Players from the Nottingham Lions were the stars of the show in the annual Nottingham Universities Ice Hockey Varsity game at the Capital FM Arena on Monday evening.
In a thrilling, topsy-turvy game, the University of Nottingham came out the victors over their Nottingham Trent University rivals by a 4-3 scoreline.
Representing for Trent – right-winger and assistant captain; Gareth O’Flaherty, Ryan Rathbone, Jamie Hovell and Canadian forward Jose Leon. They were taking on their Lions counterparts; Jack Baveystock, Christy Johnson-Brown and American import Luke Branin, who were all icing for the University of Nottingham.
Also, Lions’ Assistant Coach and University of Nottingham employee Simon Hopkins; coached the UoN side for the evening, whilst fellow Lions coach Matt Bradbury will took up a guest coaching role on the Trent team bench.
Once again the arena was packed to the rafters with a boisterous and noisy crowd for the biggest Varsity game outside of North America. They were treated to a tense, close encounter between two sides desperate to please their supporters and get their hands on the Varsity trophy.
The participating Lions’ exertions in the previous night’s 6-0 win in Hull seemed to have little effect as the game began at a ferocious pace and Lion; Luke Branin got Nottingham off to the best possible start, finding the back of the net after just forty-five seconds, much to the delight of their vociferous support.
Nottingham then found themselves a further two goals to the good after just eleven minutes thanks to Sam Chandler and former Nottingham junior Simon Bell.
Two minutes later, a lifeline was handed to Trent via the handywork of our very own Gareth O’Flaherty who grabbed a goal, bringing the game back within the reach of the blue side.
The Lions’ Christy Johnson-Brown almost restored Nottingham’s three-goal advantage but a one-on-one with Trent keeper James Cantle saw the custodian come out on top.
The interval saw the arrival of the Nottingham Ice Hockey Club’s Under-12 Tiger Cubs onto the ice for a short exhibition game. The team coached by Lions veteran forward Simon Parker entertained the crowd with some smart skills and some remarkably big hits, in keeping with the main event.
A free-flowing second period ended scoreless with perhaps the best two chances falling to O’Flaherty, who twice was denied on the breakaway by former Lions netminder Richard Griffiths.
Both sides started the final period showing signs of wear and tear from the intensity of the previous forty minutes and it wasn’t until nine minutes from the end that Trent got the goal that turned the game on it’s head – O’Flaherty firing home his second of the night to sway the momentum Trent’s way in the final few minutes.
Seconds later Trent found an equalising goal courtesy of another Lion, Canadian import Jose Leon who was in the right place to slot the puck away and send one half of the 7000 sell-out crowd into raptures.
Trent then pushed for a winner but with just 1.22 left on the clock, Branin popped up again to score his second of the night and Nottingham’s game-winning goal, instigating jubilant scenes in the Nottingham supporters’ section.
A successful night for the Lions was rounded off with Ryan Rathbone and ex-Lions Jack Clarkson and Paul Whitby all picking up assists, whilst Luke Branin and Gareth O’Flaherty both picked up Man of the Match awards for their respective teams.
All full photo gallery of shots from the game can be viewed here.
The Lions’ focus now turns back to the NIHL as they prepare to take on the Hull Stingrays at the National Ice Centre this Sunday (24th February) with a 7.15pm face off. Click here for ticket details and special student deals.