Spartans achieved their objective this season which was to qualify for the NIHL Moralee Play-Off Finals Weekend. So in real terms we had nothing to lose but on the other hand so much to gain and although we went with the intention to enjoy the whole occasion, we had only one real vision…to return to Sheffield as Play-Off Champions. Although that vision wasn’t realised we did enjoy what was a superb weekend.
Here we take time to reflect on that weekend, a little differently than normal and in two parts through two people who were the driving force behind Spartans actually getting there in the first place. Spartans Team Manager Lynn Faber will give us an insight to our weekend but first we will look back at the game last Saturday against Hawks through the eyes of Coach Martin White…
On Saturday 11th April the Spartans graced the ice at the play-offs, facing the Blackburn Hawks in what was expected to be a closely fought affair, and closely fought it was.
We’d worked hard to take the 4th league spot, and we were determined to show that a self-funded amateur team can compete with the comparatively deep pockets of our rivals and opponents, give everyone a great game to watch and play Spartan hockey from start to finish.
With the Spartans being the only team to cause the Hawks to drop a point on two occasions we were keen to go one better and take the win to progress to Sunday’s final and we’d surmised that Blackburn would rather have been facing Solway or Billingham than the dogged Spartans. Our dressing room was a calm and focused place before the warm-up, which is somewhat at odds with the usual joviality and although the lads were understandably nervous we were eager for the game to get underway.
With both teams fielding the maximum number of players and in front of a good sized crowd the game started out at a high pace which didn’t diminish as the seconds ticked by.
Blackburn were looking to disrupt from the off and wasted no time in targeting captain Ollie Barron and netminder Brandon Stones in an attempt to unsettle us. We’d spoken before the game about maintaining discipline in the event of disruption and for the majority of the game this was the case, there of course comes a time when you have to take a stand and be prepared to show you will not be intimidated or on the receiving end time after time which resulted in ourselves taking a few calls as well. For the majority we protected the centre lane well and reduced Blackburn’s scoring opportunities to angles as opposed to clear shots, when they did breach our defence Brandon kept them frustrated. Although we weren’t generating as many direct shots on goal as we’d have liked we enjoyed plenty of possession and territorial advantage, arguably you need quality over quantity and we were looking to generate quality chances as opposed to just throwing the puck on net, which has at times been a problem for us. Despite apparently being outshot something in the region of 20 to 7 in the first the score remained 0-0 and we were happy with the balance of play at the end of the 20 mins.
The second period turned into a fractured affair with us receiving a number of penalties which seemed unwarranted at times and also seemingly one sided decisions, that said you have to play to the calls being made and we gave the opportunity for them to be called and called they were. The lads dug deep and killed them off, with a 5-3 being the most memorable. The goal that never was seems to depend on your vantage point and also the interpretation of the rules being adhered to at the tournament, looking back it would be hard to argue Blackburn weren’t due a goal from the pressure created, but for us to give it up from being on the PP was particularly frustrating for us all, despite our best efforts the period ended 1-0.
The third started the opposite of what we’d talked about at the period break with us conceding in the opening shift, where this could have finished off other teams the Spartans rally to such adversity and we kept up our game to draw level at 2-2, with Blackburn seemingly on the back foot and under pressure. Credit to Blackburn for regrouping and once again taking the lead with around 3 minutes left in what was a good exciting period of hockey, we applied pressure, built on it and also pulled the keeper and went close to equalising, but it wasn’t to be and the Hawks killed the game with an empty net goal in the dying seconds, and celebrated in front of our bench which caused a small fracas, understandable considering how much the game meant to both teams.
Despite the result the lads played well and showed we at a level where we can match the strongest team in the league. On reflection it could well have been the game of the tournament, and although it didn’t go our way it didn’t spoil the weekend. We enjoyed a fantastic team meal with our supporters in Dumfries and the lads met up with the Solway boys for a night out on the town which resulted in more than a few fuzzy heads the next morning!
We achieved the goal we’d set at the start of the season to make the play-offs and give ourselves the opportunity to make the final. We will now be looking to build on this season and ensure we have the same opportunity in 2015/16. #allspartans