Double delight weekend for Oxford
Oxford City Stars had a double-header weekend, playing both of their only league games in February and won both in emphatic style. On Saturday, Oxford travelled to their local rivals Swindon NIHL Wildcats and came away with a 6-2 win and goals from 6 different players (Josh Oliver, Darren Elliott, Alan Green, Josh Florey, Zach Dolphin and Jacob Smith). On Sunday, Stars entertained the Lee Valley Lions – the team to break their 20 game winning streak earlier in the season and delighted fans with a huge 10-1 win. Again scoring was well spread across the team with James Pentacost and Darren Elliott each netting 2 and Alan Green, Joe Oliver, Sam Broughton, Jacob Smith, Nick Oliver and Josh Oliver each picking up one.
Saturday’s game started with Swindon looking short benched to start their game due to their U18′s team having a match as well. Oxford determined to capitalise on the Wildcats early vulnerability were dominant in the opening minutes with the puck rarely entering their defensive zone. Joe Edwards picked up a couple of early penalties for holding and tripping, but Stars were easily able to kill these off and once back to full strength went on to net their first when Jacob Smith made a lovely pass from behind the net to Josh Oliver who had time in front of net to pick his spot and shoot the puck past Kevin McGurk in the Swindon net. Swindon then ran into penalty trouble of their own and during the second Oxford powerplay Stars scored a fantastic goal with a Darren Elliott slapshot from the point after some tape to tape passing around the Swindon zone.
Just before the end of the first period, Swindon’s U18 players joined their team on the ice, bolstering not only their numbers but also their offensive fire power and speed as the youngsters have put up a large proportion of Swindon’s goals this season. As a result, when the second period started it was noticeably faster with Swindon having a higher proportion of chances. However, it was Oxford who struck again just before the halfway point when a deceptive shot from Jake Florey on the point was tipped in by Alan Green. A few minutes later, Oxford scored their second powerplay goal after Josh Florey pounced on the rebound from a Joe Oliver shot from the point.
Zach Dolphin, playing against his old club which includes his older brother in their ranks, was delighted to make it 5-0 when he scored from the back post after a pass across the slot from Joe Edwards who had just made a fantastic run down the boards past 2 Swindon defenders. With no other major incidents, the Stars went back to their dressing room a happy team knowing the game was all but won.
Swindon came out determined to get on the scoreboard in the second period and were finally able to do so with a delayed penalty goal after a period of sustained pressure on the Oxford net when Glenn Billing put away a pass to high slot from Jan Melichar. Shortly afterwards, the home team came close to a second when Billing bore down on goal with a gleam in his eye, but a superb skate back by Stars’ Sam Arnold put enough pressure on him to keep him from getting off a quality shot and Ricky Young in the Oxford net was easily able to collect the puck. Instead it was Oxford who restored their 5 goal lead when Jacob Smith scored following a Josh Oliver pass through traffic. Swindon did get a second close to the end of the game when a poor defensive clearance across the Oxford zone was stolen by Tom Rutkis who controlled and shot quickly, but it was too little too late for Swindon and Oxford finished the game with a comfortable 6-2 win.
On Sunday, Oxford Stars were keen to get revenge on the team who had finally broken their winning run earlier in the season and came onto the ice determined to restore the balance with a home win. However, just 17 seconds into the game, they were shocked to be at the wrong end of a 1-0 scoreline when Latvian sniper Romanas Fedotovas, unmarked in the slot, was fed from behind the net by Richard Hodge and slid the puck home.
The game, which was hard hitting from the start saw a succession of both big hits and penalties from both teams with Andy Cox taking the first of these for just after 3 minutes of play when his hit was judged illegal (charging). Oxford’s penalty kill unit however was in fine form and did not allow the Lee Valley team to set up and in fact were able to score a rare short handed goal when a Joe Oliver clearance from his own rebounded off the boards behind the Lee Valley goal line and was pounced on by a flying Alan Green who controlled once before sliding the puck under Aaron Mallet to even the score.
Penalties were swapped between the teams throughout the rest of the period and with just over a minute to go, Oxford had four skaters to Lee Valley’s three when Lee Valley were called for a fourth infringement in less than 2 minutes. At the time, Oxford still had control of the puck and pulled James Skaife from the Oxford net to be replaced by an extra skater. Controlling the puck well in the Lee Valley end, Oxford were able to force an opening with their 2-man advantage when Joe Oliver found a tight angle and the puck was in the net.
An ugly incident occurred next, when Lee Valley Captain James Hatfull who had already been called for cross checking which led to the delayed penalty went for a celebrating Andy Cox and caught him in the face with his stick, cutting him above the lip in the process. Hatfull received a match penalty for roughing as a result and Stars had a long powerplay to look forward to in the second period.
The second period started with Stars having almost a minute of a two man advantage and then a further 6 minutes of a one-man advantage to look forward to as a result of Hatfull’s match penalty (which comes with an automatic 5 minute major penalty). Despite several good chances, Stars were unable to capitalise on the 5-on-3 in the first minute of the period thanks to some determined defending by Lee Valley. However, Lee Valley were not able to keep up and Stars scored 3 powerplay goals in less than 3 minutes, the first a Darren Elliott slapshot from the point; the second a sniper’s goal in the slot from James Pentacost and the third a Sam Broughton effort, also from the slot. The Stars were now in rampant mood and ready to put the ghosts of the defeat earlier in the season truly to rest when Joe Edwards’s stick caught the mouth of Matthew Drake and chipped a tooth. Due to the injury upgrade, Edwards was also ejected from the match and Stars instead saw themselves on the wrong end of a 5-minute major penalty to kill off.
Stars were not to be denied though and in fact were easily able to kill off the full 5 minutes of the penalty and even had a few good chances themselves on net with both Josh Oliver and James Pentacost having good breakaway chances. Just 309 seconds after the major was over, normal service was resumed as Jon Bayliss had a lovely shot on net from the point. Mallett was able to make the initial save but Jacob Smith was on hand to calmly slot home the rebound and make it 6 for the Stars. Despite being Stars’ sixth goal this was in fact their first one scored while even handed – an unusual statistic and perhaps reflecting the high physicality of the game.
Nick Oliver made it seven a few minutes later when he seemed to have enough time in front of net to pitch a tent – stick handling the puck several times before picking his spot and sliding it home. The last six minutes of the game saw no further goals but more penalties instead when Darren Elliott was penalised for boarding and Josh Florey and Lee Valley’s Theo Abban were each given a personal misconduct penalty as a result of some minor handbags in front of the Lee Valley net. A further incident between Joe Oliver and Nick Alley on the buzzer also resulted in a further minor penalty for roughing assessed for each side.
Stars completed their domination in the third period, outshooting Lee Valley by more than 3:1 and added a further 3 goals to their tally when first Josh Oliver had a great solo effort to make it 8-1 then Darren Elliott and James Pentacost each added a second to their personal hauls of the night. With only a few further minor penalties called, 5-on-5 play was the norm in this period and Stars excelled in moving the puck around well, easily befuddling a now exhausted Lee Valley team who had been outclassed by the end of the game. The game ended at 10-1 with goals from 8 different scorers, showing the depth of the Oxford team.
With these two wins, Oxford City Stars return to the top of the league table and must now wait on results from other teams to see if they can stay there until their next league game in March.