LIGHTNING player coach Nick Poole’s forecast that the 2011-2012 English Premier League would be the most competitive ever is already proving true.
With just two weekends of matches played, not one team has managed to come out with a 100 per cent record, including Lightning who won one and lost one of their opening two regular season fixtures.
Starting league action a week later than most clubs, Lightning joined the sides who have experienced the highs and lows of victory and defeat as they stunned reigning league champions Manchester Phoenix with a 5-2 win on Saturday, only to lose 4-2 at Sheffield Steeldogs a day later.
This Saturday they will start as big favourites to win at home to Telford Tigers, but the visit to Slough Jets on Sunday looks set to be a far tougher prospect. But as Guildford Flames found to their cost on the opening weekend, Tigers won’t be pushovers.
Lightning captain Adam Carr said this week: “You only have to look at the result in Guildford a couple of weeks ago when Telford went there and came away 4-1 winners to know that Telford are no mugs.
“Tom Watkins has done a great job up there and has brought in a good mix of young players who are keen to impress, and players who have played in the league for a while who have experience.”
It was Carr who got Lightning off to a flying start against Manchester when he took Leigh Jamieson’s pass from the left and unleashed a great shot to beat goalie Stephen Fone after only 2m 38s, giving Lightning a dream start to the new season in front of their own fans.
Phoenix were left reeling again when Lightning bagged a second goal in the opening nine minutes – Blaz Emersic advancing on the right and crossing to centre ice where Lukas Zatopek connected with the puck and sent a shot high into the net to the far side of the goalie after 8m 42s.
Lightning continued to dominate the first period and the early stages of the second, so it was little surprise when they added a third goal to their tally after 28m 38s when Emersic capped a spell of severe pressure with a shot from close range.
Phoenix’s cause was not helped as they became increasingly frustrated – player coach Tony Hand with a 10 minute misconduct penalty among three of their players to receive spells in the sin bin in quick succession.
When Phoenix did score it was a scrambled affair with Martin Cingel putting the puck in after goalie Alex Mettam was unable to seize it while making a save on 35m 16s.
But less than three minutes later Ross Bowers supplied Zatopek for the fourth Lightning goal at 37m 53s – the Czech blasting a power drive from the neutral zone which goalie Fone could have hardly seen.
Manchester’s only joy of the third period came courtesy of a penalty shot at 46m 53s converted by Ben Wood after he was hauled down en route to goal by Grant McPherson.
However, Lightning would have the last laugh when Jamieson shot from distance and Fone only parried the puck to Carr who made no mistake on 52m 53s to make it 5-2.
After that super performance which saw Manchester lose for the first time this season, Lightning’s showing the next day could hardly have been more different – at least in the first period as they fell a goal behind when Lloyd Gibson was supplier for Andrew Hirst after 6m 36s and then Edgars Bebris set up Janis Ozolins for the second Sheffield goal after 14m 17s.
It was not until Lightning had a five on three powerplay after the half way stage of the game that they were able to register with Jamieson converting from Emersic at 35m 28s.
The next goal was crucial and with 21secs to go before the second break the hosts scored it as Pavel Gomeniuk made it 3-1 on the powerplay while Zatopek was serving time for tripping.
Within seconds of his return to the ice Zatopek set up Lightning’s second goal for Emersic with five seconds to the buzzer. But any hope the visitors had of a third period comeback were ruined by Ozolins’ second goal of the night to make it 4-2 after 49m 15s.
All that means Lightning occupy an unfamiliar position near the foot of the EPL table after two games, but only because the majority of teams have now played four times as Manchester lead the way from Sheffield at the top.
Lightning’s game against Telford on Saturday faces off at 7pm, followed by a 6.30pm start at Slough on Sunday.
>> After a tremendous victory on the Isle of Wight the week before, MK Thunder were brought back to earth with a bump at the weekend, losing at Romford Raiders on Saturday and at home to Bristol Bulldogs on Sunday.
AJ Smith fired the home side into the lead after seven minutes before Raiders player coach Danny Marshall doubled the advantage 90 seconds later, before Thunder were given an opportunity to get back into it as the Essex side fell foul of the officials.
Unfortunately they could not find a way past Raiders netminder Michael Gray and received a further set back when captain Anthony Leone extended Raiders’ advantage to 3-0 at the end of the first period.
The home side continued to press forward after the restart and Smith completed his brace two minutes in to the period. Matt Turner and Grant Taylor then heaped further misery on the visitors before three more Raiders goals followed late on to complete an emphatic 9-0 success for the English National League leaders.
And things didn’t get better for the city side the following day as they lost 5-3 to Bristol Pitbulls. This weekend Thunder will be looking to get back to winning ways when they host newly promoted Slough ENL Jets on Sunday.