Match report: Oxford 3 – Chelmsford 3

Oxford City Stars returned to the top of NIHL Division 2 in a thrilling 3-3 home draw against the Chelmsford Warriors on Sunday evening. The game, which was played at a blistering pace throughout, saw Oxford go 0-2 behind before rallying with two goals in a minute from Man of the Match Josh Oliver. Oliver was also involved in the third goal, scored by James Pentecost.

The game started at full throttle with both teams skating hard for every puck and as a result the pace of the game was one of the quickest seen this season at Oxpens Road. The game was very back and forth in the opening shifts with both netminders making saves but neither team able to create a genuine scoring chance. Oxford Stars were determined to put the bad result at Cardiff the previous week behind them and came out of the blocks strongly with quick passes moving them up the ice quickly. Chelmsford, with one of the youngest teams in the league, have become known for quick clever plays and were breaking down the Stars’ attacks with strong back-checking and creating breakaway chances of there own.

In the 13th minute, Chelmsford were the first to break the deadlock when Olegs Lascenko steamed into the Stars end at full speed. A fantastic hit from Josh Florey dispossessed him of the puck, but the loose puck was picked up by Bailey Chittock behind the net and he passed to line-mate Ellis Swainsbury who buried it in the net. Five minutes late, Chelmsford doubled their lead when Conor Swainsbury made a great pass from the point to Lawrence Refnell just in front of goal and he had a relatively simple tap in make the score 2-0 to the visitors. There was good Oxford pressure for the rest of the period but they were unable to defeat Chelmsford’s netminder Adam Long and the period ended with the Stars 2 goals down despite playing well.

The second period started as the first ended, with both teams skating at full pace. Strong words must have been said in the Oxford dressing room as they came out and found another gear from somewhere, piling on the pressure with wave after wave of attacks on the Chelmsford net only to be frustrated by some fantastic saves from Long. In the first shift, Alan Green had a point blank shot from just a few metres out; Darren Elliott was released on a breakaway by a fantastic pass from out of defence but again was unable to get past Long who was starting to look invincible. Oxford, playing a fairly physical game were bringing out some big checks, much to the delight of the fans but there was a real air of tension around the rink as everyone wondered who was going to be able to break the clingflim on Long’s net.

In the second period, Oxford had several powerplay opportunities, including over a minute with a 2-man advantage and had been unable to convert. Receiving a further man advantage late in the third, Stars again looked to push forward and put themselves on the scoreboard and were finally able to do so with just 9 seconds of the powerplay remaining. A goalmouth scramble ended with keeper Long completed stranded to one side of the net and despite some desperate defending by Chelmsford, Josh Oliver was able to find the back of the net much to the relief of the crowd. Just 40 second later some quick passing from Mason Wild and James Pentecost released Oliver again and he danced around a defender, saw his initial shot saved and then picked up his own rebound and slammed it into the net to even up the game.

Despite both teams continuing the blistering pace of the period, there were no further incidents and the second period break saw the teams hit the changing rooms with 2 goals a piece.

The first few minutes of the third period seemed to start a little more slowly and were the only point at which both teams were a little more reserved in their play. Oxford fell afoul of the linesman several times in the opening shifts with offsides being called multiple times which was disrupting their flow. The pace picked up again when Oxford’s Joe Edwards hit the back of the net from a really wide angle and Oxford fans thought they had seen their team finally go ahead only to be disappointed when the goal was waved off due to netminder interference. Instead it was Chelmsford who scored the go-ahead goal just 8 seconds into a powerplay after Josh Florey was called for slashing. Stars netminder James Skaife made the initial save from Gary Brown but was unable to get back into position to stop Thomas Wilson from being able to score on the rebound.

Oxford responded by throwing everything at Chelmsford, determined not to record a second loss in as many weeks and equalised with less than four minutes to go. A pass from defender James Clarke released Josh Oliver who flew down the wing, brushing off two Chelmsford players in the process and sending a great pass across the front of the goal to James Pentecost who had crashed the net from the opposite wing and slammed the puck home at the back post. Having saved themselves from defeat, Oxford then went on to push for the winner and the game ended at the same fast pace as it started but despite chances at both ends in the final minute neither side was to score again and the game finished at 2-2.

The game showed a real commitment from the Oxford team, both in the speed of skating and the hard hits landed, but credit also has to go to the young Chelmsford stride who matched their pace and deserved their share of the points. The result sees Oxford return to the top of the league, just one point ahead of both Slough and Chelmsford.

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