Lightning take pride from final defeat

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LIGHTNING can be proud of what they achieved in reaching the final of the English Premier League play-off Championships on Sunday, despite losing to Guildford Flames.

That’s the view of team manager Vito Rausa who said that team and fans alike were disappointed to miss out on the trophy, but insisted they should still hold their heads up high after taking on the league’s top two.

“We went and beat the best team in the league on Saturday - Manchester Phoenix - and only lost to the second best in the final,” he said.

“Guildford are a good team and you have got to be magnanimous in defeat. I was proud of our side for staying on the ice to congratulate them after they received the trophy,” he added.

Manager Rausa also had praise for the big travelling army of fans who turned out at the Coventry Skydome on both days/

“They were unbelievable - they were a class apart from all the other fans. They were tremendous,” he said.

However, Rausa was left surprised and unhappy with the introduction of video technology for the finals, after only finding out about it hours before Saturday’s game.

“We found out about it just before the start of the semi final - it’s the first time it’s been used,” he groaned.

The video replay was used within minutes of the start of the final when Guildford disputed Monir Kalgoum’s opening goal for Lightning - claiming the net was off its moorings before the shot went in. The video showed it was not and the goal stood.

But Rausa said the delay in making the decision effectively gave Flames a three minute time out, just as the momentum had been with Lightning. Flames then quickly equalised when play resumed.

And strangely, when referee Matt Thompson awarded a penalty against Lightning late in the game after Lukas Zatopek was deemed to have brought down Martin Masa, the replay was not used, despite some doubts about the validity of the call.

Rausa said had it not been for the penalty, converted by Masa, and the video delay, Lightning could have won on Sunday. But he was keen to take the positives from the experience.

“We came out of the weekend with a lot of integrity, both for the team and the fans,” he said.

Player coach Nick Poole shared that sentiment, saying: “The team gave it everything they had to get another play-off trophy, but we came up a bit short against a very strong team in Flames who were deserved winners.”

Lightning will however be glad the season is now over as they ended the weekend with injuries to two players - Michael Wales was forced to sit out the final with knee ligament damage sustained during the semi final, while Michael Farn was taken to hospital with a suspected broken jaw after a bad hit late in the final. Fortunately no break was diagnosed.

Both the semi final and final were dramatic affairs as Lightning took a two goal lead against Manchester, only to concede a brace of goals in the final two minutes of regulation time to send the game into overtime. Matt Towalski fired them ahead after 30mins 3secs from Grant McPherson’s pass. Less than three minutes later, at 32mins 57secs, Kalgoum set up Adam Brittle for the second goal.

Lightning held the advantage until 58mins 48secs when Phoenix’s Curtis Huppe supplied Pavel Gomeniuk for their first goal. And only 24 seconds later the league winners seemed on course to break the city side’s hearts as Huppe was the provider for Tony Hand to equalise.

But it was to be Lightning’s day as Leigh Jamieson sealed their final spot with the winning goal just 19 seconds from the end of overtime.

Lightning got the start they wanted in the final against Guildford when Kalgoum registered after 5mins 9secs from Andre Smulter’s pass. But the Surrey side hit back thanks to a Ben Campbell goal after 6mins 18secs.

By the first break Flames were 3-1 up with Nathan Rempel scoring on the powerplay at 10mins 59secs and Campbell bagging his goal second 34 seconds from the break.

Gary Clarke reduced the deficit to one with a 28mins 14secs powerplay goal after deflecting a Zatopek blue line blast. Blaz Emersic then tied the game on 50mins 48secs - again on the powerplay - only for Flames to take full advantage of Masa’s penalty shot at 52mins 41secs.

Lightning keeper Barry Hollyhead was withdrawn for the extra skater with 62 seconds left, and 13 seconds later Rempel scored on the empty net to seal a 5-3 win for Flames.