MK THUNDER’S English National Ice Hockey League Division One play-off hopes remain alive and well, despite them only picking up one point last weekend.
Thunder faced a stiff test on Saturday when they welcomed league title favourites Chelmsford Chieftains to Milton Keynes, and the Essex outfit’s high powered offence made life tough for the hosts, despite a spirited performance from Simon Howard’s men.
Daniel Hammond opened the scoring for the visitors at 6.42 but Thunder struck back quickly through Connor Goode, only for ex-MK Lightning stalwart Gary Clarke – now Chieftains’ player coach – to restore the visitors’ lead with just under 10 minutes gone.
Tom Long added a third for Chelmsford before the first intermission, but a sloppy second period allowed Chelmsford to really pull away as a brace from Alan Green, combined with goals from Ross Brears, James Ayling and a penalty shot from Jakub Klima, gave the Chiefs an 8-2 lead heading in to the final period, with Thunder’s goal coming from captain Matt Roberts.
A much improved final frame gave Thunder fans something to cheer about when Simon Howard scored on the powerplay, but goals from Hammond and Clarke sealed an emphatic 10-3 win for the visitors as they continue to battle for the league title.
Thunder then sought to shake off the previous night’s heavy defeat at Slough on Sunday, as they took on the Jets for the second time in a fortnight.
Thunder dominated much of the early play, though netminder Dave Cassidy was also called upon to make some key saves early on to keep the hosts at bay.
Jamie Milton’s ejection after 15 minutes for attacking Thunder forward Jack Robinson gave Thunder a five minute powerplay opportunity, which the side duly used to their advantage as they grabbed two late goals through Maros Stefanco and Harrison Goode to grab a well earned lead after the first period.
Lewis Tribble pulled one back for the Jets eight minutes into the second period but a superb solo effort by Stefanco restored the two-goal Thunder lead four minutes later.
Jets again pulled one back, this time through Callum Best, before Goode found the net again to give Thunder a 4-2 advantage. But a sloppy final five minutes from Thunder allowed Slough to cut their lead when Andrew Melachrino grabbed a late marker before the break.
A hard fought final period saw both teams creating chances, and when Goode completed his hat trick at 50.09, Thunder looked in a strong position to claim the two points.
But a goal mouth scramble allowed Jets Zoran Kozic to poke home from close range with just under three minutes to go before a harsh hooking call on new Thunder defenceman Vladimir Hubka allowed Melachrino to score the tying goal on the powerplay with just over a minute remaining to end the game 5-5.
Whilst a point on the road is valuable to Thunder’s quest to make the end of season play-offs for the second successive year, there was disappointment in the camp after being so close to picking up a big away win.
Thunder now sit sixth in the table and welcome Streatham Redskins to the Thunderdome on Sunday evening.