Coventry Blaze 1 Nottingham Lions 2.
A sudden-death overtime strike from Polish forward Slawomir Kasprzak ensured the Nottingham Lions stayed in the hunt for play off glory, as they overcame their Midlands rivals Coventry Blaze by a 2-1 scoreline, at Solihull Ice Rink on Sunday evening.
The Lions celebrate Slawomir Kasprzak's overtime winner.
Matt Bradbury’s side battled their way into Monday’s final with a fantastic team display, backed-up by the magnificent netminding of young goalie Tom Hovell, whilst their opponents can consider themselves very unlucky to come away with a defeat, in a game which could have gone either way on the night.
Nottingham came into the game missing regulars Craig Wallis, Jack Baveystock, Joe Wightman and Cameron Good but were able to call upon youngsters Joe Gretton, Connor Glossop, Sam Illsley, Joe Humphries and Kieran Raynor, for their first taste of senior play off hockey.
The opening period started at a furious pace, with both sides springing out of the blocks and trying the gain the upper hand with an early goal.
Ten minutes in, the Lions were forced to kill a five-minute Coventry power play, when Kieran Raynor was given a match penalty for boarding, after a ferocious hit on Corey Goodison.
The game remained scoreless going into the first intermission, despite the Blaze having the better of the possession and the scoring chances in the opening twenty minutes.
It was clear as the second period began that both netminders were intent on making their mark on the game, as both Hovell and opposing custodian Connor Ranby looked practically impenetrable.
Lions' MOTM - Tom Hovell.
When the deadlock was finally broken on twenty-seven minutes, it took an unfortunate deflection to finally beat Hovell, as Louis Brindle’s tame shot took a wicked re-direction off the top of Luke Thomas’ stick and landed in the back of the Nottingham net, to put Coventry a goal to the good.
This only seemed to increase the Lions determination, as they slowly began to take control of the game but couldn’t find the net before the end of the period, despite the efforts of Luke Branin and Dan Hazeldine, who were both denied by Ranby on separate breakaway chances.
Once again, both goalies were on top form to deny more chances in the third period before Nottingham finally found their breakthrough on the power play with twelve minutes remaining. Sam Illsley’s rocket of a shot from the blue line found its way past Ranby, to put the Lions back on level terms and give the young D-man his first senior goal.
Sam Illsley is congratulated by his teammates after netting the equaliser.
Despite another enthralling and nail-biting ten minutes of end-to-end hockey, neither team could find a winner and the game moved into five minutes of sudden-death overtime.
It took just over one minute of play for the Lions to seal their progress to the final, when Kasprzak’s persistence in front of the Blaze net saw him rewarded, when he poked home the puck to spark jubilant celebrations on the Nottingham bench and scenes of despair from their dejected opponents.
The Lions now face the mammoth task of trying to overcome the tournament hosts and newly crowned league champions Solihull Barons, in Monday’s final.
The Barons extended their impressive winning streak to an intimidating twenty-three games, with a narrow 5-3 semi-final victory over Widnes Wild on Saturday night but despite being massive underdogs, Nottingham will be spurred on by the knowledge that they have already beaten Solihull on two occasions during the regular season.
Face off at the Hobs Moat Road rink is at 6.30pm and doors open at 5.30pm. There is Riley’s Sports bar in the complex, which supporters are welcome in before this time.
Tickets for what promises to be a thoroughly entertaining final, will be available to buy on the doors.
Ticket Prices are as follows:
Adult Match Tickets - £10
Child & Concessions - £5
We hope to see as many of you as possible there, to help roar the boys on to victory!
Sam Illsley 1+1, Slawomir Kasprzak 1+0, Ben Wood 0+2.
Period Scores: 1st 0-0, 2nd 1-0, 3rd 0-1, OT 0-1.
Shots: 1st 19-8, 2nd 12-18, 3rd 8-9, OT 2-2. Total: 41-37.
Penalty Mins: 1st 14-37, 2nd 2-0, 3rd 8-2, OT 0-0. Total: 24-39.
Lions MOTM: Tom Hovell.