Lightning make a perfect start to the season
A dramatic conclusion saw MK Lightning complete a four point weekend as they beat Bracknell Bees and then Guildford Flames.
In the season opener at MK Arena, Lightning put in a confident performance in seeing off Bees 4-1, and doubled up 24 hours later, being Flames 5-4 in overtime.
Putting the disappointment of losing the Ashes to Peterborough last week, Lightning bounced back in fine style against Bracknell.
Lightning dominated much of the possession in the first period and should have been ahead by more than the single goal at the initial interval.
Frankie Bakrlik tested former Lightning netminder Alex Mettam in the opening minutes without success.
But it was not long before the home outfit got off the mark as Lewis Hook raced in on goal and unleashed a blast which Mettam seemed to have stopped – only for it to go over the line when Bakrlik followed up to give Lightning the lead at at 6mins 14secs.
But if MK fans thought that would be the beginning of a glut of goals they were disappointed, even though their team was on top for the remainder of the period.
Mikolaj Lopuski set up man of the match Hook for another attempt before Carl Graham was called for tripping Milan Baranyk at 10mins 10secs.
There was a lot of MK pressure during the resulting powerplay early on with Bakrlik and Hook looking particularly potent but as the two minutes expired the offence faded.
Almost immediately Bees were a man down again when David Gaborcik was caught boarding Glenn Billing.
Impressive defenceman Sam Jones twice put in long range blasts on Mettam while a Bakrlik effort pinged the metalwork.
In the final three and a half minutes Bees were given a powerplay as Ed Knaggs served time for holding. But for all their possession the visitors did nothing constructive with the puck and the session ended with the solitary goal dividing the sides.
If the goals failed to come in the opening 20 minutes then supporters didn’t have to wait long after the restart for Lightning to double their advantage as Hook sped away and fired in a shot which hit the metalwork and rebounded to Bakrlik to finish off on 23mins 57secs.
Lightning were on fire and they gave Bees little respite – Lopuski having an effort which was taken by Mettam’s glove before the visitors’ Lukas Smital went close with a shot which also hit the metalwork.
Immediately play went to the other end of the ice with a move started by Blaz Emersic and finished off by Hook with Bakrlik making the feed to him at 26mins 9secs.
At that point it looked as though the floodgates would open – instead they stayed shut although Bobby Chamberlain and Lopuski went close in the 27th minute.
It was not until the 31st minute that home goalie Prezmy Odrobny faced anything like a shot that would test him – Matt Foord trying him out without success.
Lightning were reduced to four skaters when Lewis Christie was assessed a two plus 10 minute penalty for a check to the head of Rio Grinell-Parke – it looked to be a clumsy rather than malicious offence. However only Krystof Kafan and Smital produced anything to challenge Odrobny on the fruitless powerplay for Bees.
Back at even strength Mettam was forced to kick away a Bobby Chamberlain effort in the dying minutes of the period.Any thoughts Bees harboured of a third session comeback were extinguished after Josh Tetlow was given a five minutes plus match penalty for a high stick on Emersic at 41mins 8secs.
Within 42secs Bakrlik got the assist as Milan Baranyk finished off to make it 4-0. Once more further MK goals looked likely but didn’t come.
There was some mini excitement a few minutes later as Chamberlain and James Galazzi dropped the gloves for a spot of fisticuffs which produced no clear winner – both players earning four minutes in their respective sin bins for roughing.
Tetlow’s penalty was downgraded from match to game after Emersic was able to return to the ice.
Bees finally got off the mark while Lightning had both Luc Johnson and Sam Jones in the penalty box for interference and cross-checking. However there was a degree of controversy about the goal on 56mins 5secs by Alex Barker with Odrobny looking to be impeded as the net came off its moorings.
It mattered little though as there was little further threat by the visitors – the game finishing with both teams suffering penalty calls in the last couple of minutes.
On Sunday, Lightning established a 4-1 lead with less than a quarter of an hour remaining Flames fought back to level the tallies with 1min 38secs of regulation time left.
But it was last laugh to the visitors when Bobby Chamberlain put paid to the hosts’ fightback with the winner 1min 6secs into overtime to ensure Lightning are in the leading group following the first round of English Premier League games.
There was little to suggest such a final flourish in the first period though with MK opening the evening’s scoring on 6mins 9secs when Blaz Emersic and Craig Scott had a hand in Frankie Bakrlik’s goal.
Seconds later Mikolaj Lopuski was penalised for hooking but the visitors snuffed out the danger and even had a shorthanded break with Hook and Emersic going on the attack – the Brit’s shot being blocked by goalie Richard Ullberg.
It was a second Lightning penalty – this time Michael Farn being called for interference that led to Flames equalising through Jez Lundin – assisted by Matic Kralj and Danny Meyers on 16mins 21secs.
With no further goals before the break the teams were all square at one each – the shots on goal also level at 11 apiece. However it was a vastly different story in the second session with Flames managing a miserly two on goalie Przemy Odrobny while his opposite number faced 13.
Despite that Flames goal remained intact with Ullberg blocking Emersic and then Lewis Christie early on before the home side incurred a too many men penalty, during which Sam Jones had probably the best chance with an effort blocked by the goalie.
Flames’ wayward shooting meant they could make no headway – new import Marek Maslonka had power behind his effort but it went wide and the same fate met a Marcus Kristofferson drive. In between both Emersic and Christie again pressured the home net.
Lightning finally edged ahead 3mins 53secs into the third period when Adam Carr and Ed Knaggs got the assists on Chamberlain’s strike.
Less than two minutes later Milan Baranyk and James Griffin were the suppliers for Craig Scott to beat Ullberg on 45mins 34secs.
As Lightning edged three in front through Hook, added by Emersic and Bakrlik, Flames coach Paul Dixon called a timeout.
The hosts’ fightback began under three minutes later when they were awarded a penalty shot after Tom Duggan was impeded on his race towards goal – Duggan took the shot to beat Odrobny on 49mins 3secs.
The gap was cut to one on 55mins 54secs when Kristofferson and Lundin set up Meyers and, with 1min 47secs to go, Ullberg was pulled in favour of the extra skater.
Within nine seconds the move paid off as Duggan got his second of the night to make it 4-4 and send the match into overtime which was brought to an abrupt end when Leigh Jamieson sent Chamberlain away to seal the points for Lightning.
Ironically the last time Lightning began the regular season with a four point weekend in 2013 the opponents were also Flames and Bracknell Bees.