Saturday night saw the Building Craftsmen Dumfries Solway Sharks back in NIHL cup action, hosting Murrayfield Racers at the ice Bowl.
After a closely-fought game in Murrayfield a few weeks ago when Sharks’ Scott Henderson scored the winner with 6.6 seconds left on the clock, the sizeable home crowd and Racers travelling support were expecting a close game. Sharks set their stall out early, Lewis Houston combining well with line-mate Peter Gapa to send the puck past Racers netminder Mark Mcgill at 5:03 for the opener. Houston repeated the feat at 8:14 to double the Sharks’ lead, again combining with Gapa for the goal – this time on the powerplay, taking advantage of one of the many minor penalties that littered the game on both sides to slam the puck home. Despite Racers best efforts Sharks kept them pinned mostly in their own end throughout the first period, and it was no surprise when Sharks added another, Gordon Horne with the strike from Iain Bowie and Jaakko Heiskanen at 12:52. With no further scoring the period break saw the Sharks with a comfortable 3-0 lead.
The second period saw they play more even, Racers digging deep and showing their skill and strength, but still Sharks had the upper hand and Gapa added another to the tally at 28:08, Horne with the assist this time, to make the score 4-0. Murrayfield kept working at they were rewarded with a goal of at the halfway point of the game, Martyn Simpson making it 4-1 at 30:01. Despite more penalties neither side could take advantage of powerplay opportunities thanks to strong penalty kill efforts, and the second period finished with the score at Sharks 4 Racers 1.
The final stanza saw Racers come out determined and Sharks struggled to contain them. Joel Gautschi ate into the Sharks lead with a goal at 44:29, before Simpson put Racers firmly back into contention on the powerplay at 53:13 – the Sharks now had a slim 4-3 lead, and as the game clock ticked down the tension in the rink was palpable. Sharks saw their lead disappear two minutes later when Racers Callum Boyd took advantage of another powerplay to snatch the equalizer at 55:40 – the score 4 – 4. With the final buzzer imminent the crowd readied themselves for overtime, but Sharks were not done yet. In a fine display of character they kept playing, and when they found themselves on the powerplay in the final minute it became a battle against the clock as well as the Racers. In a full-line play up the ice towards the Racers goal Stuart Kerr slotted the puck to Iain Bowie in space, and he had no hesitation smacking it into the top of the net to score the winner – in a repeat of the previous encounter with 6.2 seconds left on the clock. A collective sigh of relief saw the Sharks come out undefeated in the end, and Gary Russell, who had been kept busy in the Sharks net all night was man of the match.
Afterwards coach Martin Grubb commented, “I thought we started the game really well and we looked comfortable against a dangerous Racers team but we then made the fatal mistake of thinking we had done enough. We started to get outworked after they scored and we were way too slack in our own zone. The third period we were short handed for most of the period and lost control of our emotions and we weren’t able to roll through our lines which allowed the Racers to capitalise on our poor play. We did talk about remaining patient and the boys showed the character and resilience we have by finding a way to win and that was an important win against a good team who can feel they should have taken something from the game, but we keep finding a way to win which is all that matters.” The 5-4 victory sees Sharks top the NIHL North Cup table, undefeated in their first 4 games.
Solway continued their NIHL campaign on the road on Sunday night, travelling to Blackburn to face the Hawks. Despite a cagey start Sharks were first on the scoresheet, Peter Gapa finding the net after 5 minutes from a well-placed Stuart Kerr pass. Getting into their rhythm Sharks took the play to the Hawks, Lewis Houston doubling the lead at 13:30, assists coming from Gapa and Scott Henderson. Gapa added another just before the period ended, Kerr had Henderson supplying the passes, and the first break saw the Sharks with a commanding 3-0 lead.
Perhaps reflecting on events the previous evening the Sharks started the second period cautiously, looking more defensive than offensive for the first half of the period, and when they stepped up a gear in the second half and became more offensive they were unable to break through the Hawks’ defence. There was no further scoring and the end of the period saw the score remain at 3-0 to Sharks.
The third saw the play swing back and forth with end-to-end play, Sharks using their speed to score on the break at 43:21, Iain Bowie’s initial shot saved before Henderson scooped up the rebound and sent it over the keeper to make the score 4-0 Sharks. There were more chances at both ends as the game progressed, but nobody could find a way past either keeper and the game finished with Sharks 4-0 victors. With his first shut-out in the NIHL Garry Russell was again man of the match for Sharks.
After the game Martin Grubb told us, “I didn’t think we started with the intensity levels I wanted but slowly grew into the game and put ourselves into a commanding 3 goal lead and it was then all about managing the game as we had to learn from the previous night. The second and third periods were very scrappy and neither team really took control but I did feel we were never in danger of losing the game although I would have liked a higher work rate from the boys. Overall it’s another 4 point weekend and we keep rolling on but we need to improve significantly as we face Sutton and Whitley this coming weekend but I have no doubt the players will be ready and respond in a positive manner to what I am looking for.”
Sharks are back in action at the Ice Bowl on Saturday night, facing Sutton Sting in the NIHL, the first meeting of the teams this season. Face off is at the usual Saturday night time of 7pm.