By James Thompson
The Grosvenor Casino Sheffield Knights took game 1 of the 2016 Transpennine Cup in the most dramatic fashion, a 2-0 shootout win over the Shaw Millionaires after an absolute goal fest at the Oldham Academy.
The holders played the opening game on the road with a mix of experience and youth in the squad, but missing a few regular players. Dan Plant, Mitch Hopes and Rich Cartwright were all unavailable with Ash Rose and Tom Wright both on holiday. Their hosts came into the tie with a strong bench and good depth, confident after a good showing took them to the final of the previous weekend’s G Casino Summer cup in Rotherham.
The Knights in their dark jerseys started the game on top, but the pace was soon cranked up by both sides, typically frantic on the smaller playing surface. It was Shaw who settled faster and they were first on the board at the midway point in period 1. A shot came in from the left of netminder David Grant, but the bounce somehow brought the ball back in front on the same side, the forward making no mistake second time around.
The Yorkshire side needed a response and that is exactly what they got just 2 minutes later. D Man Martin Bell was afforded the freedom of the neutral zone before ripping a lazer beam high into the net on the glove side. The visitors kept on the pressure but some good blocking, a solid penalty kill and two excellent saves ensured parity for the hosts at the break.
Millionaires 1-1 Knights
It was the Millionaires that started the 2nd period the sharpest and took a deserved lead just a couple of minutes in. A superb sharp passing move cut open the defence and the back door was ajar for the 2-1 lead. Bell was in fine form however and in a carbon copy of his first period tally, he found the net again to knot the game with his second unassisted marker.
The tie game lasted just 30 seconds.
Shaw had plenty of joy down their right throughout the game and space was found for a low shot to squirm under a stricken Grant, who had taken an accidental stick just below his chest guard on the play, for a 3-2 lead for the hosts. The injury delay allowed Sheffield to regroup and the game was level two minutes later. The Martin Bell show continued as he completed his hat trick, this time slotting home from the point after a feed from the right by his brother Nick.
The Knights then took their first and indeed only lead in the match, but with some style. Nick Bell notched his 2nd assist of the afternoon playing in Vlastimil Loukota down the left. The Czech forward, returning to action after moving home, was a menace all game. He twisted and turned to find just enough space to centre for Andy Stafford who was well positioned in the slot to turn the ball home for his first of the campaign in competitive play. The visitors took the lead to the intermission, but not before a fine kick save from Grant after a wicked slap shot destined for the corner.
Millionaires 3-4 Knights
The message with 12 to go from player coach Dave Grant was to go out there, limit the chances and control the game. Shaw threw that plan in to tatters within two minutes of the restart when they found themselves back in front with 2 quick goals. The first was a well directed shot over the blocker of the rebound, the second a superb deke creating space to find the unguarded back post.
The Knights had 10 minutes to save themselves and they levelled again with 8 minutes to play in an unlikely fashion. Captain James Thompson broke out from the back down the right hand side, and a good centre found defensive partner Tom Walkeden in the slot who finished first time with the poise of a seasoned forward for 5-5. The tally was Walkeden’s first for the club.
This should have galvanised the visitors but instead it fired up the Millionaires who with 6 and a half to play were ahead once again. More joy down the right and the low shot found its way past Grant into his far right hand corner. Shaw thought they were destined to take the series opener when number 7 came soon after, sharp offencive zone passing created the chance and the lead was 2 with five to play at 7-5.
The Knights were well and truly up against it, but were handed a lifeline just three seconds after the restart. Aidan Paget won the face off clean back to Joe Wait. He continued his excellent form from the G Casino Cup when his wrist shot from halfway caught the Shaw netminder off guard. 7-6. Keeping up?
There was one final twist and the Knights resilience and hard work paid off when the game was tied up with 2 and a half minutes to play. Thompson again found Loukota on the left and more great work saw him link up with Stafford who finished calmly under pressure for his 2nd of the game, a powerplay marker on their fourth chance.
Timeouts for both sides came and went, as did final chances at both ends, but excellent late netminding from both goaltenders prevented a winner in regulation and it would be down to them again in the best of 5 rounds shootout, with no overtime to be played in this year’s competition.
Millionaires 7-7 Knights
The first Millionaires shooter was forced to his left by Grant before fanning on his shot, whilst Stafford was denied by a well placed blocker in round 1. Grant made the best save of the night at the top of round two, at full stretch to deny the forward after a great move. Wait couldn’t capitalise at the other end. 0-0 after 2 rounds.
Shaw shot wide their best chance at the start of round 3 but up stepped 16 year old Aidan Paget for the Knights who pulled a nice move to create space on his backhand, allowing him to slot home with some confidence. 0-1.
Round 4 saw another good save made by Grant, despite the play having been whistled off on a backwards movement. The Knights had the first chance to win it at the bottom of the 4th round and up stepped that man Martin Bell. He capped off a man of the match display wristing his shot through the five – hole to send game one back across the pennines to Sheffield.
Shootout. Millionaires 0-2 Knights
Coach David Grant described the match as a ‘crazy game of hockey’ but was quick to praise his players on social media.
“We showed great character to come from behind and get back into the game and at times control the pace of the game,” he said.
He had gracious words for the opponents too: “Shaw play the game the right way, and always a joy to play against, win or lose.”
So, game one goes to Yorkshire but with the spirit showed by Shaw you can bet the red rose will come back fighting when they travel to Sheffield for game two later in the year.
Points Scorers – Knights
M Bell (3+0)
A Stafford (2+0)
T Walkeden (1+0)
J Wait (1+0)
N Bell (0+2)
V Loukota (0+2)
J Thompson (0+2)
A Paget (0+1)
M Reynolds 2
S Reynolds 2
R Grant 1
Knights – Martin Bell
Millionaires – Walsh