Saturday night saw the Nottingham Lions arrive at Dumfries Ice Bowl for the first time this season, to take on the Building Craftsmen Dumfries Solway Sharks in the NIHL N1 League competition.
This first meeting of the teams got off to an edgy start, as both sets of players eyed each other up and tested each other. It took 8 minutes for Sharks to show their authority, Peter Gapa sending a Callum Boyd pass past Luca Sheldon in Lions net to open the scoring at 8:35. This was soon followed by another, Stuart Kerr passing to Gapa who fed Gordon Horne for the finish, his goal at 8:53 doubling the Sharks lead to 2. Now firmly in control Sharks showed their dominance, and Gapa added another to the tally at 12:36, after some good passing play from Horne and Boyd. Lions were stunned but kept on playing, battling hard to keep Sharks contained. With the home team camped out in the Lions’ zone there was another goal at 18:16, Iain Bowie finding the net from Ross Murray and Mikey Thomson. The final second of the first saw Gapa sink his third and the Sharks’ fifth of the game, assisted by Rick Bentham and Kerr. At the first break Sharks had a comfortable 5 – 0 lead over the Lions.
The second saw more even play between the teams, Sharks passing on an early powerplay opportunity, while Lions failed to capitalise on a couple of Sharks penalties. Despite chances at both ends there was no further scoring. The third followed much the same pattern, with Sheldon in Lions net and Jordan McLaughlin for Sharks both stopping a fair number of shots to keep the score unchanged to the end of the game. Man of the match for Sharks was hat-trick star Peter Gapa.
After the game coach Martin Grubb told us, “I thought we suffered from a hangover from Wednesday nights game against the Clan and we looked tired. Nottingham came and worked extremely hard, and they never stop skating and we just didn’t find our usual rhythm. We had a 10-minute spell in the first period where we moved the puck well and scored some good goals but after the first period we stopped and didn’t reach our usual high standards but good teams find a way to win and we did that and nice to see Jordan claim another shutout.”
Sunday saw a short-benched Sharks team head off to Billingham to take on the Stars in a league match with just 13 skaters. With the previous 2 meetings between the teams seeing Sharks emerge 4-3 and 5-3 victors, a close game was expected. Stars came out fast, but Sharks matched their pace and applied pressure of their own. It was Stars who took the early lead, James Moss taking advantage of a Sharks penalty to go ahead at 7:52, assisted by Chris Sykes and Michael Elder, his shot bouncing over Calum Hepburn’s glove. Sharks struck back swiftly, Rick Bentham sending Iain Bowie and Peter Gapa netward, their quick one-two move seeing Gapa beat Thomas Brown to even the score at 8:84. Gapa added a second at 12:29, hard work from Ruairi Lockerbie winning the puck, and his pass sending Gapa across the front of net to tuck the puck behind Brown. With play going end-to-end Stars responded, equalising at 13:06 taking advantage of a delayed penalty, Patriks Grigors pass to Jack Emerson picking out Sykes in front of net, who knocked the puck in at the back door over a sprawling Hepburn. As the clock ticked towards the end of the first Sharks broke the stalemate and re-took the lead, taking full advantage of a powerplay, Gapa feeding the puck to Bowie who was stationed right in front of the net, his tap-in making the score Stars 2 Sharks 3 at 18:33, a score which stood going into the first break.
The second period saw the teams evenly matched for a spell, before Sharks were awarded a penalty shot at 29:57, a Stars player lying on top of the puck in the crease. Bowie stepped up, and after faking to send Brown the wrong way knocked the puck into the net to make it Stars 2 Sharks 4. With momentum in their favour Sharks continued to work hard, and as the end of the second stanza neared Gapa and Lockerbie combined to win the puck and send it to Bowie out in front of net, his backhand goal at 37:38 his third in a row and the Sharks fifth of the game. Seconds before the buzzer that lead was stretched further, when Boyd dropped a pass from Bentham into the path of Lockerbie who was coming in at speed and made no mistake sending it to the back of the net with 36 seconds left on the clock. The score at the end of the second Stars 2 Sharks 6.
The start of the final period saw Stars snatch one back, Stars Benjamin Greenhalgh passing to Lewis Hall who struck from a tight angle, popping the puck over Hepburn’s shoulder to make it Stars 4 Sharks 6 at 42:35. Lockerbie restored the gap seconds later, picking up the puck from Scott Crane and sailing through Stars defence to beat Brown at 44:26. Stars kept playing, and pulled another back at 46:08, Alex Preston scoring courtesy of a Joseph Walls pass. The goals kept coming, Sharks using a powerplay to net again, Bentham passing to Kell Beattie who found Gordon Horne in space in front of net, his strike making the score Stars 4 Sharks 8 at 48:41. The final 10 minutes saw Sharks draw further ahead, Boyd passing to Gapa who walked through the Stars defence and beat Brown for his third at 51:02, before Stuart Kerr added another on the powerplay at 52:44, sending a Horne pass straight to the back of the net from the blue line. Sharks changed netminder with just over 5 minutes of the game left, Hepburn making way between the pipes for Harry Elder in his first NIHL game. There was no further scoring, and the game ended Stars 4 Sharks 10. Man of the match for Sharks was hat-trick star Bowie.
Coach Grubb commented, “We knew Billingham would start quickly after a defeat at home on the Saturday night and we needed to be better than we were against Nottingham. We went behind but showed our character to level straight away and get a foothold in the game. The penalty shot swung momentum in our favour, and I thought we played some nice hockey to get ourselves a comfortable lead by the end of the 2nd period. We started a little sloppy in the 3rd but soon found our passing game and scored some well worked goals, and I liked how we finished the game. The boys deserve huge credit for not wanting to lower their standards after how we finished the Saturday game, and they showed the character we have in our dressing room to put in a solid performance.”
Solway Sharks are absent from the Ice Bowl this coming weekend, heading off to play Sheffield Scimitars and Nottingham Lions in an away double-header.