National League: MK Thunder 2 Raiders 4
JJ Pitchley’s hat-trick fired Raiders to a season-ending win at Milton Keynes on Sunday, which secured a fourth-place finish in the National League.
Raiders had beaten Thunder 6-1 at Romford’s Sapphire Ice & Leisure Centre to leapfrog Bracknell in the table and they made it a four-point weekend in the return meeting 24 hours later.
Early penalties against Matt Turner and Sean Barry handed the home side a spell of 5-on-3 and they made it count as Ross Bowers netted on the power play in the sixth minute.
Pitchley had gone 12 games without a goal, since netting in a 2-1 win at Streatham on January 21, but levelled a little over two minutes later and then struck again to put the visitors ahead towards the end of the first period.
Thunder were awarded a penalty shot in the middle session, but Raiders goalie Michael Gray kept it out to ensure his side remained in front heading into the final 20 minutes of the regular campaign.
And although Raiders could not capitalise on their only power play of the night when Greg Randall was binned for tripping soon after the restart, they moved 3-1 up when Pitchley completed his treble with just under 10 minutes remaining.
The hat-trick hero took a slashing penalty soon after, but Raiders added a fourth soon after his return to the action as Thomas Beesley fired in off the crossbar for his second goal in successive matches.
An interference minor against captain Tom Davis was killed off in the closing minutes, but Thunder grabbed a consolation with 41 seconds left on the clock through Logan Prince.
It failed to take the shine off a good road win for Raiders, with Pitchley their man of the match as they achieved their top-four target for the season.
They will now hope to progress in the play-offs and visit Bracknell for the first leg of their tie next Saturday, before hosting the return in Romford the following night.