This past weekend saw the curtain coming down on the English Premier League Ice Hockey season with the traditional Play-off’s weekend taking place at Coventry’s Skydome Arena and where the Guildford Flames lifted yet another Play-off’s title in what was a dominant performance by the Surrey based outfit all weekend to claim their fifth post-season championship in their history.
Milton Keynes Lightning 1 – 1 Basingstoke Bison
( MK win 1-0 in Shoot-out)
Saturday saw the semi-finals taking place and had both games really lacking in excitement for the sold out crowd in Coventry in all fairness. The opening game of the weekend saw the league champions the Basingstoke Bison facing off against the Milton Keynes Lightning and had the added element of some bad blood still from their previous encounter that saw Aaron Connelly from the Bison sustaining a fractured skull from an incident involving Lightning’s Martti Jarventie.
It did have a bit of a pantomime feel too about the opening match, with a couple of players getting the jeers from certain sections of the crowd inside the Skydome arena. For the Bison fans they gave Jarventie some pelters and on the opposite side it had Declan Balmer receiving the same treatment from other rival fans too. Both sides seemed to almost playing a different style than their opponent expected, with the Bison not using their physical play as much and also had the MK side not coming at Basingstoke all guns blazing either.
This effectively had them cancelling the other out and made it feel like a poker game with neither team showing their hand to their rival. The official for the contest was Paul Brooks and saw him making some very poor decisions and didn’t help to calm matters considering the history between the two sides too. His first call saw Michael Farn from the Lightning given a kneeing penalty with just over two and half minutes gone in the game, despite it clearly being above knee height.
MK Captain Leigh Jamieson then collected a boarding penalty at 15:08, after it looked more like an elbow to Bison’s Tomas Karpov against the boards and that led to Ciaran Long getting a cross checking penalty in the aftermath too. Jordan Cownie saw him blowing a huge opportunity in the game to give his side the lead, after Frankie Bakrlik had dragged over two Bison players towards him and after a nice little pass to the back post to the Scottish-forward, Cownie contrived to lose the puck in his skates and was unable to flip it high over the goalie who was down on the ice.
In the second period it had both teams still unable to find the back of the net and had netminders Tomas Hiadlovsky of Basingstoke and Dean Skinns in the MK nets doing some sterling work between the pipes. Neither team really looked threatening in their attempts on goal in truth and had the period remaining goalless after two. Moving onto the third and it saw the frustration on both sides starting to come out a bit more now with both teams almost playing not to lose instead of playing to win. Finally the deadlock was broken as it a stunning piece of quick thinking goal by Leigh Jamieson saw him getting up on one knee to then roof the puck past the goalie for a 1-0 Lightning lead at 46:57.
Jamieson then got penalised for ‘diving’ when he looked to have had his leg clearly taken from him and so put the Bison on the powerplay.
Basingstoke then made the most of their man advantage and had Joe Greener putting home for a 1-1 score in the 49th minute. Things then began to get bit heated when Bison’s Declan Balmer swung a punch at a Lightning player and despite the whole rink seeing it no call came from it and left Milton Keynes feeling decisions weren’t going their way. Frankie Bakrlik minutes later then matters into his own hands as he had a rush of blood to the head, when the Czech forward came right through Kurt Reynolds from behind with a big cross check that sent him crashing towards the boards and led to Grant Rounding and the Bakrlik having more than a few words.
Bakrlik received a 2+10 penalty for checking to the head, along with an additional two minute call for roughing and if anything the call should have been a checking from behind, as no contact was made to the head. As it was the horn sounded for 60 minutes of play gone and had this semi-final heading to overtime and saw a more entertaining game than in the whole of regulation. With the teams unable to score in the overtime period, it meant penalties was needed to find a winner and to see who would advance to the final.
Prior to the shootout it saw more drama, after Frankie Bakrlik was told by the referee that he had to remain in the box as his penalty hadn’t expired and so saw the Milton Keynes bench fuming as we started the shootout. First up was Blaz Emersic of the Lightning and he took an eternity to take his shot and saw his effort clipping the bar. Former Milton Keynes man Rene Jarolin missed his penalty shot and had it scoreless after the opening round of penalties shots. Adam Carr and Ciaran Long both had their respective penalties missing the target or saved, then in the final round of penalties it saw Bobby Chamberlain firing high past Hiadlovsky to make it 1-0 to the Buckinghamshire club.
Joe Greener then had the chance to level the scores and take the shootout to sudden death, but Dean Skinns against his former club had other ideas and made the stop on Greener to help book his team into Sunday’s final.
Guildford Flames 4 – 1 Peterborough Phantoms
The second semi final pitted the Playoffs champions from last year the Peterborough Phantoms, against the Guildford Flames and If the first match was based on physical play then the second match was more in keeping to the theme of just hockey skill being the key to winning this contest.
Both sides saw plenty of the puck in the game, but for the Phantoms it was a case of them almost trying too hard in the contest and made them look sloppier than they were. Peterborough brought a couple of good saves out of Richard Ullberg in the Flames goal, but in truth the chances he face weren’t that difficult to deal with. Guildford thought they had scored midway through the period, when the puck had crossed the line and after a bit of consultation with the linesman it was washed out as it was determined the Guildford man had used his skate illegally to score past Janis Auzins.
With just under 30 seconds left of play in the opening period, it saw Tom Duggan firing in a close range shot by Auzins to give the Flames a lead and go into the break with the advantage. Peterborough huffed and puffed at the Flames goal and saw nothing working out for them and had the Flames keeping it simple and looking in complete control. Milan Baranyk had a great chance as he tried to hammer in a one-timer with the goalie out of position and instead saw his stick snapping at the worst possible time. Janis Ozolins then made it 2-0 for Guildford at 38:17 and that looked to make it a tall ask for the East Anglian side to come back from at that point in time.
Early on in the third period it saw a defensive lapse in the Phantoms defense and that allowed Ben Campbell to skate in on goal and punish the poor play as he made it 3-0 at 43:18 and see his side virtually home and hosed. Peterborough looked to have ran out of ideas and given up the more the game went on, but finally perseverance came through and saw them netting a consolation through Milan Baranyk, as the Czech forward gave the travelling Peterborough fans something cheer late on as he made it 3-1 with 19 seconds left in the game. Phantoms coach Slava Koulikov then left Auzins off the ice and continued with the extra attacker as the Andy McKinney scored an easy empty net goal for a 4-1 win and moved his side on to face the Milton Keynes Lightning in the final.
Milton Keynes Lightning 2 – 6 Guildford Flames
Sunday afternoon saw the EPL Playoff Final taking place between the Guildford Flames and the MK Lightning, and was a repeat of the 2011 final where the Flames were the winners on that occasion.
Guildford who had breezed past their semi-final opponents in the Peterborough Phantoms on the Saturday night, saw them facing an MK side that never truly got out of first gear in truth and that was down to Paul Dixon getting his side to snuff out any Lightning chance that came. Milton Keynes looked better when they had their full quota of players on the ice in the game and when they had a man in the box they conceded two late powerplay goals, firstly from Kevin Phillips and then Matic Kralj scored on a 5 on 3 advantage to have the Flames taking a 2-0 lead into the first break.
Janis Ozolins then made it three at 30:16 for the Surrey side, that before Frankie Bakrlik fired a goal back for the Lightning to make it a 3-1 game and give them some hopes of a comeback in the game. In the final period it saw a third straight powerplay goal going in for the ‘visitors’, as this time Danny Meyers made it 4-1 with less than ten to go in the contest. Lewis Hook saw him making it a two goal game as the Lightning weren’t quite ready to give up just yet minutes later, but Guildford cemented victory with two further efforts as Andy Hemmings made it 5-2 and then Ben Campbell went top shelf for 6-2 score and saw the Flames fans getting into party mood already with 56:07 gone.
As the clock hit 20:00 on the scoreboard, it saw the traditional sight of gloves, helmets and sticks all launched up in the air by the winning side and had the celebrations up and running, while the far end saw a disconsolate Milton Keynes side unable to do anything but just look on at their victorious opponents and think what could have been. MK Lightning and GB head coach in Pete Russell will have been proud of his side over the two days and know that they just came up against a better team on the day and for that matter the whole weekend in the Guildford Flames.