Nottingham Lions 6 Solihull Barons 2.
The Nottingham Lions showed just why they are already the NIHL Division Two champions with a convincing victory over second-placed, Midlands rivals Solihull Barons at the Capital FM Arena on Sunday evening.
The Lions were keen to set the record straight after last weekend’s uncharacteristic 8-0 defeat in Solihull and did just that, with a commanding display in front of their biggest crowd of the season.
The Barons came into the game knowing they had to win to secure second place in the table and a two-legged promotion/relegation play off with their Division One-based local rivals Coventry Blaze.
However, the visitors got off to the worst possible start conceding twice in the opening two minutes. Gareth O’Flaherty pounced on a defensive error to put Nottingham ahead after just forty-six seconds, followed by Michael Rose who then doubled the Lions’ lead.
Solihull dominated the game physically; ex-Panthers and Steelers hardman Perry Doyle was given a 2+10 penalty for a check to the head on Matt Greaves, who subsequently had to leave the ice injured. He was later joined on the treatment table by his team-mate Jospeh Steeples, who headed for the locker room early with a suspected concussion.
To their credit, Matt Bradbury’s men refused to be bullied out of the game and let their hockey do the talking, scoring another two without reply. American Luke Branin fired home on eleven minutes before promising, young forward Dan Hazeldine coolly added a fourth three minutes later.
Richard Slater did restore some hope for the Barons before the end of the period, reducing their deficit to three.
The second period saw a resilient Lions side comfortably soak-up a number of Solihull attacks, whilst continuing to look dangerous on the break.
However, Nottingham couldn’t find a way past Barons’ goalie Sam Hewitt during the period, Ryan Rathbone came the closest, hitting the metalwork from close range.
The game’s half-way point saw a change of personnel in the Lions’ goal as Alan Levers made way for Sam Gospel and once again, both goalies showed why they have been so hard to beat all season, stopping sixteen and eighteen shots respectively.
Neil Adams finally made the breakthrough for Solihull on thirty-seven minutes to ensure the final twenty minutes could still result in a victory for either side.
Three minutes into the third period, the Barons’ Michael Rodger was sent to the box for tripping and it didn’t take long for Nottingham to capitalise with the extra man as Joe Wightman cemented his position as the Lions’ top-scorer with his twenty-sixth goal of the season on the power play.
Assistant Captain Ben Wood then put to bed any chance of a late Solihull comeback, scoring Nottingham’s sixth of the night, making sure that what has been a fantastic season for the Lions ended with another two points on the board.
The final buzzer was met with another round of jubilant scenes as the Lions players and coaches were presented with their winners medals and captain Luke Thomas then raised the championship trophy to many cheers and applause from their supporters.
The Barons must now hope that the Hull Stingrays can beat third-placed Deeside Dragons next weekend to keep their hopes of promotion alive, whilst the Lions now look forward to playing Division One hockey once again, next September.
LionsTV interviews with Lions’ Matt Bradbury and Luke Thomas as well as Solihull Barons’ Chris Allen will available to view here from Monday evening.
Ben Wood 1+1, Michael Rose 1+1, Daniel Hazeldine 1+0, Ryan Rathbone 0+1, Luke Branin 1+1, Joe Wightman 1+1, Christy Johnson-Brown 0+1, Gareth O’Flaherty 1+1.
Period Scores: 1st 4-1, 2nd 0-1, 3rd 2-0.
Shots: 1st 12-12, 2nd 16-8, 3rd 16-14. Total 44-34.
Penalty Minutes: 1st 4-12, 2nd 0-0, 3rd 0-6. Total 4-18.
Lions MOTM (sponsored by The Castle Inn): Joe Wightman.