Lightning’s hopes of qualification from their English Challenge Cup group remain on a knife-edge despite a comfortable win over lower league Chelmsford Chieftains on Saturday at MK Arena.
The reigning English National League champions were defeated 5-2 in a game where Lightning never really looked under threat - and indeed the home side could have probably won by a bigger margin had they needed to step up into top gear.
But they know their chances of going through to the next stage depend on the results of other teams’ games, so tight is the group table. Lightning have one cup game left at home against Invicta Dynamos on January 3.
In a rare weekend with only one game Lightning started the match without Jordan Hedley, Jordan Cownie and Lewis Hook all away on Great Britain Under 20 duty. MK Thunder regulars, Connor Goode and Harrison Goode, plus Nidal Phillips all got regular ice time while under 18 netminder Ryan Lubbock backed up goalie Stephen Wall.
Saturday’s game marked the first return to Milton Keynes of the side’s former defenceman Lukas Zatopek who joined Chieftains this season. He was given a warm welcome as his team was announced. On the bench was another former MK favourite, Dwayne Newman, now coaching the Essex club.
In the first few seconds Lightning went close when Milan Kostourek set up Leigh Jamieson for a shot which went past the post and it was the same combination that produced another chance in the third minute with the same result - the Brit wide of target.
Chelmsford’s first opportunity came in the fourth minute when Cameron Bartlett made the pass to Darren Brown, only for him to be thwarted by Wall.
Michael Farn made no mistake though when he took Harrison Goode’s pass and raced up the left wing to fire past Chieftains goalie Euan King on 5mins 25secs.
It was Farn who also bagged goal number two on 16mins 12secs when took Lewis Christie’s long pass to defeat King again.
In the early part of the middle period Lightning continued to dominate with Ross Bowers just failing to connect with a Blaz Emersic pass before Bowers then had a shot stopped by King.
The first penalty was conceded when Chris Wiggins was sin binned for interference. But there was little to threaten Wall with a Matt Turner effort at the end of the penalty going past the post.
Lightning extended their lead at 28mins 7secs as Connor Goode supplied Emersic for the first of his hat-trick of goals.
Just seconds later Chieftains bounced back when Wall blocked but didn’t hold a Bartlett shot - Brown converting the follow up on 28mins 43secs.
Two quick penalties on Chieftains - Zatopek for hooking and Brown for tripping - gave Nick Poole’s charges a brief five on three advantage but they were unable to add to their tally shortly before Chieftains’ King had to retire with a broken skate blade - being replaced by Ben Clements.
Chieftains did no better when Ben Russell was called for boarding in a penalty which spilled over to the final session.
Emersic was on the mark again after 51mins 35secs to make it 4-1 with a blue line rocket which eluded Clements. Less than three minutes later at 54mins 29secs the Slovenian completed his hat-trick with a shot which went through Clements’ legs - Connor Goode again providing the pass.
The final shout though went to Chieftain when Brown broke away while his side were short handed and beat Wall one on one 30 seconds from the end buzzer.
Hook and Cownie made good impressions in the opening two games for GB Under 20s in Estonia. Lewis Hook scored in the 7-3 warm-up defeat of Finland while Cownie scored one and assisted on another goal in the first World Junior Championships game, a 4-2 win over the Netherlands on Sunday.
Cownie scored with what was described as a ‘wondrous solo finish’. Having stick handled through the Dutch defence he dummied the goalie before slotting home.
A Cownie shot was tipped in by Bobby Chamberlain for the final goal.
Lightning have a mid week date with Swindon Wildcats at MK Arena on Wednesday, face off 7.45pm. On Saturday Basingstoke Bison are the visitors at 7pm - again Lightning only have only game over the weekend.