IT was Czech mates at Planet Ice on Wednesday night as MK Lightning snatched a dramatic late victory over Slough Jets to go third in the English Premier League.
In a script straight from the pages of Roy of The Rovers, the winning goal – scored with just 2m 25secs to go – was netted by Czech import Kamil Tvrdek on his debut, set up by fellow countryman Lukas Zatopek.
Yet only three hours before face-off, the 29-year-old was not even in the country – arriving at the airport at 4.45pm he was whisked straight to the rink to meet his new team-mates at 6.15pm.
By the time the club announced his arrival on their website, he was already out on the ice warming up for the game which faced-off at 7.30pm – probably much to the surprise of Jets who had probably done much of their pre-match preparations planning for a three-import Lightning side due to the absence of Canadian Adam Calder with a broken hip.
And less than two hours after face-off, Tvrdek – who had been on loan to Czech third tier side HC Banik Sokolov from HC Vrchlabi – had written his name into the history books to give Lightning victory in a game in which they twice came from behind to equalise.
It has to be said his goal was something special – taking Zatopek’s pass he sped in from the right with a rocket of a shot high into the net past goalie Gregg Rockman.
Already without the injured Dan Harris and Calder, Lightning were also missing key British forward Leigh Jamieson, away on national duty in Japan. Club management moved quickly to secure Tvrdek when it became clear that Calder was going to be out of action for a long spell.
While new left winger Tvrdek showed some neat touches in the first period, it was former Lightning defenceman Mindy Kieras who struck the opening blow as he beat goalie Alex Mettam from Darius Pliskauskas’ set up after only 2mins 1sec.
As Lightning struggled to get shots on Rockman early in the game, it was the visitors who went close in the sixth minute when Frantisek Bakrlik forced Mettam into a good save.
However, Lightning were able to defend a short-handed spell without conceding when Lewis Christie was called for tripping in the ninth minute.
Tvrdek brought a fine save out of Rockman in the 12th minute when he unleashed a fierce shot before Adam Brittle went close a few minutes later. The Czech had Slough under pressure as he danced his way past a couple of players before being hooked by Adam Greener who received two minutes in the sin bin late in the period.
The closest the hosts came to scoring on the powerplay was a mishit Nick Poole shot from Adam Carr’s pass.
Lightning went on the offensive right from the start of the second session with Tvrdek taking on and beating two Slough players as he went up the right. Unfortunately no one was able to finish off.
Jets had Mettam under pressure a few minutes later when Bakrlik had a great chance blocked, and there was a moment of anxiety when Michael Farn lost possession to Darius Pliskauskas. The Lithuanian was able to find a way through but couldn’t beat Mettam.
The equaliser was a goal out of nothing with Ross Bowers the provider for Lukas Zatopek to blast home from the blue line on 31mins 2sec – goalie Gregg Rockman probably not expecting the shot.
A couple of minutes later, Slava Koulikov set up Pliskauskas but he was unable to get enough on the puck to trouble the home goalie.
Lightning went close twice in the latter stages when Zatopek supplied Poole who shot straight at the netminder, and Rockman did well to thwart Carr from close range.
Jets edged back in front following some poor defending from Lightning – Kieras finding Bakrlik who was given too much space and was able to take his time before shooting past Mettam at 38mins 45secs.
Lightning finally got a leveller on the powerplay thanks to the second icing infringement in five minutes by Jets – Poole putting the puck home from Brittle at 52mins 48secs.
And the encounter looked to be heading for overtime when Tvrdek sent the home fans wild with the game winning goal – Jets immediately called a time out, but it was to no effect, even when they managed to withdraw Rockman for the extra skater in the final 34 seconds.
Lightning fans would have been hoping that was the final goal in order to complete a dream debut for Tvrdek. They got their wish.
And to cap a fine evening for the match winner there was only one choice for man of the match, Kamil Tvrdek!