There was play-off hockey at Dumfries Ice Bowl on Saturday night, when the Building Craftsmen Dumfries Solway Sharks welcomed Nottingham Lions in the first leg of their play-off quarter final, the tie being decided by aggregate score over both legs.
The Sharks went ahead early, Andy Craik in a run on net pouncing on a mis-cleared puck in the Lions end, capitalising on the mistake to shoot past Luca Sheldon in the visitor net to take the lead at 1:58. In the eighth minute Lions equalised, Luke Thomas taking advantage of a Sharks penalty for a powerplay goal. 3 minute later Lions again struck on the powerplay, Zach Yokayama nudging the visitors into the lead at 10:11. With tensions high it was Sharks on the powerplay next, moving the puck through the whole unit, Ross Murray passing across the goal to Gapa – initial shot stopped by Sheldon, Gapa picked up the loose puck and scored to make it 2-2 at 13:48, a score which stood to the first break.
The second period saw fewer penalties but still plenty of intensity from both teams at they sought to take a lead. As the halfway point of the game approached Sharks had Lions camped in their own end, some fine passing play again leading to a Sharks goal – Kieran Hair passing from behind the net to Ruairi Lockerbie, his feed to Craik sent straight to the back of the net for the young forward’s second of the night, to the delight of the crowd. The Sharks maintained their lead to the second buzzer, which saw the score at Sharks 3 Lions 2.
Sharks struggled to make headway in the first part of the final period, their quest for a head start into the second leg on Sunday frustrated by Lions. In the final 10 minutes they started to dominate, Gapa doubling their lead with a goal at 53:42, assists coming from Hair and Scott Henderson. A minute later Lewis Houston added another, collecting the puck from Gapa in the neutral zone before rushing the net and beating Sheldon at 54:44 to make to 5-2 to Sharks. Ewan Anderson was next on the scoresheet, taking a pass from Gapa round the back of the net before sending it to the back of the net. The spell of intense pressure from Sharks continued as the clock ticked down, Ross Murray scooping up the rebound of a Bentham shot before shooting from in close and beating Sheldon at 57:47. The final whistle saw Sharks emerge 7-2 victors, taking a 5-goal lead into the second leg of the tie. Callum Boyd was man of the match for Sharks.
After the game head coach Martin Grubb told us, “We knew the Lions would come here and work hard and look to give themselves a chance in their home leg so it was important to stick to our process and stay patient. We started well but then took a couple of silly penalties and were weak on the PK to allow the Lions to take the lead, but showed decent character to get in level after the first period. The 2nd period we outshot the Lions 17-0 and although we had all the play I thought we wasted too many chances but the message was still to stay patient and grind them down as the chances would come. The 3rd period we put the pressure on again and wore them down and once we found that little breakthrough we turned up the heat and got ourselves a good lead to take to Nottingham. We weren’t at our best but we showed patience and perseverance to ensure a potentially tricky first leg went our way and gave us a commanding lead.”
On Sunday Sharks made the journey to Nottingham for the second leg of the tie, their 5-goal lead putting them comfortably ahead. Always dangerous, Lions managed to beat Sharks in overtime the last time they played in Nottingham, so nobody was discounting a comeback from them. It was Sharks who drew ahead first, Stuart Kerr collecting the puck from the face off, finding Peter Gapa who worked the puck round the net with Scott Henderson, the latter netting after a mere 18 seconds to put the visitors ahead. Seconds later they added another, Kerr feeding Gapa who knocked the puck in to make it 2-0 after 49 seconds of play. Despite attacking play from both sets of players through the first there was no further scoring, and the first period break saw Sharks with a 2-0 lead (9-2 on aggregate).
The second period started with play swinging first one way them the other, both teams working hard, Sharks effectively back-stopped by Calum Hepburn in nets. There were powerplay opportunities for both sides, but neither was able to take advantage. Just on the halfway point Ross Murray put Sharks further ahead, collecting the puck in the corner before skating in and netting pat Sheldon at 30:19. Ewan Anderson added another 5 minutes later, Gapa picking up the puck on the blue line, going round the net and passing to Anderson who knocked it in at the back post at 35:01. The score stayed until the buzzer, the second ending with Sharks 4-0 ahead, 11-2 on aggregate.
Sharks set the tone for the final period early, a powerplay working in their favour, fast passing trying Lions defence before a pass from Kerr to Sharks captain Struan Tonnar netted with a rocket from the blue line only 34 seconds in. Lions battled hard but Sharks were in control, and it was no surprise when another goal followed, Gapa winning the puck in Lions zone, sending to Tonnar who skated the length of the ice before slotting the puck home at 47:53 for his second. As the end of the game approached there was time for one more, Tonnar beating Sheldon at 58:36 for his hat-trick goal. At the final whistle the score on the night in Nottingham was Lions 0 Sharks 7, and Calum Hepburn was Sharks man of the match with a shutout. Special mention to Lions man of the match netminder Luca Sheldon, who faced 67 Sharks shots on Sunday, after 38 the night before. The aggregate win of 14 goals to 2 sees Sharks progress to the payoff weekend in Leeds where they face Billingham Stars in the semi-final on Saturday, looking to progress to the final on Sunday.
Martin Grubb reflected, “We wanted a fast start and to put any hopes of a comeback out of the question and with 2 goals in the first shift we effectively did that. We controlled the period but again a little silly on some penalties but our PK was better and we were fully in control. The 2nd was again a period we dominated but got away from our system at times and got sucked into a scrappy game but with another couple of goals we were happy to be managing the game despite it getting a bit chippy. The 3rd period the players were asked to go out and be professional and not get involved in any physicality and I thought they were very good and kept their discipline and showed their class as we saw out the game and comfortably won the series with a big aggregate score which was the perfect way to punch our ticket to the final four weekend and it was great to see Cal get a playoff shutout. Our attention now turns to Billingham in the playoff semi final in Leeds and we will be ready to go again.”