ISLE OF WIGHT, UK – Wightlink Raiders became the first side in British hockey to lift silverware in 2013 as they upset favourites Chelmsford Chieftains over a two legged South East Trophy final last weekend.
The Isle of Wight based NIHL side, coached by former London and Newcastle enforcer Jeremy Cornish, opened their campaign in this competition with a 7-4 win over Invicta Dynamos back in early September.
Another notable step towards qualification included a master-class from goalie Matt Colclough and his defence who shut out the high flying Romford Raiders in a 4-0 win for Wightlink on home ice.
Despite these results, Wightlink appeared to have a formidable challenge to lift the trophy as the Chelmsford Chieftains qualified alongside them in the final. Despite standing close in the league tables the Chieftains thumped the Raiders 11-1 at the end of December in a one sided score line that gave the Essex side a psychological edge.
On a freezing cold Saturday evening on the small island off the South Coast of England the Raiders landed the first blow as they beat the Chieftains 5-3 in the first leg of the final.
Two goals from Richard Facey and one each from Alex Murray, Jiri Hanzal and Kieran Annis secured a two goal advantage going into the second leg held in Chelmsford the following evening.
On Sunday, backed by their small band of travelling fans Wightlink avenged that heavy loss as they stunned a busy Riverside rink with a tight road performance that ground out a 2-2 tie on the night, and secured a 7-5 aggregate victory.
Victorious Captain and local boy Damon Larter got a goal for the Raiders on the night as did Welsh forward Corey Watkins.
“It was pretty rewarding to beat Chelmsford over the two legs, they easily have the best group of forwards in the league” explained a delighted Jeremy Cornish.
“It was nice to see our guys buying into a system and taking pride in playing defence, and those are the things that as a coach I’m proud of”
“I think that if we didn’t get the lead on the Saturday we would have been in trouble heading into their rink on the Sunday”
Traditionally the cup and trophy competitions play second fiddle to league and play-off business but given that all of the top sides in NIHL South were competing in this competition, it is no mean feat to pick up this early trophy.
“It’s worth something when you win it I think” admitted Cornish, who delivered a league title to the club in 2010/11.
“We have had a drop in form for the last couple weeks and I’m hoping it gives our guys a lift for the second half of the season. We have a good team and when we take pride in defence we can score the goals we need in order to win”
“I feel we have the best goalie and defence core in the league and what we lack in offense we need to make sure we play tight in our own zone”
What surprised most fans across the league was the stark contrast between Wightlink’s trophy final performance in Essex and their league capitulation weeks earlier, however Cornish believes there are a number of reasons to explain the situation.
“Well, we hadn’t had a game for a couple weeks before that weekend and I think that’s what really hurt us” explained the big Canadian.
“I’m pretty sure a lot of guys had Christmas on their minds. We have been pretty full-on since the start of September and I think it was time for a little break from the rink. Also, our fitness let us down”
With the league campaign at the halfway stage, Wightlink currently sit in third position, three points behind leaders Romford. In second place Chelmsford are also three points ahead but have played two games more than Cornish’s Raiders side.
“We want to win the League” explained the Wightlink Player Coach.
“I feel we can compete with Chelmsford and Romford, it’s going to take a lot of hard work, but I hope we can stay in the race until the end”
Wightlink Raiders South East Trophy winners 2012/13
Goalies: Matt Colclough, Dan Weller-Evans. Defence: Damon Larter – Captain, Dan Pye, Niall Bound, Sam Waller, Ben Lock, Nick Compton. Forwards: Jiri Hanzal, Jeremy Cornish, Richard Facey, Alex Murray, Craig Tribe, Robbie Brown, Aidan Doughty, Joe Denness, Kieran Annis, Nathan Taylor, Corey Watkins.
Contact the author firstname.lastname@example.org