Nottingham Lions 8 Bradford Bulldogs 3.
The Nottingham Lions survived a shock, second period comeback from the Bradford Bulldogs, to make it a winning end to 2014, with a somewhat nervy victory, at the National Ice Centre on Sunday evening.
Stuart Parker scored four times, to take his tally to fourteen for the season.
Four goals from Stuart Parker, three from Slawomir Kasprzak and a single strike from Hamish Hall, saw the Lions maintain their push for a NIHL Lailder D2 top-four play off position, finishing the year in sixth, level on points with fifth-placed Widnes Wild.
Having already completed three convincing victories over the Bulldogs during their campaign, Nottingham were looking to complete a 4-0 head-to-head whitewash over the West Yorkshire-based opponents, albeit without the services of their top-scoring, forward pairing of Ivo Dimitrijevs and Dan Hazeldine, who both remained unavailable through injury.
Injuries continued to be a major thorn in Matt Bradbury's team selection plans, with Craig Wallis, Adam Andrews and Reece Glossop all missing out, although the Lions' head coach would have been grateful for having D-man Jamie Hovell return, along with the club's Under-18s, after the last ten minutes of last Sunday's game against Telford saw his roster down to the bare bones, with just nine skaters and two netminders remaining.
The first period began with Ben Foster-Wilson and Reece Cairney-Witter 'dropping the gloves', in an altercation all stemming from last weekend's previous encounter between the sides, where a number of Lions came away with a selection of unnecessary injures, for which the
Nottingham enforcer was looking to gain his revenge and he did so within seconds of the fight beginning, easily forcing his challenger to the ice, with both combatants then receiving minor penalties for roughing.
Despite Bradford still waiting to pick-up their first points of the season, having only returned to the realm of senior hockey back in August, it took eleven minutes of the opening period before Nottingham broke their visitor's gutsy resolve, thanks to Hamish Hall's well-placed effort.
Hamish Hall opened the scoring for the Lions.
The Lions clearly had not hit top gear in the opening twenty minutes, possibly having had one eye already on their forthcoming Christmas and New Year break but Polish forward Slawomir Kasprzak did manage to double Nottingham's lead, fifty seconds before the buzzer.
When veteran attacker Stuart Parker put the Lions 3-0 ahead on twenty-six minutes, it looked like the Bulldogs' unwanted losing streak was going to continue. However, Bradford had only failed to score in three of their previous sixteen outings and made sure it wasn't to be four, thanks to a power play goal from Dean Boothroyd on the half-hour mark.
Nottingham were hit on the power play again just three minutes later, when Andrew Brown made it a one-goal game, triggering one or two nervy glances between the Lions players, who were clearly going through the motions on some plays and certainly needed the wake-up call, that the Bulldogs were providing.
Amazingly, the Bulldogs scored the equalising goal on thirty-seven minutes, when a lacklustre Lions side were caught-out at the back again and Ben Williams fired home to send the away bench into raptures.
This prompted a change in goalie for Matt Bradbury, as Tom Hovell replaced Warren Gilfoyle and not to be outdone, Nottingham did pull themselves back in front before the end of the period, after Parker scrambled in his second of the night, giving his side a boost heading into what was now a vital final twenty minutes.
The Lions put seventeen past Bradford at the NIC last month but looked a pale shadow of that side in the first two periods and responded positively in the third period but continued to be denied by the heroics of young Bulldogs netminder Jake Higham who stopped forty-six shots in total on the night.
Bradbury's side finally gave themselves a two-goal cushion on forty-seven minutes, as Parker completed his hat-trick on the power play and two minutes later, the 42 year-old then followed it up with his fourth of the night and his fourteenth of the season.
Kasprzak then completed a comfortable final period for Nottingham, with two goals inside the final three minutes, including an unforgettable short-handed, breakaway effort, where the talented Pole, spun his whole body around, right in-front of Higham to force the puck home and give the festive crowd at the NIC, a special parting Christmas gift.
Slawomir Kasprzak celebrates completing his hat-trick, after a special short-handed effort.
The Lions now look forward to a well-earned, fortnight's rest over the festive period before welcoming in 2015, with a home clash against Deeside Dragons at the NIC on Sunday 4th January (7.30pm). Ticket details for this eagerly anticipated clash are available by clicking here.
Images are courtesy of Peter McConnochie / Urban Scot Photography.
Hamish Hall 1+0, Slawomir Kasprzak 3+0, Stuart Parker 4+2, Luke Thomas 0+1, Jamie Hovell 0+1, Ben Wood 0+1, Joe Gretton 0+1, Christy Johnson-Brown 0+1.
Period Scores: 1st 2-0, 2nd 2-3, 3rd 4-0.
Shots: 1st 16-3, 2nd 21-12, 3rd 17-3. Total 54-18.
Penalty Mins: Total 30-26.
Lions MOTM (sponsored by Ice Breakers): Slawomir Kasprzak.