Chelmsford Chieftains are through to the NIHL Cup Final after defeating London (formally Romford) Raiders 8-2 over the two legs of last weekend’s semi-final. Despite dominating the league this season the Chieftains cup form has been shaky to say the least. In the qualifying group they lost four out of the six match ups, so although they overpowered the Raiders 11-3 the previous weekend in the league, coach Sean Easton and his team had to bring their A-game to the table on both nights to ensure victory.
Thirteen minutes into the game and the Chieftains took the lead through Jake Sylvester. The move was started by Juraj Huska who has been on superb goal scoring form of late. He passed across ice to Olllie Baldock who in turn found Sylvester who finished the job, beating ex-Chieftain Euan King to make it 1-0 Chieftains.
Three minutes later and it was 2-0, Grant Bartlett beating King at close range, unassisted.
But just before the first break Raiders hit back with a delayed penalty goal. Brandon Ayliffe had been called for hooking by the officials. In hockey the game doesn’t stop until a member of the offenders team touches the puck. Once the goalie spots the referee’s arm up signalling an upcoming penalty, he leaves the ice and his place is taken by a forward to pressurise their opponents further. He leaves the net empty knowing that if one of the opponents touches the puck the whistle will be blown anyhow to give the penalty, so the unguarded net isn’t a concern.
With the extra skater the Raiders took their chance and Brandon Miles gave Clements no chance with a well struck shot at 19.05, bringing the Raiders back within one, 1-2 at the end of the first period.
The second period was end-to-end hockey as the home team looked for the equaliser. But both defences were at their best and the period remained scoreless.
This was not going to be the case in the final period and just 40 seconds in, King was beaten for the third time in the evening. A soundly struck shot from Anthony Leone hit the Raiders’s netminder who failed to react and the puck bounced off and into the net, 3-1 advantage Chieftains.
But the Raiders refused to lie down and continued to press forward. A minute from time and Raider’s Captain Tom Davis gave the home fans something to cheer about with a goal that gave his team hope as they travelled to Riverside with the score on a knife edge. 3-2 with a slender advantage to the Chieftains as they prepared for leg two the following evening.
A large crowd including a mischievous bear, a lego hockey ref and a team of cheerleaders from the local Anglia Ruskin University all descended on the City of Chelmsford for leg two. Once again Chieftains were missing Brown from the dressing room, Phillips swapping with Clements to take over the netminding duties.
Just as they had done the previous evening it was ‘first blood’ to the Chieftains as they opened the scoring at 6.49. A superb move involving Huska, Liam Chong and Sylvester ended with the latter’s sweetly struck shot beating King at close range. It was clear that the Raiders wanted to play the physical game to try and unsettle the league champions. This really played into the Chieftains hands as the visitors defence seemed to concentrate on the player and not the puck. Some heavy hits went in but Chieftains rode the storm and at 17:39 they were 2-0 up. Again it was Sylvester, Chong and Huska that came up trumps with Huska finishing the job to give his team a three-goal cushion over the two legs as the period came to a close.
In the second period, the Raiders had to react and get on the scoreboard, but Philips was on great form. The visitors thought they had scored halfway through the period but the goal net was not secured to it’s moorings and the refs waved off the score. The Raiders fans accused Phillips of cheating, but to be fair the young rookie netminder was signalling to the officials the net was off way before the shot came in.
At 27:11 it was really game over when a Lukas Zatopek pass from the defensive zone found Cameron Bartlett and Danny Hammond closing in on net. Bartlett passed across ice and Hammond made no mistake and buried the puck low in the back of the Raiders net. Two minutes later with the fans still celebrating the Hammond goal it was 4-0 on the night.
Stewart Tait had been called for interference giving the Chieftains an extra man, putting more pressure on the Raiders defence. Chieftains passed the puck around the zone playing cat and mouse with the Raiders defence. Matt Turner found Hammond and in stepped Huska to score his second of the night.
Chieftains were in the zone and 33:00 they scored their third goal in just six minutes to end any hope of a Raiders comeback. Defence man Carl Graham’s long distance slapshot across goal deflected in via a Raider’s skate giving King no chance of getting a glove on the puck.
The second period ended 5-0 with Chieftains firmly in the driving seat. With no further score in the final period the Chieftains fans celebrated at the final buzzer, a 5-0 win for the Chieftains and a well deserved shut-out for Phillips.
That gave the Chieftains a 8-2 victory over the two legs and now they meet Invicta Dynamos in the cup final which takes place over the weekend of the 18/19 March.
This weekend they travel to Streatham on Saturday and on Sunday it’s going to be celebration time at Riverside when they meet Bracknell Hornets for the final home league game of the current season. The game faces-off at 6.30pm and after the game Chieftains will be awarded their league championship trophy and medals.