Hockey: Blaze rally on to take spoils in pre-season Thriller

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MANCHESTER STORM   6 – 7  COVENTRY BLAZE  (After Overtime)

An eventful contest on Wednesday evening saw the Manchester Storm going down 7-6 in a 13-goal thriller in overtime against the Coventry Blaze, in what was very much a see-saw battle at the Altrincham Ice rink. Despite a brace of goals by Man of the Match Paul Phillips and new signing Cody Cartier, the Storm couldn’t prevent a loss in their first outing of the new season, but did show a lot of promise ahead of the new Elite League season.

Manchester was missing Canadian forward Darian Dziurzynski with the player expected to fly into the country on Friday morning ahead of the weekend’s games both against Sheffield. Call up’s were given to Jake Nurse and Thomas Ratcliffe from their ‘farm teams’ the Altrincham Aces and the Widnes Wild, as they helped bolster the home bench. Having only been together for four days and having three training sessions prior to the opening game taking place, it saw the home side eager to get out to a fast start in front of their home fans and that was just what they did.

14215416_10154497351827658_485609956_oManchester played a high tempo to start the game off and saw the early exchanges pretty even in truth, with Renny Marr facing a couple of shots that weren’t really clean efforts, but did have the Blaze goalie having to work. The home side tried to play the puck across the face of the Coventry cage on more than one occasion, with the Storm forwards not yet on the same wavelength as their team-mates. Coventry had their chances too and saw Mike Clemente forced into a making a few early saves early doors for the hosts.

The home side looked very threatening on the attack and that brought an opportunity that fell to Thomas Ratcliffe on his first shift, as Jake Nurse helped his rival from Widnes with a chance early that produced a glove save out of Marr. Coventry then took the lead against run of play, after a clearance by player coach Omar Pacha saw his shot around the boards come to Trevor Johnson and his sloppy pass away found Brett Robinson who played in Bjorn Bombis at the front of the net who neatly deposited the puck by the netminder to give the visitors a lead in the game.

Manchester this season has saw the side undergo a complete transformation with the Storm being more of a physical side than opposed to last year, with the Storm being one of the tallest teams in the league this season in the Elite. They gave a taster to their opponents on how physical they can be when Jack Prince was given a late hit into the boards by a Blaze player after the whistle, and this drew a gathering of Storm players over to make their feelings known that they weren’t going to tolerate that kind of stuff in the game, friendly or not.

The hosts were the better side in the contest, that was despite being a goal down in the game. Manchester then found themselves going further behind to a Brett Robinson goal before the break, as his shot from a tight angle made it 2-0 with Darcy Zajac and Matt Marquardt picking up assists on the second Blaze goal. Storm found themselves on the penalty kill to end the period and the restart of the second, and with the penalty just about to expire it saw Robin Bergman taking a diagonal pass outside the Manchester zone and then firing the puck past Clemente with just 11 seconds gone in the second period to make it a 3-0 game for the Blaze.

It felt like all the good play that the home side was producing was all for nothing after they fell behind to them three goals. However the home side then showed their battling qualities with a stunning response that saw the Storm turn the match on its head. Cody Cartier put the home side on the board after he poked in a loose puck at the front of the Coventry net for 3-1. That was soon followed up by Paul Phillips who made it a one goal game with 13:32 left to go in the period, before former Swindon Wildcats man Adam Harding tied the game up at 3-3 with the extra man advantage on the powerplay.

Manchester were still surprisingly on top in the game, and had the bit between their teeth now in the contest. Coventry were looking shaky at the back and saw Paul Phillips exploiting this as he cut through them going coast to coast with a lovely shot wrist shot beating Jordan Marr for a 4-3 lead to the Storm and having the rink jumping. After 40 minutes of play it saw a complete reversal of fortunes for the teams, as the home side went into the break a goal up after looking out of the game after 11 seconds into the period.

If the home fans thought that Coventry had let their heads drops after conceding those 4 straight goals, then they were be gravely wrong. Blaze’s Matt Marquardt redirected a puck at the front of the net to see the visitors tying up the game at 4-4 and this contest had a similar feel to the first Storm game 12 months ago, when the Storm  beat the Nottingham Panthers 5-4 in a shootout.

The Storm retook the lead with 7:28 to go in the 3rd through a second Cody Cartier strike as his shot from the left wing was stopped by Marr but got the rebound to make it 5-3 for the home side and was followed up minutes later by a Mario Trabucco wrist shot that moved the hosts into a 6-4 lead and looked like they had done enough to seal the game. Coventry with their match sharpness on their side, saw the Midlands side beginning to pile the pressure late on and with 1:47 left to go in the period, Dallas Ehrhardt took a hooking call that put Coventry on the powerplay saw the visitors pulling a goal back for 6-5. The tiredness and concentration levels had really now started to dip a bit on the home side and holding on.

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Storm were forced to try and play out this slender lead that they had, but it proved to be too much for them, as a sixth goal went in for the Blaze through Robin Bergman’s 2nd of the game with just 48 seconds left on the scoreboard as the Storm were saying the net was off prior to the goal going in.  That goal seemed to rejuvenate the Blaze and saw the Storm losing their way and tiring as the 3rd period came to close. Overtime came and with 3 on 3 hockey it saw this playing into the hands of the Blaze.

Manchester had a couple of early efforts to win the game, but a good stop by Marr and the Blaze trio saw them managing to clear their lines from danger. Play was end to end and exciting if you was a neutral, whilst heartstopping if you was a fan of either club. Coventry seemed to adopt a more methodical approach to their play in the extra period, with passes in the Storm zone and waiting to make their move and find the key pass. The winning goal then arrived courtesy of Ashley Tait, as he skated towards the back post unchallenged and put home for the game winner to see the visitors claiming their first road win against the Storm since the team formed last year.

The lost was a bit bittersweet for the Storm in truth, as they had battled back from a 3-goal deficit against a difficult opponent in Coventry. But throwing away a two-goal lead at the end and was definitely a chance spurned by the Storm and will be down to early season fitness. That said though, facing a team that had already played four games prior to this one was always going to be a tough ask. What this performance for the home side, was that they worked for each other and were arguably the better side over the contest and just missing that match sharpness to their game and looked a lot more fluid than the squad last year during the season.

Manchester will now to look to regroup ahead of their meeting with the Sheffield Steelers on Saturday night, with Storm icing their new man to the side Darian Dziurzynski, as the Canadian arrived in Manchester on Friday morning.

Storm v Blaze – Game Highlights

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