Hexagon Telford Tigers travelled to Wiltshire for the first leg of the Autumn Cup Semi Final on the back of a six game winning streak.
The team were mindful of the last semi final they played at the Swindon Rink – a 7-4 defeat – that seemingly ended the Tigers involvement in the cup before an epic comeback and penalty shoot out win saw Tigers advance to the final.
Recent form between the two teams was even, with Tigers triumphing 2-1 in Swindon, in the early Autumn Cup group fixture between the sides. But, Swindon had beaten Tigers on penalty shots in Telford in the league fixture between the teams.
Tigers were still without Ross Connolly and Brad Day and also found themselves without Jack Watkins for the game. But, the team welcomed back Jack Hopkins who had missed the last two games.
Tigers made a very poor start to the game and had a first period to forget. In the third minute a turnover by Jake Pryce in the Tigers defensive zone gave the puck to Tomasz Malasinski who immediately passed to Aaron Nell unmarked in the slot, the Swindon player coach sent the puck high over Jordan Lawday in the Tigers’ goal to give the Wildcats an early lead.
Jonathan Weaver hit the post with a long range shot but this was a brief respite for Tigers as they conceded a second goal shortly after. Edgars Bebris sent a pass towards goal which appeared to hit Emil Svec and deflect past Lawday. Tigers found themselves two goals down within the first seven minutes of the game, couldn’t get their passing game going and struggled for much of the period. As the period drew to a close the performance improved and a number of shots were sent in on Renny Marr in the Swindon goal but despite the puck bouncing off Marr no Tigers player was able to apply the required finish and Telford headed to the break two goals behind.
Tigers started the second period in much better fashion and finally got onto the scoresheet with a power play goal. Edgars Bebris was serving a tripping penalty for Swindon when good work by Fin Howells forced the puck towards Sam Watkins who went in on goal and beat Marr with a low shot. Tigers had consecutive power play chances after the goal but could not force an equaliser despite plenty of pressure on Marr’s goal. The game slipped away from Tigers late in the period with Swindon scoring two goals and leaving Telford with a mountain to climb.
Somehow Svec was unmarked on the Tigers’ blue line, with no Telford players within twenty feet of him. Nell sent a long pass out of defence to allow Svec to skate unchallenged on Lawday’s goal and with some brilliant stick handling beat Lawday with a superb shot. Tigers then conceded a further goal. A long range shot by Sam Godfrey beat Lawday who was screened by a Swindon forward and didn’t react at all to the shot, until it had gone past him. For all the good work early in the period, Tigers ended it 4-1 behind.
The third period didn’t start any better for Telford as within five minutes, the game was out of reach. A slashing penalty called on Andy McKinney after the buzzer sounded for the end of the second period proved to be damaging, as Malasinski tapped home within twenty seconds of the restart to put Swindon 5-1 ahead. Shortly after, Malasinski scored his second of the game to give Swindon a sixth goal. Tigers were under severe pressure and were watching their cup hopes disappear. But, a late fightback gave them hope. Austin Mitchell-King was sent clear on goal and was hooked by a Swindon defender, resulting in a penalty shot.
Mitchell-King beat Marr low to his left to score Tigers’ second goal. Within a minute, Tigers had a third goal. Jason Silverthorn set a pass across the front of the goal crease and Ricky Plant deftly tipped the puck through Marr’s legs to give Tigers hope of a comeback. Swindon called a time out after the Tigers third goal which seemed to disrupt the rhythm of the game and the Wildcats were able to see out the remainder of the contest without further scoring, giving them a huge advantage ahead of the second leg in Telford on Wednesday 17th November.
Swindon Wildcats 6 Hexagon Telford Tigers 3.
Scorers: Sam Watkins, Austin Mitchell-King and Ricky Plant.
Man of the match: Sam Watkins.
After the game Head Coach Tom Watkins, commented, “We had such a poor start, we gave up soft goals, lost battles, lost races and missed our assignments. We can’t give teams a head start like we did tonight, particularly against a team who are very clinical and have players that can really shoot the puck. Yes, we came back from five behind and and cut it to a three goal lead but, the frustrating thing is that we never should have been in a position where we are five goals behind to a team in this league and the players know that. This is what happens if you don’t play with the right intensity every night. We have given ourselves a slim chance, we know how quickly a game can change and have been in this position before. We definitely need the fans to get behind the team next Wednesday in the second leg.”