Coventry Blaze 3 Nottingham Lions 2.
Fourth-placed Nottingham Lions failed to leapfrog their Midlands Rivals Coventry Blaze into third, after a narrow defeat at Coventry Skydome on Sunday evening.
Head Coach Matt Bradbury was looking for a response from his players after two consecutive defeats, including last weeks disappointing home loss to Widnes Wild. They were also after their revenge, following Coventry’s comprehensive 7-1 win at the Skydome back in September.
There was also the target of making up the substantial seven goal difference between the two sides in this season’s head-to-head but this unsurprisingly proved to be a bridge too far for a Nottingham team, who have consistently struggled to score goals all year.
The Lions were still without forwards Joe Wightman, Slawomir Kasprzak, Christy Johnson-Brown and d-man Cameron Good. Jamie Hovell also missed out but they were able to call upon youngsters Connor Glossop, Luke Evans, and Joe Gretton to bolster their ranks, whilst young netminder Tom Hovell was given the nod over veteran Alan Levers, making his second start of the season.
After a positive start, Nottingham found themselves in front inside the first five minutes, Dan Hazeldine firing home on the power play, making full use of their host’s indiscipline in the opening exchanges.
The Lions’ lead wasn’t to last however, when five minutes later, Josh Nicklin tied the game when he somehow managed to scramble home a loose puck through a mass of bodies including a flailing Hovell.
Two minutes later, a Dale Buckland shot was redirected off the skate of Luke Smith to put the Blaze in the lead, going into the first intermission.
A bad-tempered second period was to follow, with both sides spending lengthy spells in the penalty box, with Coventry the first to take advantage on the power play on twenty-four minutes courtesy of Josh Gent, who was able to capitalise on hesitation between Lions players during a line change.
Nottingham also had chances on the power play and eventually found their way past Blaze goalie Aadm Goss five minutes later, when during their second 5-on-3 advantage of the period, Craig Wallis’ shot from the point finally gave the Lions a much-deserved second goal.
As the clock wound down towards the end of the second and with the game becoming increasingly more tense and competitive, tempers began to fray further, culminating in brief exchange of fists between Lions’ Lee Holland and Coventry’s Charlie Hammerton, which saw neither player claim victory but saw both receive 2+2 penalties for roughing.
With just one goal separating the teams, the final period proved to be a tight affair with both sides producing unspectacular but solid defensive hockey.
There was certainly no faulting the Lions’ commitment but for all their efforts, they struggled to create many chances and didn’t pose a serious threat to Goss’ goal throughout the final twenty minutes, only managing six shots against an impressive Blaze defence.
Hovell was pulled for the final eighty seconds of the game and despite Nottingham being camped in their host’s zone, they couldn’t find the all-important equaliser.
Despite the defeat, the Lions are still well placed to qualify for April’s end of season playoffs but may now find themselves having to settle for fourth place and will need to break their current run of defeats as quickly as possible.
That might prove to be easier said than done however, as the current league champions in-waiting; Solihull Barons are the visitors to the National Ice Centre next Sunday (2nd March). Face off is at 7.30pm and ticket details are available by clicking here.
Dan Hazeldine 1+0, Craig Wallis 1+0, Jack Baveystock 0+1, Stephen Breisner 0+2.
Period Scores: 1st 2-1, 2nd 1-1, 3rd 0-0.
Shots: 1st 9-9, 2nd 15-12, 3rd 8-6. Total: 32-27.
Penalty Mins: 1st 6-2, 2nd 36-20, 3rd 4-8. Total: 46-30.
Lions MOTM: Tom Hovell.