned to the top of the British chart replacing the Bees’ Scott Spearing, and the same situation pertains by on game average
Into week 19 and while a quieter seven days than the previous one there was still some player movement. Ex-Wildcats’ Nicky Watt officially joined the Bison where James Smith signed for NIHL Wightlink, but Coach Sheppard said he managed to at least retain Smith on a 2-way contract.
Meanwhile in Swindon, Coach Aldridge wasted no time in finding a replacement for Watt. Easier said than done, though, and as Aldridge said, finding a British player of a similar calibre to Watt at this point in the season was not really on so it was to Finland he turned on the advice of team mate Matias Perkkiö, a fellow Finn who came up with Henri Sandvik. Sandvik hasn’t played in Britain before, but most recently in the Finland 2 and 3 leagues. Curiously that now means the Wildcats have five imports, one of which won’t be playing each game, so to actually replace Watt means either of D-men Jan Melichar or Tomas Fojtik are going to have to sit out.
But, Aldridge did have a Plan B up his sleeve which was just as well because Chris Jones requested release to return to his native Wales and the NIHL Cardiff Devils. In came 17-year-old Ollie Betteridge from the Nottingham Lions in the NIHL where he has just clocked up over two points per game on average, and also has time with his Elite League neighbours as well as being a GBU18 international.
Also on the move, the Steeldogs saw Danny Wood depart for the Elite League’s Hull Stingrays after only arriving from the Steelers in December.
And so we came to the weekend and the first casualty of the winter. After a night of wondering as the weather worsened it finally took its toll but in the end it was only the Tigers v Peterborough that fell on Saturday. There was a certain irony in the situation because just hours before Coach Tom Watkins said, ‘I am hoping to have a full squad.’ With the recent illnesses cleared and injuries resolved this would have been the first occasion of its kind this season.
But there were still games to be had, and Lightning 4 – Wildcats 5 being one of them where in Milton Keynes there was a bit of a cracker. Well, it was when the home side eventually remembered they had a defence hidden away somewhere and it wasn’t just Alex Mettam’s job to protect the goal by which time they had built a mountain of five goals to climb including a season’s third hat-trick for Aaron Nell. Climb it they did, though, in a much more respectable second period although sadly Adam Carr was removed to hospital with what looked like a hip problem which luckily turned out to be just bruising. It was the third period where the Lightning actually looked like producing the come-back of the season, and in the final minute went 6-on-3 and were even awarded a penalty shot, so no wonder the look of overtime was in their eyes. But then Tom Murdy upset the plan by saving it, leaving the Lightning to rue their late arrival.
In Basingstoke, Bison 3 – Phoenix 1, the Bison returned to the top of the table after an end-to-end game against the Phoenix who they have now managed to beat in five straight games thereby extending their worst away losing run to three games. The Phoenix opened the scoring through captain Luke Boothroyd, so the home side had to come from behind which they did with two quick goals around half way from Doug Sheppard and Joe Greener, with Joe Miller adding a third with time to spare.
Other than the Tigers, the Steeldogs in Slough suffered the worst shut-out of the season at Jets 7 – Steeldogs 0 with Sedlar being replaced after six by back-up Brad Day after a deluge of shots. The shut-out was worse by two goals than the Jets previously inflicted in Sheffield, and after four games between the pair the Steeldogs have yet to score a point. The first period was close enough with just a Jets’ goal in it, but in the second it became something of a rout with new boy Ciaran Long in the points and five goals. Such was the lead that Danny Milton was given a run out and contributed to the Jets third shut-out of the season.
Sunday and the Wildcats v Lightning return leg of the weekend double-header went by the board, but the remainder stayed afloat.
The Phoenix outshot the Phantoms by 2-to-1 in the first period although it was the visitors that started the scoring. And while the second two periods were a lot closer it was the Phoenix that dominated the eventual overtime although even with a power-play advantage couldn’t make it pay off. Phoenix 3 – Phantoms 4 after overtime , then, evolved into a game that got scrappier as it went on, and the Phantoms’ captain Jeff Glowa picked up his forth 10-minute misconduct penalty for abuse of the season. So that is now three out of four of the meetings between the two that have gone beyond regular time, with the Phoenix on their ninth extended game of the season and the Phantoms their seventh.
The Steeldogs, Flames 4 – Steeldogs 2, put up a much better fight than the night before and while the Flames took a 2-goal lead, two power-play goals thanks to Steve Duncombe and Andre Payette around half way mark meant everything was square going into the final period with the visitors still a threat. With 50 shots on Dalibor Sedlar in the Sheffield goal, double what Mark Lee had to face, that was probably his best performance in his short EPL career. It still means the Steeldogs have only managed an overtime win from four games against the Flames, that coming in Guildford last October.
The Bees 5 – Bison 1 might seem a surprise result but the visitors put over forty shots on Carl Ambler in the Bees’ net and only came away with one goal, and a power-play goal to boot. On the other hand, Stevie Lyle faced less than thirty shots and the Bees were rewarded with five goals, including one short-handed from Shaun Thompson, which all suggests a classy performance from the home side. The loss takes the Bison’s worst away losing run to five games, and tipped them off of the top of the table.
With their first full squad of the season the Tigers looked like they had a lot to offer. In the end it was Tigers 3 – Jets 4 but could have gone either way until the decider came from a second from ‘Frankie’ Bakrlik just seven minutes from time. The improving Tim Burrows opened the scoring for the home side, and while the Jets took the lead in the second period, Callum Bowley and Tomas Karpov evened things up before the second break. Compared to the early season’s two Jets’ victories, the last two Tigers’ performances have been much stronger with a point from a penalty shoot-out, and this loss by a late goal. So while the Tigers may be out of the play-offs, if they come good now they will still be a side to cause a few tears.
After Saturday the Bison returned to the top of the table and the Jets moved up a place above the Lightning into forth spot. But it didn’t last for long because 24-hours later the Flames were heading the table and with the Lightning’s game postponed, the Jets extended their gap. Wednesday we have the first leg of the first of the EPL Cup semi-finals between the Jets and the Bison in Slough, and while these matches tend to throw the form book out the window, with the Jets coming off a four-point weekend and the Bison struggling a bit away from home, we could be in for a bit of a cracker.
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