Lightning stumble as Wildcats and Raiders pick up victories

Milton Keynes Lightning’s hopes of continuing the rise up the National Ice Hockey League suffered a double blow at the weekend with defeats to Swindon Wildcats and Raiders.

Monday, 20th January 2020, 11:27 am
Updated Monday, 20th January 2020, 11:28 am
Lightning vs Swindon Wildcats. Pic: Tony Sargent

After they picked up a point from the overtime 4-3 loss to Wildcats they went down 6-4 at Romford based Raiders on Sunday – representing their worst results since mid-November when they coincidentally suffered a 6-2 reverse to Raiders and then lost by the same score at Telford Tigers the next day.

It left Lightning in sixth spot in the table, but level on points with Sheffield Steeldogs who are one place below them.

On Saturday Sam Bullas drove a bullet into Lightning’s hopes of maintaining their home winning run when he struck with an overtime winner at Planet Ice on Saturday. The goal 3mins 18secs into the extra period was all the more hard to take because until 20secs from the end of regulation time Lightning had led the game from the time Russell Cowley had scored with just over two minutes gone.

Lightning vs Swindon Wildcats. Pic: Tony Sargent

Among the spectators was former champion boxer Frank Bruno whose foundation announced the sponsorship of Rio Grinell-Parke and performed a ceremonial drop of the puck with both teams captains, Cowley and Bullas. Bruno’s Northampton-based foundation is raising funds for a non-contact boxing centre for youngsters with mental health problems – the boxer having suffered in the past.

And after watching two periods of the game Bruno confessed he would rather fight Mike Tyson any day: “Ice hockey’s far too tough for me.”

The home side went ahead thanks to the swift reactions of Cowley who pounced after a Tomas Kana blast from distance rebounded off the back boards at 2mins 7secs.

One minute 35secs into the second session Lightning doubled their lead when Robin Kovar shot on the turn. A slashing call on Grant McPherson in the 26th minute saw Wildcats cut the deficit when Max Birbraer fired in a shot which appeared to deflect off Lawday’s shoulder before hit the back of the net at 27mins 48secs.

Lightning vs Swindon Wildcats. Pic: Tony Sargent

With less than ten minutes to go a brilliant Jordan Stokes blue line effort hit the pipework and the ever alert Kovar to beat Marr to the puck to bag his second goal at 50mins 38secs to make it 3-1.

The game changing moments came within three minutes as Ross Green was sin binned for interference at 53mins 45secs and then Leigh Jamieson was penalised for a high stick at 55mins 6secs.

With a five on three advantage Tyler Vankleef shot home at 55mins 21secs. Marr was replaced by the extra skater with 1mins 13secs left and Birbraer levelled the scores with only 20 seconds remaining of regulation time.

That spark continued into overtime for the Wiltshire visitors when Bullas’ shot crept into the net with 1min 42secs remaining.

Lightning vs Swindon Wildcats. Pic: Tony Sargent

The next day an empty net Raiders goal sealed a 6-4 loss for Lewis Clifford’s men although there was a bright start for Lightning when Tom Carlon fired them ahead with a shot past goalie Michael Gray after 2mins 29secs. But within seconds Raiders were level – Aaron Connolly with the equaliser at three minutes exactly.

Hooking and holding the opponent’s stick were the calls when both teams lost players to the cooler on 12mins 47secs – Ollie Baldock and James Griffin the offenders. These penalties eventually saw MK edge in front again at 13mins 55secs when Jamieson netted.

The officials then called both Raiders’ Blahoslav Novak and MK’s Jordan Stokes at the same time on 15mins 14secs for roughing and holding respectively before MK took a 3-1 lead as Tomas Kana struck at 16mins 46secs.

But Raiders soon hit back with netminder Dean Skinns conceding to an unassisted Brandon Ayliffe shot at 18mins 7secs before Olegs Lascenko squared things up 18 seconds before the interval. Raiders took the lead for the first time as Novak hit the home side’s fourth goal on 29mins 34secs.

A major penalty on Lukas Sladovsky 49 seconds before the break that gave Lightning the chance to equalise. On the powerplay Kovar set up Cowley to score with 14 seconds to the buzzer.

Unfortunately it was the last time that MK were able to break Gray – Raiders gaining the go ahead goal through a Lascenko powerplay goal 1mins 35secs after the restart while Cowley was in the sin bin for tripping.

Lightning withdrew Skinns for the final 40 seconds or so in favour of the extra skater and that sealed their fate with an empty net strike by Ayliffe to make it 6-4 to the hosts.