Nine wins from the past 11 games have propelled Milton Keynes Lightning up into sixth place in the National Ice Hockey League.
Lightning have now taken 23 points from a possible 26 with one overtime defeat and one straight loss since the end of November. The arrival of Liam Stewart in early November – whose dad, Sir Rod Stewart came to watch his son recently – and just as importantly, Robin Kovar for the game that started the successful run – an 8-7 win on penalties against Hull Pirates on November 30 have transformed the team in a way no one thought possible in October.
But the victories have not just been due to the immediate partnership struck between Stewart and Kovar. In recent games they have been joined on a line with home-grown Leigh Jamieson who has switched from defence and scored four goals in five games as well as assisting on nine in that period.
Less experienced players such as Jordan Stokes and Harry Ferguson, the latter scoring six times in four games, have stepped up as well.
On Saturday Lightning did not need overtime as they saw off Hull Pirates in a 9-4 win at Planet Ice, six second period goals.
The following day MK saw off a late Bracknell Bees challenge to record a 5-4 victory at The Hive to consolidate sixth spot in the table.
Having beaten four of the top five clubs in recent weeks some will not only be tipping MK for a place in the final four play-off weekend at Coventry in April but for the team to go all the way and win it.
Against Hull there was a dramatic opening minute in which MK had a goal washed out after 35 seconds – the officials spotting netminder interference.
It was the Humberside side that scored first when player coach Jason Hewitt fired in on 13mins 17secs, prompting the first clash in which David Norris appeared to throw a punch at Cale Tanaka. That went unpunished by the officials but when Grant McPherson waded in to defend his team-mate he picked up a roughing penalty, together James Archer and Hewitt.
The response from Lightning was swift with Ferguson scoring on 15mins 20secs. But after Lewis Christie was called for holding at 18mins 9secs it took Pirates just nine seconds to score on the powerplay through Lee Bonner.
The visitors held their lead for only 35 seconds into the second period as Lightning equalised on the powerplay thanks to Tom Carlon. Hull hit back with a man advantage as Bonner bagged his second at 23mins 57secs.
McPherson then rounded netminder, Ashley Smith, to put MK back on terms on 25mins 18secs. A crazy 75 seconds followed with Lightning putting the game beyond Pirates’ reach.
Kovar set up Stewart who sped away to beat Smith after 25mins 32secs before Tanaka shot on the turn on 26mins 33secs. Former MK player Bobby Chamberlain was called for roughing at 33mins 17secs, allowing Ferguson to score his second 18secs later.
Stewart had a goal ruled out for goal was ruled out for netminder interference before the same man was instrumental in sending Kana away for a one on one strike against Hudson while MK were short-handed at 36mins 38secs for a four goal lead.
Lightning extended their lead after 46mins 55secs when Kovar rounded the goalie. With the game well and truly won – there was some extra entertainment as things boiled over between Archer and Tanaka, each receiving four minutes for fighting.
Tom Stubley’s hooking on Cowley saw Pirates score short-handed through Hewitt at 55mins 32secs. Lightning’s ninth came as when Stewart, as so often is the case, set up a rousing finale. Winning the puck in his defensive zone he accelerated away to make the perfect pass for Kovar to score one on one at 58mins 57secs while MK were short-handed.
In a closely fought encounter both teams traded goals at The Hive until Lightning finally broke Bees resolve in the third period with two strikes to edge to a 5-3 scoreline.
Bees scored with the extra man when Aidan Doughty beat netminder Dean Skinns on 6mins 20secs. MK levelled through Stewart after 15mins 29secs on the powerplay.
Kovar defeated goalie Adam Goss on 21mins 24secs for a 2-1 lead but Bees hit back as Ed Knaggs blasted home on 23mins 18secs.
The deadlock was finally broken with MKL on the powerplay as Tomas Kana registered at 49mins 23secs. Sixty six seconds later Cale Tanaka scored with MK having the extra player..
Bees narrowed the gap when Roman Malinik scored with 4mins 44secs remaining. Just 25 seconds later Jamieson restored the two goal advantage, only for Bees to reply almost immediately thanks to Harvey Stead at 56mins 28secs. The hosts withdrew goalie Goss for the extra skater but MKL were not be broken again.