MK LIGHTNING have suffered a key injury blow ahead of this weekend’s double header against Basingstoke Bison, but go into the games sitting joint top of the table after another winning weekend.
Slovakian import forward Juraj Gracik will miss both games after sustaining a shoulder injury when he crashed into his team’s goal at Telford Tigers on Sunday.
Gracik was breaking up a Telford attack at the time as his side went on to beat Tigers and make it four English Premier League wins on the spin over the last two weekends.
However, the good news is that Matt Towalski is hoping to return to action after missing the weekend’s double wins against Bracknell Bees and Tigers with a hamstring injury.
Lightning go to Basingstoke on Saturday at 6.30pm before hosting them the next day at 5.30pm. And they travel to Hampshire joint top of the EPL with Slough Jets, Sheffield Steeldogs and Manchester Phoenix – having two games in hand on Jets and Steeldogs and one on Phoenix as they sit in fourth place.
However, there is no room for complacency as there is only three points separating the top sides and eighth placed Bison in the 10-team league, with no club still unbeaten.
On Saturday Lightning looked to be heading for a comfortable win over Bees after taking a three-goal lead by the 25th minute.
But inexplicably they surrendered their lead and were forced into five minutes of sudden death overtime and then a penalty shoot-out before Grant McPherson eventually got the winning goal. Amazingly, before his conversion, the two sides had failed to score from each of their nine penalty shots.
Defenceman Michael Farn was instrumental in Lightning’s opening goal after 6m 30s. He blasted the puck towards goal from the blue line, only for goalie Tom Annetts to spill it to the waiting Adam Brittle.
Brittle’s quick thinking saw him pass to Blaz Emersic who made no mistake with Annetts stranded.
Tom Norton started the move which saw Emersic double the lead after 14m 37s, the Slovenian going up the left with Ross Bowers going with him as a decoy.
At the first break Lightning looked to be well in control of the game and nothing early in the second period seemed to change that situation, especially when Nick Poole put Adam Carr away up the right hand side for a precision pass to Leigh Jamieson to fire in on the left hand side of Annetts on 25m 20s.
But then things started to go wrong as Peter Jasik got Bees off the mark with a shot that Lightning goalie Alex Mettam seemed to have covered, but the puck went between his legs on 28m 54s.
Lightning were given the chance to quickly get back on track when Scott Spearing was penalised for slashing Ross Green. Instead it was Jasik who registered short-handed when Mettam was unable to deal with his power shot after 31m 18s.
A further blow hit Lightning within minutes of the start of the third session when Jamieson was called for interference. From the resulting powerplay, Martin Masa supplied Jasik for his hat-trick goal after 43m 21s to make it 3-3.
Lightning were expected to step up their game from then on, but they were unable to regain the initiative they held in the early part of the game and so overtime and eventually penalties followed.
The following evening at Telford the city side came back from going a goal behind 19 seconds from the first break – the scorer Josh Bruce who was set up by Luke Brittle.
Lightning’s hopes of a swift response were impeded at the start of the second session though with quick penalties called on Michael Wales and Norton. And it was not until Telford were reduced to four skaters following a too many men on the ice penalty that Lightning seized the chance of a powerplay strike, with Carr supplying Farn to score in the 38th minute.
Five minutes into the last period Emersic claimed his third goal of the weekend with a Farn assisted goal to put Lightning 2-1 in front.
Then Jamieson and Poole got the assists as Carr, in rich scoring vein this season, put daylight between the sides with the third goal after 51m 33s. From then on the visitors were simply able to batten down the hatches and take the points with a 3-1 win.
>> MK Thunder made the long trip to west to face the Cardiff ENL Devils on Sunday and suffered a 5-3 defeat, with Joe Edwards and Tommy Mboya getting the goals while Maros Stefanco was left needing hospital treatment.
After a good start to the season it’s now three defeats in four for Thunder who slip to fifth place in the English National League South Division. This weekend sees them welcome table toppers Chelmsford Chieftains on Saturday and travel to the Slough ENL Jets on Sunday.