Great Achievements In NIHL North & South At The Weekend

There were several great – and fascinating – achievements this weekend in the NIHL and I have been hard pushed to decide which one to write about so, in the end, I thought I’d tell you about ALL of them instead.

The first fascinating event of the weekend was the top of the table clash at Dumfries – league leaders Solway Sharks against third place Blackburn Hawks who had won their last 9 games in a row.

Final score: Sharks 1 – Hawks 0.  No – that’s not the first period score, that is the FINAL score.  1-0 – with the “game-winning-goal” being scored in the 55th minute. I wasn’t there but people who were have all said what an incredibly tense encounter it was.

Now, we have all been at games that have been decided by a single goal but usually, they end up 6-5 or 8-7 or something like that.  So, while it is fair to acknowledge that 1-0 games do happen sometimes – as has the very occasional 0-0 – because of the nature of ice hockey it is a fairly rare event – especially here in British hockey.

Off the top of my head, I’d say the lowest scoring game I have actually been at myself is probably something like 3-1 or 3-2. You have to bear in mind here that I was brought up on British League hockey in the 1980s where the average result tended to be something like 18-10 and if neither side reached double figures, you’d think of it as a “low scoring” game.

The news of that late winner set me thinking about single goals that have been especially important to me in ice hockey and, funnily enough, neither of them came in wins for the side I was supporting.  Probably the most important single goal for me was NHL Ironman legend Garry Unger’s last ditch winner in the Peterborough Pirates v Telford Tigers relegation play-off in 1988.  Having won the away leg, the Pirates then found themselves 1-6 down after two periods and heading out of the HBL Premier Division.  A superb fightback finally stemmed the tide of the Tigers and Unger saved the day with a goal a minute from the end. It was probably the biggest ever celebration for a 7-8 home defeat in history!

There again, earlier in that same season, the Pirates were stuck at the foot of the table when perennial champions Durham Wasps came to town.  Import forward Todd Bidner had been called back to Canada for a court case and the Pirates were down to just 2 imports and practically zero confidence going into the game. The inevitable happened and Durham were leading 20-0  (yes, 20-0) going into the last few minutes of the game. Then, all of a sudden – a miracle occurred.  Kenny MacDonald scored for the Pirates and the whole place erupted! The game finished 1-20 but after all that has happened it felt like a victory.

And this clever “Telford tie-in” brings me to my next great achievement in the weekend’s NIHL action.

Telford Titans have struggled all season with various woes and have found themselves rooted at the foot of the Moralee Conference table having lost all of their games thus far.  So it gives me great pleasure to congratulate them on securing their first point of the season with a 5-5 draw at home to Whitley Warriors.

Earlier in the season I reported on how the embattled Titans heroically took on league leaders Solway with only 9 travelling players and got hammered 35-1. The EIHA subsequently awarded the game 5-0 to Solway as the Titans had iced an under-strength team without permission.  The logic of this decision escaped me – usually a game is awarded 5-0 because the other side WON by using ineligible players or something – not if they lost anyway. If anything, Solway were penalised more than Telford by this ruling.  So, does that mean that if Telford had got prior permission from the EIHA, the 35-1 scoreline would have stood?

Anyway, the point I am working up to here is not the fact that Solway’s 35 goals were scrubbed from the record, it is that Telford’s single goal is no longer recognised either.  That one goal was important – not least for the guy who scored it – because it proved that they were there and had played in the game. The records now show that the game was awarded 5-0 to Solway so, in future, unless they look at Blueliner Hockey, nobody will ever know whether Telford originally won the match with ineligible players – or just didn’t bother to turn up. Whereas recording it as a 35-1 scoreline would have celebrated the occasion forever – albeit for different reasons for each team!

And so, mention of Solway Sharks’ victories brings me back – in a very symmetrical way – to the matter of shut outs.

Having talked about the rarity of a 1-0 win earlier on, Chelmsford Chieftains are making their own little bit of history in NIHL South Division 1 at present. They had two wins over the weekend which took them back to the top of the table.  OK – this isn’t much of a surprise in itself until you realise that both these wins were shutouts.

On Sunday night they beat Bracknell Hornets 5-0 in a game backstopped by South 1’s current top placed netminder Ben Clements and on Saturday night, they beat Cardiff Devils 8-0, with recent signing Euan King between the pipes.

The previous game to that was a 2-0 away win at Solent & Gosport Devils, with King in goal for his first game with the Chieftains.  So that is THREE shut outs in a row. The last goal conceded by Chelmsford was in the 48th minute of their 4-3 win away at Isle of Wight Raiders. So they have now played 192 minutes of ice hockey without conceding a goal and this is hardly a fluke run because it is actually their SEVENTH shutout of the season already.

With the Chieftains’ next game away at bottom of the table Milton Keynes Thunder – who have only picked up 1 point and scored 40 goals in 20 league games – on Saturday, it will be fascinating to see what happens next!

Photo:  Chelmsford Chieftains netminder Ben Clements by One Shot Images / facebook.com/oneshotimages

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