Hexagon Telford Tigers travelled to Swindon on Saturday night for a top of the table clash with second placed Swindon Wildcats.
Tigers had seen their lead at the top of the table cut to two points after a run of five consecutive defeats. Tigers were dealt a further blow on the day of the game when it was confirmed that defender Thomas McKinnon had received a nine game suspension after being ejected from the previous game for a check from behind. The suspension leaves Tigers with only five available defenseman until the later stages of the league season. Tigers were already missing the suspended Andy McKinney and the injured trio of Jonathan Weaver, Dan Mitchell and James Smith. Although, there was some good news for Tigers as they were able to ice Scott McKenzie and Brandon Whistle who returned from injury in the defeat to Bracknell the previous weekend and both were deemed fit enough to start the game.
Tigers started with Brad Day in goal, Renny Marr started for Swindon.
Tigers needed a strong start to the game and they couldn’t have asked for a better start than scoring after thirteen seconds! Jack Watkins broke in on goal and was hooked by Swindon’s Stephen Whitfield as he was about to shoot. Referee Rose awarded a penalty shot to Tigers.
Watkins skated in on goal, dummied the shot and slid the puck past Marr to open the scoring and give Tigers a dream start. The game was played at break-neck speed with both teams realising the importance of the destination of the two points.
Swindon hit back in the seventh minute and equalised. Tomasz Malasinski sent a perfect cross ice pass to Swindon player coach Aaron Nell who smashed the puck past Day to draw the sides level. Tigers’ performance belied their recent poor results with Brandon Whistle setting up Scott McKenzie but Marr made a terrific save. Fin Howells then went close with a shot that Marr could only partially save but Swindon’s defence reacted quickest to clear the rebound.
Tigers regained the lead in the fifteenth minute. Ollie Lord found the onrushing Jason Silverthorn in the slot. The Tigers’ captain skated onto the pass perfectly and sent a wrist shot that went through Marr and into the net. Tigers ended the period giving away two penalties in the dying seconds. Nick Oliver was called for holding and six seconds after the restart, Silverthorn was also called for holding the stick, much to the disgust of coach Tom Watkins. The result of the penalties would be that Swindon would start the second period with almost two minutes of 5-on-3 power play time. As Watkins left the ice he remonstrated with the officials but they refused to explain the award of the penalties and waved the Tigers’ coach away.
Tigers worked magnificently on the penalty kill at the start of the second period. McKenzie showed the spirit of the team by blocking a shot and then clearing the puck down the ice. Day then made a great save from a Nell shot and blocked the rebound. Tigers gained momentum from the penalty kill and scored almost immediately after returning to full strength. Adam Taylor and Joe Aston combined to find the unmarked Whistle who buried a precise wrist shot past Marr to extend the Tigers’ lead. Swindon were trying to turn the game into a physical contest and negate the Tigers’ slick passing. Neil Liddiard did his best to provoke the Tigers’ players after crashing into McKenzie and holding him down on the ice, somehow McKenzie ended up with a penalty despite doing nothing wrong. Liddiard then skated up to the Tigers’ bench and appeared to be trying to goad them into a fight but he was ignored, the officials were unimpressed with his actions and gave him a 10 minute misconduct penalty. Swindon continued to press with Chris Jones shooting over the goal for Swindon and Edgars Bebris then drew a stunning double save from Day.
Swindon had another power play after Ross Kennedy was awarded a hooking penalty. Again, the penalty kill unit came up strong with Danny Rose being unable to change due to Swindon’s constant possession. The Tigers’ defenseman somehow managed to remain on the ice for the full length of the penalty and crucially won the puck and cleared it to prevent Jones getting in on goal. Day was at his athletic best when Swindon forced a goalmouth scramble, Day saved the puck and was joined in the goal crease by Corey Goodison who threw himself in front of the goal and blocked the puck, allowing Whistle to clear.
The period ended with Tigers getting a power play after a late hit from Max Birbraer was called for charging. Birbraer hit Florian late at speed and was lucky to only receive a two minute penalty. Tigers would start the third period with just over a minute of power play time.
On the power play, Tigers could not score and barely registered a shot on goal. Swindon fought back and cut the Tigers’ lead in half. A long range shot from Whitfield beat Day who was screened by a Swindon attacker. The goal gave the Swindon fans encouragement and their team pushed forward for an equaliser but Tigers managed the puck well and were always dangerous on the break. As the game entered the final minute, Swindon pulled Marr from the net for an extra attacker and laid siege to the Tigers’ goal, but Day and the Tigers’ defence stood firm and saw out the game to win a hard fought victory and delight the sizeable following of fans from Shropshire behind Day’s goal.
Tigers’ win breaks the run of consecutive losses and increases the lead at the top of the table to 4 points.
Final Score: Swindon Wildcats 2 Hexagon Telford Tigers 3.
Scorers: Jack Watkins, Jason Silverthorn and Brandon Whistle.
Man of the match: Brad Day.
After the game Head Coach Tom Watkins, commented, “What a great result and a great way to snap our losing streak against our nearest rivals. We had five players out of the line up already and then get the news Tom McKinnon is suspended for nine games a couple of hours before the face off in Swindon.
“The team really dug deep tonight in the face of some adversity and showed the team spirit we have in this group. I think we rode our luck at times but Brad (Day) was solid all night, the boys boxed out Swindon and did a good job of taking away the chance of rebounds. We needed to play a disciplined road game and we did that very well this evening. I think the 5-on-3 and penalty kill in general was the catalyst for the win this evening. Swindon are a quality hockey club with a lot of talent, we’re happy tonight but must do the job again in our next game against Hull.“