Semi-finals, retirements and suspensions Penultimate week of NIHL South action

LONDON, UK – The Play-Off semi-finals were the only action to concentrate on this week as Invicta Dynamos, Wightlink Raiders, Streatham Redskins and Chelmsford Chieftains all went head to head.

McIlroy and Streatham say goodbye (Rick Webb)

McIlroy and Streatham say goodbye (Rick Webb)

All eyes were on the EIHA following the previous weekend’s drama in South London and in fairness to the governing body, it was probably the last thing they wanted to be dealing with at this stage (or indeed any stage) of the season.

In addition, it is not the type of event Pro Hockey News wants to cover in any great detail such is the depressing nature of it. That said, it does serve as a stark reminder that ice hockey is a passionate full contact sport and therefore everyone in the game has a duty to ensure that a code is stuck to.

That includes players, coaching staff, officials and fans inclusively as we are all responsible for each-others safety.

There should be no ‘ifs’ or ‘buts’ or attempts to make excuses for the scenes at the end of the second period between Streatham and London, simply an acceptance that it should never happen again and that lessons will be learnt that don’t simply involve hiring a squadron of Grant Mitchell lookalikes in hi-visibility vests to keep order. Everyone makes mistakes as the saying goes, but if we don’t learn from them, then it is a slippery slope.

Doc Tomalin takes a rest

Doc Tomalin takes a rest

On a further sad note, a big character from the London Raiders backroom staff, namely Steve Tomalin announced he would be leaving the club in an official capacity after over 20 years of service.

Another of those characters that keep the NIHL ticking, Steve was highly valued by the Raiders in his various roles down the years that included Team Manager, Equipment Manager ‘magician’ and ‘wizard’.

“I am overwhelmed by the sheer number of good wishes I have received from family, Raiders fans, players, ex-players and management as well as several great characters from other clubs around the world” said Steve, in a statement on the team’s Facebook page.

“I think this goes to show what a great ‘family’ ice hockey can be and how friends made in this sport can last a long while”

“After about 23 years I am feeling it is time to let someone younger take over all the travelling, carrying and fetching the job entails”

“The last few years have been a lot easier since Kevin (Davis) was brought on board and now my job is mainly just opening the gate and letting him worry about all the equipment and trying to keep the players kit in one piece”

“I will miss Danny and the team on game days but I will not be a stranger. I will certainly come to some games next season and cheer on the team from the stands”

A number of players announced their retirements including Streatham’s Jamie McIlroy, Haringey’s Lee Mercer and Peterborough’s Steve Maile. All three have been great servants to British hockey and will be a miss on the ice.

In Chelmsford there was a mild panic as cracks began to appear in the ice surface last week, after pipes broke under the pad.

Thankfully it happened before the visit of Streatham Redskins in the Play-Off semi-final so no fingers of blame could be pointed at the heavier members of the South London team – namely the author of this column.

“Apologies for any inconvenience caused” said the Riverside Ice Rink Twitter account.

Cracks can't stop Chelmo

Cracks can’t stop Chelmo

“The ice rink closure was due to cracks appearing in the ice making it unsafe.

“Staff reacted quickly to ensure we could reopen for the afternoon session. Unfortunately they did not update our Twitter site”

“Procedures have been put in place to ensure that this is done should such instances arise again. Apologies”

Wightlink Raiders have had mixed results against Invicta Dynamos this season, so a semi-final match -up between the pair was a close one to call.

Many within the NIHL have felt that Invicta had every chance of winning the league this season with their roster, and few would bet against them in a play-off series with their first choice goalie Chris Douglas back.

“This weekend is going to be very challenging for our team, but I do know the guys will be up for it” admitted Wightlink coach Jeremy Cornish.

“Invicta once again has a very gifted offensive team and it’s going to be our job to try and limit the amount of shots against. Our team has really improved over the last few weeks and as a coach it’s nice to see guys buying in and getting themselves ready for such an important time of year”

“Play-offs are my favorite time of the year and playing in such important games gets the best out of the players. You can really see what guys are made of during these games, intensity is much higher and I think it’s the best hockey of the year to watch”

The Semi’s

Wightlink Raiders v Invicta Dynamos

Wightlink knew they needed to get a win on home ice to stand any chance of progressing to the final, so it was somewhat of a relief when they secured a 4-3 lead in the first leg.

Best minibus journey ever for Raiders

Best minibus journey ever for Raiders – note the shadow on roof

Steve Osman gave the hosts the lead only to see Juraj Huska and Danny Hammond give Invicta an early 2-1 lead. Two goals for Alex Barker then gave the island side some momentum however Hammond was on target again to square things up at 3-3.

The decisive effort came five minutes from the end thanks to the often maligned Matthew Vizzari who proved his worth with a vital goal to give Wightlink the edge.

Despite this one goal advantage, the Raiders started the game in Kent as underdogs with the Mo’s more than capable of turning over that deficit on home ice. Two quick goals for the Dynamos from Danny Hammond and Nicky Lewis had the Silverblades crowd dreaming of a final, but the dream start didn’t continue.

The Wightlink defence shut up shop and they eased their way back into the game thanks to goals from Nathan Taylor, Vizzari and finally Richard Facey who sealed a spectacular comeback and a play-off final spot.

Streatham Redskins v Chelmsford Chieftains

The aftermath of the quarter final against London Raiders made Streatham’s task of advancing past Chelmsford all the more harder.

Import Michal Oravec was out with a broken finger from a slash during that game and both Evander Grinnell and Jack Tarczycki were both suspended for ‘reasons’ that this column does not wish to mention for risk of a keyboard meltdown.

7 goals and a skate to the face for Taylor

7 goals and a skate to the face for Taylor

The first leg in London started strongly for the Chieftains as they took the lead early on thanks to a fantastic finish from Daniel Volrab. A second goal shortly afterwards by Michael Ranby with just over three minutes on the clock had Streatham fans wondering what was happening.

Liam Rasmussen got a goal back but a glut of minor penalties gave the home side little chance to gain a foothold on the game.

Tibor Schneider, Ranby again and then finally Volrab scored, with only Sean Scarbrough notching for Streatham in response. This gave Chelmsford a 5-2 lead going into the second leg and to compound matters Stewart Tait hobbled off injured as well.

In the second leg there was only one team in it as the Chieftains blew Streatham away in front of a big crowd at the Riverside.

A goal apiece for Gary Clarke, Ross Brears, Ranby, Volrab, Alex Staples, Luke Brittle and Matt Turner made it a convincing 7-0 win for the Chieftains and secured them a well-deserved place in the final.

For Streatham it signalled the end of Jamie McIlroys hockey career and he was given a guard of honour by his team mates at the end as he left the ice.

So after over thirty weeks of NIHL South it comes down to just two teams. The Chelmsford Chieftains and the Wightlink Raiders were first and second respectively in the league, but that counts for nothing now.

The Play-Off final awaits both.

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