Lightning make a mixed start to the Elite League

Joonas Huovinen fires in on goal at Sheffield
Joonas Huovinen fires in on goal at Sheffield

Milton Keynes Lightning created history when they got their new Elite league season off to a flying start with a 3-2 win at Sheffield Steelers on Saturday – becoming the first city team to defeat them on home ice.

The defunct MK Kings never achieved victory at Sheffield Arena and although Lightning, in their English Premier League days, recorded successes in Sheffield it was against Steeldogs and before that, Scimitars.

Unfortunately Lightning could not repeat Saturday’s win when Steelers visited Planet Ice on Sunday – tired legs eventually costing the home side as they went down 5-2 with four of the travellers’ goals coming in the last period.

Worryingly for Lightning they were already short on numbers in only their second league game of the campaign. With Canadian defenceman Nelson Armstrong’s visa problems delaying his arrival in the country they were also without Czech blue liner Martin Mazanec who it was discovered still had suspension to serve from his time playing on the continent.

In addition forward Owen Griffiths was missing from the line-up on Sunday meaning that head coach Doug McKay played forwards Cole Shudra and Trevor Morbeck in defence – resulting in him not being able to ice three senior full forwards. Rio Grinell Parke was drafted in from Milton Keynes Thunder as cover and although he gave a good account of himself his lack of senior ice time was always going to tell.

Sheffield, in contrast, had an almost full roster. That allowed Steelers to ice four forward lines and eventually wear Lightning down, even though to their credit the hosts never gave up despite being three goals adrift with just over three minutes to play.

Georgs Golovkovs battles for the puck at Planet Ice

Georgs Golovkovs battles for the puck at Planet Ice

On Saturday a pair of first period goals from former Sheffield Steelers Andreas Valdix and Eric Neiley sent Smith Recycling Milton Keynes Lightning on their way to a 3-2 victory at Sheffield.

Joonas Huovinen added the winning goal in the second session before MK netminder Patrick Killeen came under intense pressure at times during the third period but remained unbeaten.

Steelers stopper Jackson Whistle made two fine saves but couldn’t keep the puck out when Radek Meidl fed Valdix for the opening strike on 11mins 8secs.

Two and a half minutes later it was 2-0 to Lightning when Trevor Morbeck was involved in Neiley’s goal set up by another ex-Steeler, Tim Wallace, at 13mins 39secs. It wasn’t long though before Sheffield hit back to narrow the margin as Aaron Johnson scored on exactly 14mins.

Killeen came up big early in the second period and he remained resolute as Steelers piled on the pressure. Sheffield got back on terms on 31mins 15secs as Justin Buzzeo beat Killeen with a shot over his shoulder.

At the second break though it was Lightning who again led by one goal and once more it was third time lucky when Whistle kept out two shots but couldn’t prevent Huovinen from finding the net on 38mins 45secs, assisted by Morbeck and Valdix.

Killeen was the hero stopper as Lightning held on for a sensational 3-2 win in the third period.

However Steelers gained quick revenge with Sunday’s victory – outshooting the hosts 22-9 in the last stanza.

Early on there was little to choose between the teams and indeed it was Lightning who went in front on the powerplay at 8mins 32secs – Eric Neiley registering against his old team at the left post while David Phillips – back from a one game suspension – was in the cooler on a roughing call. The assists went to Tim Wallace and Michael Fine.

Killeen produced a fine save to thwart Evan McGrath before Wallace was sin binned for tripping in the 16th minute – giving Steelers a powerplay from which they were able to square things up as Evan McGrath registered at 17mins 21secs.

Steelers went in front for the first time on 41mins 42secs while James Griffin was in the box for hooking – Killeen saved the first shot but could not keep out Josh Pitt’s follow up. There was a swift response though from the hosts when David Norris scored unassisted 14 seconds later.

Once more Sheffield retook the lead on 44mins 9secs with a delayed penalty goal – the tripping call on Ryan Lannon – as Pitt bagged his second goal and the Steelers went further ahead at 49mins 16secs when McGrath won possession and found himself in plenty of space to shoot past Killeen.

It was Pitt who sealed the 5-2 win with a shot which went through Killeen’s legs to complete his hat-trick with 3mins 9secs remaining.

On Saturday Lightning host Coventry Blaze in a Challenge Cup game at 7pm and it’s cup action again on Sunday when they visit Cardiff Devils. The latter game will be shown live on satellite channel Freesports TV at 6pm.