Raiders completed home-and-away wins over Bracknell in front of a packed Romford crowd to book their place in the semi-finals of the National League play-offs.
Having claimed a 6-5 victory in Berkshire on Saturday, the boys in gold and blue completed the task back on their own ice to set up a meeting with regular season champions Basingstoke.
Raiders had the first sight of goal as Olegs Lascenko found Marek Nahlik on the left and his slapshot forced a blocker save from Alex Mettam.
And there was a brief moment of panic for the Bees goalie later on the same shift as he spilled Nahlik’s wristshot, but saw a defenceman clear the loose puck.
Jan Bendik called Michael Gray into action for the first time at the other end, with his drive turned aside, before Nahlik diverted Sean Barry’s snapshot into Mettam’s pads.
JJ Pitchley circled in from the left boards and tested Mettam’s blocker, before Raiders went on the power play as Danny Ingoldsby was called for boarding on Andy Munroe.
Mettam denied Jake Sylvester and Matt Turner with a superb double save and just as the penalty expired, Bees had George Norcliffe called for charging Munroe in front of their bench.
Juraj Huska shot just wide from the low slot and saw Mettam save another effort as Bees successfully killed off the penalty.
And Ollie Baldock was the next Raider to test the Bees goalie, who threw out a glove to turn aside Sylvester’s angled attempt.
Gray was back in the game to pluck Bendik’s big blast from the blue line out of the air, but Lascenko’s low wrist shot from the right face-off circle was kicked out by Mettam, before Callum Best’s close-range backhand shot was blocked by Gray.
But Bees saw Martin force a good blocker save from Gray late in the first period and Best appeared to ring pipework, before Sylvester was thwarted by Mettam.
Huska was then grabbed by Scott Spearing behind the play, with both players given roughing minors, and John Connolly’s soft dumping of the puck towards goal during the 4-on-4 almost caught Mettam out, as he gave up an unexpected rebound.
Despite being outshot 16-4, Bees went into the first break on level terms thanks to Mettam, but the middle period was only nine seconds old when a mistake proved costly.
Connolly dumped the puck towards the Bracknell net from the blue line and Mettam misjudged the bounce as it came back off the end boards for Turner to tap in from close range, with just nine seconds on the clock.
Gray almost gifted Bracknell a chance when coming out of his net to play the puck soon after, but made a good blocker save on Carl Thompson, before Julian Smith was called for interference.
And Bees made their power play count as Best’s shot from the right circle was spilled by Gray and James Galazzi poked the loose puck over the line from point blank range.
Baldock produced a spurt of pace to dash up ice and fire a shot into the chest of Mettam, with Bracknell’s defence clearing the rebound, before Brandon Ayliffe raced onto a long pass and forced a pad save, then sent another great chance wide.
Shaun Thompson put a good chance wide from Best’s pass out of the corner, while Nahlik fizzed a wristshot past the far post at the other end as play swung from end to end.
And Mettam made a reflex glove save to somehow keep out Sylvester’s one-timer, before Norcliffe arrowed a shot into Gray’s catcher.
The tie was on a knife edge as it passed the midway point, with Munroe’s shot through a crowd creating some panic that led to a penalty against Pitchley for interference.
And Bees took the lead on the night to tie the aggregate score on the power play as Bendik’s shot from the left dropped for Martin to tap in from a foot or so.
Sylvester and Baldock went close for Raiders on the next shift, but Best forced a blocker save from Gray before Nahlik’s shot on the turn after good work by Lascenko was smothered by Mettam.
But Raiders were back on terms with just over two minutes remaining as Sylvester found the net from a tight angle on the right, with the hosts then going on the power play when Bracknell were given a bench minor for having too many men on the ice and Harvey Stead picked up a 10-minute misconduct penalty for good measure.
A mistake by Connolly almost handed Martin and Thompson a chance, but he redeemed himself with a timely block in front of Gray, as nerves jangled briefly in the packed stands.
There was some tension in the air as the final period began, with Baldock’s shot held by Mettam as the bench minor penalty expired, before the Bees goalie also gloved a shot from Lascenko and held Ayliffe’s wristshot from the left wing.
Bees rallied with Tom Avery testing Gray from the point, before Bendik’s follow-up was deflected over the plexi.
Nahlik did well to muscle Josh Tetlow off the puck and tee up Lascenko, who misfired, but Raiders went 3-2 up soon after as Connolly slipped in Slovakian Nahlik and he beat Mettam with a backhand in close.
Ayliffe could not convert on a similar chance, but Raiders were an inch away from a fourth as Nahlik pinged a wristshot off the crossbar, then Tom Davis forced a pad save from the Bees goalie.
The visitors called a timeout with 5.43 left on the clock, but they could not make much of an impact as Raiders worked hard to keep them at arms length and saw Huska thud a slapshot into the pads of Mettam, who left the ice with 2.35 left for an extra skater.
The move backfired as Raiders successfully defended a face-off in their own zone, then saw Sylvester fire up ice from long range into the empty net.
And Bees lost Bendik to a 10-minute misconduct penalty in the aftermath, followed by Best on a similar call a few seconds later.
Pitchley and Barry picked up slashing and interference minors in the closing stages to leave Raiders defending a 5-on-3, but they held on comfortably.
It had been 28 years since these two clubs had met in the post-season in Romford, when the Raiders claimed a promotion-clinching 12-9 win in a Rom Valley Way thriller.
And lots of old faces were back in the stands to see the current crop of Raiders produce a fine success over the Bees of their own.
Hopefully they will be back next Saturday when Raiders host the Bison in the first leg of their next tie.
Raiders: Jake Sylvester 2; Matt Turner 1; Marek Nahlik* 1; John Connolly 0+2; Callum Wells 0+1; Olegs Lascenko 0+1.
Bees: James Galazzi 1; Josh Martin 1; Callum Best 0+1; Danny Ingoldsby 0+1; Scott Spearing 0+1; Jan Bendik* 0+1.
Penalty minutes; Raiders 10 Bees 38.
Shots on goal: Michael Gray (L, 59.55) 4-13-12=29-2 Alex Mettam (B, 59.35) 16-14-12=42-3; Empty net (0.25) 1-1.
Raiders will bring a slender lead back to Romford’s Sapphire Ice & Leisure Centre for the second leg of their play-off with Bracknell after a topsy-turvy battle in Berkshire on Saturday.
The two sides last met in the post-season 28 years ago, when Raiders skated to a thrilling 12-9 win over the Bees at the old rink in Rom Valley Way, led by Canadian heroes Marc Chartier and Gord Jeffrey.
And Raiders were celebrating again after a dramatic contest that saw the teams trade goals and the lead change hands.
Face-off was delayed by half an hour, due to an accident on the M25 delaying the arrival of the Raiders kit and equipment.
But the visitors, beaten 6-1 on their last visit earlier this month, were first on the scoreboard with barely five minutes played as Juraj Huska found the net and they doubled their advantage just 47 seconds later as JJ Pitchley netted against his former club.
The hosts hit back in the ninth minute through Josh Martin, who was adjudged to have scrambled the puck past Michael Gray by referee Stephen Matthews.
And Bees killed off successive minor penalties for having too many men on the ice, as well as a tripping call against Shaun Thompson before the first break to hold the Raiders lead at 2-1.
Bracknell were back on level terms six minutes into the middle session with a neat finish from George Norcliffe and a nice passing move led to the home side taking the lead with six minutes left in the period, as Danny Ingoldsby netted a delayed penalty goal, assisted by Norcliffe and James Galazzi.
Bracknell’s joy was shortlived, though, as Huska made it 3-3 just 31 seconds later and then turned provider to set up Jake Sylvester with just over three minutes left on the clock.
And Raiders moved 5-3 up just over a minute later as Olegs Lascenko set up Marek Nahlik to score.
Five minutes had been played in the final period when Callum Best got Bracknell back to within one goal, assisted by Martin and Thompson, but Raiders restored their two-goal cushion just three minutes later as some excellent play by Matt Turner set up Nahlik for his second of the night.
But in a rollercoaster of a match, Bees grabbed their fifth goal with 10 minutes remaining when Thompson struck on assists from Best and Jan Bendik.
And they went on the power play after Galazzi and Sean Barry clashed and the Raiders defenceman picked up an extra two minute penalty, before Gray was also called to hand Bees a 73-second spell of 5-on-3.
Raiders dug deep to survive their time shorthanded and then went on the power play themselves when Galazzi was called for roughing.
And although they could not capitalise with their extra man, they skated off with a win that gives them the upper hand heading into Sunday’s returning meeting in Romford.
Report courtesy of Lee Power of the Romford Recorder
JJ Pitchley’s hat-trick fired Raiders to a season-ending win at Milton Keynes on Sunday, which secured a fourth-place finish in the National League.
Raiders had beaten Thunder 6-1 at Romford’s Sapphire Ice & Leisure Centre to leapfrog Bracknell in the table and they made it a four-point weekend in the return meeting 24 hours later.
Early penalties against Matt Turner and Sean Barry handed the home side a spell of 5-on-3 and they made it count as Ross Bowers netted on the power play in the sixth minute.
Pitchley had gone 12 games without a goal, since netting in a 2-1 win at Streatham on January 21, but levelled a little over two minutes later and then struck again to put the visitors ahead towards the end of the first period.
Thunder were awarded a penalty shot in the middle session, but Raiders goalie Michael Gray kept it out to ensure his side remained in front heading into the final 20 minutes of the regular campaign.
And although Raiders could not capitalise on their only power play of the night when Greg Randall was binned for tripping soon after the restart, they moved 3-1 up when Pitchley completed his treble with just under 10 minutes remaining.
The hat-trick hero took a slashing penalty soon after, but Raiders added a fourth soon after his return to the action as Thomas Beesley fired in off the crossbar for his second goal in successive matches.
An interference minor against captain Tom Davis was killed off in the closing minutes, but Thunder grabbed a consolation with 41 seconds left on the clock through Logan Prince.
It failed to take the shine off a good road win for Raiders, with Pitchley their man of the match as they achieved their top-four target for the season.
They will now hope to progress in the play-offs and visit Bracknell for the first leg of their tie next Saturday, before hosting the return in Romford the following night.
National League: Raiders 6 MK Thunder 1
Raiders moved back up to fourth place in the National League table after hitting Milton Keynes for six at Romford’s Sapphire Ice & Leisure Centre on Saturday.
And they will complete their 32-game schedule with a trip to Milton Keynes on Sunday, while rivals Bracknell host Swindon in their final fixture before the two sides meet in the play-offs next weekend.
Raiders were without Ollie Baldock but JJ Pitchley sent an early shot off the crossbar, before a holding penalty against Brandon Ayliffe gave the visitors the first power play of the night.
Michael Gray made a good save from Rupert Quiney’s big shot from the point, before Jake Sylvester made space for himself at the other end only to send a weak shot at Joshua Crane.
Ayliffe was hooked by Tom Mboya as he looked to break clear and Raiders went on the power play, with Juraj Huska smashing a slapshot wide, before Marek Nahlik’s wristshot was saved by Crane.
Jamie Line fired high over the net from Quiney’s drop pass, before Raiders opened the scoring as Matt Turner’s shot was saved and Thomas Beesley turned in the rebound.
And Line was then binned for tripping in the closing stages of the first period, giving Raiders another extra-man advantage before the break.
Ross Bowers countered for shorthanded Thunder, but good work from John Connolly denied him a shooting chance.
Thunder lost Grant McPherson to a 2+10 misconduct penalty early in the middle session and Raiders doubled their advantage as Nahlik tapped in a loose puck following good work from Olegs Lascenko to claim his 100th goal in a gold and blue jersey.
Another hooking call against Mboya was killed off by the visitors, but Raiders went 3-0 up when Nahlik sent a low shot past the glove hand of Crane.
And the home side added a fourth when captain Tom Davis sent a quick shot on the turn in from the boards and saw the puck bank into the net off the unfortunate Crane.
Thunder lost Quiney to a holding the stick penalty, with Pitchley working his way goalwards and testing Crane with a wristshot.
But Ayliffe was then binned for slashing, giving Thunder a power play chance, and Gareth O’Flaherty fired a first-time shot over the crossbar, before Gray denied Hallden Andrew Barnes-Garner with a good low glove save.
Ryan Handisides then pounced on a loose puck in the neutral zone and worked himself an opening to force a pad save from Gray, before Thunder opened their account with just nine seconds left on the clock as Ross Green sent a low wrist shot through a crowd to beat Gray.
And they went close to a second early in the final period as Handisides sent the puck towards Mboya, whose redirection was saved by the alert Gray.
Ayliffe did well to tee up Davis, whose shot was blocked, before Gray denied two attempts from McPherson, and Pitchley sent an angled shot wide after skating out from behind the Thunder net.
Raiders went 5-1 up, though, on a delayed penalty call as Jake Sylvester jumped on to the ice to replace Gray and fired a shot home from the blue line.
And they added a sublime sixth as Turner skated down ice showing great stick and puck control before flipping a backhand shot past Crane.
Victory lifted Raiders one point above Bracknell in the race for fourth place with a return trip to Milton Keynes to come on the final day of the regular season on Sunday.
And another win will see them finish above the Bees, who host Swindon in their last match ahead of a two-legged play-off battle with the Raiders next weekend.
The Raiders management can confirm that they have been informed recently by Alan Lack that he will be playing no further part in this season.
Alan had recently returned to action from a fairly serious facial injury and it is fair to say most had expected a longer absence than that he chose to take.
We would like to thank Alan and wish him well for his future endeavours.
Watch the game now by clicking the link below and enjoy!
The National Ice Hockey League (NIHL) are pleased to confirm details for the 2017/18 season finale, the NIHL Final Four.
This event takes place at Coventry’s Skydome Arena on the weekend of Saturday and Sunday 7/8 April and will decide the league’s first National champion.
Following a three-week playoff campaign in the NIHL North and South featuring the top eight sides in each division, the respective playoff finalists will head to Coventry to contest the Final Four weekend.
Saturday’s schedule will see the NIHL North 1 playoff champions take on the South 1 playoff runners up in the first semi final at 1300 before the reverse fixture, NIHL South 1 playoff champion versus North 1 runners up completes the lineup at 1700.
On Sunday the first game at 1230 is an NIHL 2 Championship game between the League winners of Laidler (North 2) and Wilkinson (South 2) divisions. This is followed by the NIHL Final Four ‘Grand Final’ at 1630 with the winners being crowned National champion.
Tickets for the Final Four weekend will be on sale exclusively from the Skydome box office from 10am on Monday February 26th and are priced at £38 for adults and £20 for concessions.
The Skydome box office is 02476 630693 (Option 0). A link for online purchases will be available in advance of tickets going on sale.
Enquiries for hospitality boxes should be sent to email@example.com in the first instance.
Ticket sales will initially be staggered using the following schedule:
Monday February 26th – 10am
Cardiff Fire – Block 15
MK Thunder – Block 15
Swindon Wildcats – Block 13
Monday February 26th – 2pm
Invicta Dynamos – Block 10
London Raiders – Block 11
Streatham IHC – Block 11
Tuesday February 27th – 10am
Bracknell Bees – Block 12
Peterborough Phantoms – Block 14
Nottingham Lions – Block 6
Tuesday February 27th – 2pm
Basingstoke Bison – Block 9
Billingham Stars – Block 1
The Dragons – Block 6
Solihull Barons – Block 1
Wednesday February 28th – 10am
Blackburn Hawks – Block 2
Sheffield Steeldogs – Block 4
Telford Tigers – Block 5
Wednesday February 28th – 2pm
Hull Pirates – Block 3
Solway Sharks – Block 2
Whitley Warriors – Block 7
League manager Richard Carpenter said:
“The NIHL Final Four is set to be a fitting conclusion to the season, with the best four NIHL 1 playoff sides battling out for our first true National title. The NIHL 2 championship game is a great addition to the programme and another intriguing North v South battle.
“We’re grateful to Planet Ice for their help in making the arrangements and I’m sure supporters will agree the tickets are priced very well for four competitive fixtures with the very best NIHL sides on show.
The LMC for National Ice Hockey League is pleased to be able to confirm playoff arrangements for teams in NIHL 2.
There will be two separate playoff championships, one in the North and one in the South.
For NIHL North 2 (Laidler) the top four sides from the league table will qualify for the NIHL North 2 Finals Weekend. This will be held at Silverblades Widnes on April 14/15.
For sides in NIHL South 2 (Wilkinson) the top eight sides from the league table will qualify for the playoff first round. This will take the format of 1 v 8, 2 v 7, 3 v 6 and 4 v 5 over two legs, aggregate score. The four winners will then advance to the NIHL South 2 Finals Weekend. This will be held at John Nike Leisuresport, Bracknell on April 21/22.
The format for each Finals weekend will see two semi finals on the Saturday with the winners playing the Playoff Final on Sunday.
Ticket prices are the same for both North and South weekends. A weekend pass is £15 for adults and £8 for concession. Individual day tickets are Saturday £12/£6, Sunday £9/£5.
The exact go live date for purchasing tickets will be confirmed along with face off times for the games in due course.
League manager Richard Carpenter said: “The EIHA and NIHL is delighted to work with our partners in Widnes and Bracknell to deliver these key events and create this unique Championship Series of three successive weekends of tournament hockey.
“We are fortunate to have two rinks that not only have the enthusiasm to host the events, but the professionalism and experience to carry out the delivery to a high standard.
“The playoffs will provide an exciting, competitive conclusion to the NIHL 2 season for clubs in both divisions.”
#oneNIHL #NIHLFinalFour #NIHLChampionshipSeries