LIGHTNING player coach Nick Poole has paid tribute to the club’s amazing support in the wake of their heartbreaking defeat in the quarter finals of the English Premier League play-offs.
Slough Jets instead of Lightning will go into the Coventry finals weekend after they were eventually beaten by what Poole has described as a ‘freak goal’ in the Berkshire outfit’s 11-10 aggregate win.
He said: “I know all the players would like to thank the fans for the incredible support they have shown us all season. In Slough it was amazing to have such backing and they showed once again why they are the best fans in the league.”
“We always knew going into the weekend that it would be very close and probably come down to the final period on Sunday as there was little to separate the teams all year. Both sides gave it everything they had and it was a great weekend of hockey.”
Poole also said he was incredibly proud of his players for their commitment and determination, and that with just one lucky break it would have been Lightning going to Coventry instead of Slough.
Sunday’s second leg produced one of the most tense and exciting scorelines in Lightning’s history – probably also in the 20 odd year history of ice hockey in Milton Keynes. So many Lightning fans attended that they packed out the away supporters section and spilled over into that allocated for home supporters.
With a three goal lead from the first leg, Lightning saw that disappear in the first 33 minutes when Slough clawed their way back into the tie with a first period strike from Joe Greener 1min 49secs from the break and then found the net twice through Adam Calder after 27min 50secs when Jets were short handed and Darius Pliskauskas at 32mins 11secs.
Dan Davies put Jets ahead on aggregate with the home side’s fourth goal of the night just 27 seconds into the third session before Lightning hit back courtesy of Matt Towalski (43mins 53secs) and Adam Brittle (47mins 14secs) to regain the overall lead.
The game then swung Jets’ way again with Calder getting his second goal on the powerplay at 53mins 22secs and Davies making it 10-9 on aggregate to the hosts with 4mins 43secs remaining.
There was more drama though as Slough were judged to have illegally dislodged the net from its moorings during a Lightning attack with 18 seconds to go. Up stepped former Jets man Blaz Emersic to convert the penalty shot and send the game into overtime.
With 54 seconds of the extra period to go a cruel deflection into the net off Lukas Zatopek’s stick from a shot by former MK man Mindy Kieras finally defeated Lightning to send the home crowd wild.
Lightning had given themselves a great chance of qualifying for the semi finals with a 7-4 first leg win against Jets on Saturday.
Slough fought back to trail by one goal before Lightning recovered to go into the second break with a two goal advantage.
They then added a late seventh goal to set themselves up perfectly for the return leg at The Hangar.
From the start MK stated their intentions, playing at a blistering pace. And it took only 3mins 24secs for their reward when Leigh Jamieson fired in unassisted.
Jets hit back with an equaliser when Joe Greener sent a long range shot past goalie Barry Hollyhead after 6mins 58secs.
It was a brief respite for Jamieson set up Brittle to put the home side in front again on 11mins 59secs.
Twenty five seconds later captain Adam Carr – making his first appearance in weeks following a hand injury – showed just how much he’s been missed when he fired high into the net to make it 3-1.
That prompted an immediate time out by Jets to try and steady the ship. It couldn’t prevent Lightning from adding to their total though, with Carr redirecting a Michael Farn blast from long distance past goalie Gregg Rockman on 17mins 29secs.
Jets began the second period with some great chances – Aaron Connolly, Terry Miles and Pliskauskas all having efforts saved by Hollyhead before Michael Wales extended Lightning’s lead to four from close range on 25mins 50secs, only for Pliskauskas to dispossess Zatopek to score for Slough 32 seconds later.
And then the momentum shifted towards Slough as Ryan Watt beat Hollyhead from out on the right after 27mins 29secs while his side were on the powerplay with Farn penalised for throwing the puck up the ice after losing his stick.
Pliskauskas then supplied Davies to fire high to the far side of Hollyhead to make it 5-4 – leading to a Lightning time out.
The hosts’ two goal cushion was restored by the second break though as Wales set up Jamieson for his second 1min 57secs from the buzzer.
After 10 goals in the first 40 minutes it looked as though the feast would continue into the third. But it wasn’t to be as MK kept Jets at bay despite being outshot and added to their tally through a fine Tuomas Tikkanen strike after 54mins 20secs to give the side what looked to be a comfortable three goal cushion going into the second leg.