Nottingham Lions 5 Blackburn Eagles 1
A youthful Nottingham Lions side secured the two points, with a workman-like victory over the Blackburn Eagles at the National Ice Centre on Sunday evening, bouncing back from the unfamiliar position of having suffered two consecutive defeats.
Despite their opponents picking up just one win so far this season, Nottingham could not afford to rest on their laurels, especially when a number of key players and coaching staff were away on GB duty at the World University Winter Games in Italy.
Defensemen Jack Baveystock, James Francis-Barrie and Cameron Good along with forwards Stephen Breisner and Christy Johnson-Brown are all absent along with Head Coach Matt Bradbury and Assistant Simon Hopkins. Joe Wightman also missed out through illness.
Assistant Coach Paul Glossop took over the reins on the bench and although he was without his missing student contingent, he was able to bring a number of promising Under-18 players into the line-up including the likes of Joseph Gretton, Hamish Hall, Jordon Bloom and debutant Luke Evans.
Despite the Eagles’ lowly position in the league table, it was by no means all one-way traffic in the first period as Alan Levers in the Lions’ goal had to make some good, early stops.
However, it was Bloom who had the best chance to open the scoring after six minutes, when he pounced on a sloppy Blackburn defensive play, only to strike the post with his shot.
Nottingham broke the deadlock on the ten-minute mark, when Dan Hazeldine was able to fire home the rebound from Rob Perks’ initial shot.
And it was 2-0 two minutes later, when Luke Branin claimed his deserved reward for being a constant thorn in the visitor’s sides, in the opening minutes.
Nottingham made the worst possible start to the second period, conceding after sixty-two seconds courtesy of the Eagles’ Daniel Jones on the power play.
Levers continued to look solid in-between the pipes before a damaged glove allowed young back-up Tom Hovell into the action just before the half-hour. This seemed to prompt a noticeable shift in gear from the home side, when Reece Glossop was unlucky not to find the net after an odd-man rush saw him hit Hazeldine’s cross-crease pass wide of Blackburn goalie Nick Saxton’s right-hand post.
The Lions eventually gave themselves some breathing space on thirty-two minutes, when Branin pounced on the loose puck in front of Saxton and had time to pick his spot, flicking the puck into the roof of the Eagles’ goal.
Tempers began to boil over in the final period as Glossop and Blackburn’s Tom Murphy engaged in some fisticuffs, which resulted in them both being given 2+2 roughing calls.
Hazedline grabbed his second of the night on the power play, to all but seal the victory on fifty minutes and there was still time for Branin to secure a deserved hat-trick, five minutes later.
Nottingham now leapfrog the Coventry Blaze into third place, three points behind leaders Deeside Dragons.
Next Sunday, the Lions head to Solihull Ice Rink (6pm) for their final game of 2013. They face the tricky task of trying to overcome a second-placed Barons side, who are currently defending an impressive eight-game winning streak.
Dan Hazeldine 2+0, Luke Branin 3+1, Robert Perks 0+1, Ben Wood 0+1, Mikey Rose 0+1, Craig Wallis 0+1.
Period Scores: 1st 2-0, 2nd 1-1, 3rd 2-0.
Shots: 1st 17-15, 2nd 15-10, 3rd 16-15. Total: 48-40.
Penalty Mins: 1st 4-2, 2nd 14-2, 3rd 4-6. Total: 22-10.
Lions MOTM (sponsored by Ice Breakers): Joseph Gretton.