Cleveland Comets Are Masters Again!
Travelling to Nottingham at the weekend as ice hockeyâ€™s reigning British Masters, the Cleveland Comets can once again claim that title for another year as they lifted the trophy following an exhilarating weekend of top class hockey.
Comets had started the weekend at a pace with comfortable victories over Solihull (3-1) and Milton Keynes (4-1) but stumbled as they struggled to a single goal victory against a Chairmanâ€™s Select. Hopes of topping their qualifying group were then sent crashing as Streatham, having scored after 54 seconds, went on to beat the Comets 3-1.
However their success earlier in the day was enough to put the Cleveland side through to Sundayâ€™s finals, though seeded third and not the first seed spot they had hoped for.
Sunday dawned a new day and a refreshed team took to the ice knowing that they faced a tough challenge if they were to stay Champions, a fact that became all too clear in their opening match against Nottingham as former Panther Simon Hunt drilled home his second goal of the game just 20 seconds from time to hand Comets a 2-1 defeat.
The second match of the day saw Cleveland facing North East rivals Durham Dragons and with the Wearsiders having also lost their opener it was a crucial tie. Not only were bragging rights at stake but anything less than a win for either side would see their title challenge at an end.
In a tough, penalty-filled game it was Comets Carl Wood who broke the deadlock with a power play strike from the blue line in the gameâ€™s final two minutes to give Cleveland the edge 1-0 and end Durhamâ€™s hopes.
With their title challenge back on track, Comets had little time to rest on their laurels as next up was first seed Streatham Nightwolves, who had already handed Comets a defeat the previous day. There was to be no repeat however as Cleveland shut out the Londoners, whilst goals from Simon Hehir, Carl Wood and Scott Williams saw Comets to a comfortable 3-0 victory.
With team morale at a high, Comets stepped onto the ice for their final game against Grimsby Lightning, the team that Comets had beaten into second place the previous year. Both teams knew that a win would put them at the top of the group. Once again netminder Chris Outhwaithe put up the shutters to record his third shutout of the day, whilst Simon Hehir and Carl Wood found the back of Lightningâ€™s net to end Grimsbyâ€™s hopes of silverware.
Having done all they could Comets then had an agonising wait for the result of the final game between Streatham and Nottingham before they could claim their second title. Nottingham could only finish second but a Streatham win would put the Londoners on equal points with the Teessiders. Then it would go down to goals scored and those three that Cleveland netted against Nightwolves looked crucial.
Streatham not only needed a win but also had to score five times to take top spot. This was almost a case of dÃ©jÃ vu for Nottingham as it was the same in last yearâ€™s competition when Cleveland needed to net five against Nottingham to lift the title, a result they got with a 5-0 win.
As the game faced off a nervous Cleveland side could only sit and watch. Comets travelling fans also knew the odds and joined in with the vociferous home fans to cheer Nottingham on. Durham Dragons had also put aside their rivalry in the hope of bringing the silverware back North.
Streatham certainly had to deal with a hostile crowd and a Nottingham determined to play their part in deciding the tournament outcome. As the clock ticked down and Nightwolves could not find a way through a stalwart Nottingham defence the Londoners hopes started to fade. Russian ace Mikhall Neizvestnov eventually found the chink in Nottinghamâ€™s armour but with only three minutes left in the game, Nightwolves knew this was only going to be enough to earn them a silver medal whilst Comets fans counted the seconds down to their sideâ€™s second Masters title.
A superb team effort from the Cleveland team brought the trophy back to the Forum for a second time but the icing on the cake came when they also collected two of the four individual awards. Carl Wood picked up the forward of the tournament having scored in all of Comets four games on finals Sunday, whilst netminder Chris Outhwaite collected the top goalie award having recorded three shutouts from those four games.
Words and photo courtesy of Tony Boynton