National League: Raiders 5 Swindon Wildcats 4 (after pens)
Everyone Active Raiders claimed a second home victory at the Sapphire Ice & Leisure Centre after a thrilling penalty shoot-out against Swindon.
Having beaten Cardiff 5-2 on opening night, the signs looked ominous for Raiders as the visitors scored twice inside seven minutes, but they dug deep to force the extra period.
And Ollie Baldock and Marek Nahlik then netted their penalty shots to earn the home side the extra point in memorable fashion.
Alan Lack saw an early attempt snuffed out at close range, while John Connolly’s low wristshot was gloved aside and JJ Pitchley forced a blocker save from Remy Marr, all inside the opening two minutes.
But Lack was then called for slashing Max Birbraer to hand Swindon a power play, with Chris Jones forcing Michael Gray to save his tight angled shot an Aaron Nell’s slapshot was well held.
Gray then stonewalled Sam Bullas with a superb, eye catching save in close as Wildcats looked set to open the scoring, only for Nahlik to pick up an elbowing minor.
Birbraer rang the crossbar on the ensuing man advantage before the pressure finally told and Nell fizzed a slapshot through Gray’s defences.
And it was 2-0 soon after as Nell teed up Birbraer to whip the puck home with barely seven minutes gone.
Jake Sylvester went close to a reply but his backhand was gloved by Marr, before Bullas was called for holding Jack Cooper.
But Gray had to make a blocker save from Phil Hill, before Olegs Lascenko called Marr into action.
And Hill almost capitalised on a mistake by Julian Smith by the boards, but Gray was alert to make the save.
Sam Godfrey was called for boarding Lack, who earned a retaliatory roughing minor to negate the Raiders power play towards the end of the first period, summing up the home side’s frustrations as they were outshot 19-7.
Juraj Huska’s close-range backhand effort hit the pads of Marr at the start of the second period, but Raiders were grateful to see Birbraer miscontrol a pass when unmarked in front of Gray moments later.
Lack was then denied on the doorstep by Marr, and flattened by 39-year-old Neil Liddiard, but Raiders halved the deficit just past the midway mark when Lascenko touched the puck on to Nahlik in mid ice and he gained the zone, faked to pass and whistled a wristshot past Marr.
And only a quick pad save from the young Swindon goalie denied Huska an equaliser from a shot on the turn on the very next shift.
But it was all square on the shift after that as Lascenko and Huska combined to set up Matt Turner for a simple finish, prompting a Swindon timeout.
Wildcats regained the lead just over a minute later as Floyd Taylor converted Luc Johnson’s pass, with former Romford junior Mikey Power also picking up an assist.
And Raiders were caught with too many men on the ice later in the period, handing Swindon another power play chance, which saw plenty of pressure applied but the scoreline remain unchanged.
Birbraer rang the crossbar soon after Raiders returned to full strength, but Huska then tested Marr from Thomas Beesley’s drop pass, before Gray kicked out Nell’s effort.
Baldock’s blast from Sylvester’s drop pass then forced a good blocker save from Marr inside the final 30 seconds of the session, giving Raiders hope for the final frame.
But Swindon went 4-2 up with just over two minutes gone as Bullas converted Birbraer’s pass and Raiders saw Nahlik hit a post, before Baldock was denied by Marr in close.
Callum Wells cleared a loose puck off the line after Gray half-stopped another Nell shot, before Lascenko sent a puck towards goal for Huska to divert past Marr to keep Raiders interested with 12 minutes still to play.
Marr’s right shoulder denied Sylvester’s wristshot from Lack’s pass, before Liddiard was called for slashing. And Raiders had good early pressure on the power play through Nahlik, Pitchley and Tom Davis, before Huska’s shot was deflected over his crossbar by Marr.
But the home side were back on terms with just over three minutes to play when Sean Barry fired a puck goalwards from the right face-off circle, looking for Huska at the far post, and saw it beat Marr at his near post, to the delight of the gold and blue army.
Neither side could find a winner in normal time and so it went to 3-on-3 overtime, with Nahlik wiring a hard blast wide after Gray had almost got caught out of his net at the other end.
Steve Whitfield pushed a good chance wide for Swindon, while Connolly hit the mask of Marr when attempting to find the net from an acute angle.
But Gray had to produce a fine glove save to deny Taylor as he jumped into the play straight from the bench with less than 90 seconds left.
Baldock struck first in the shoot-out, with Jones then ringing the left pipe for Swindon.
But Lascenko was denied by Marr, before Gray kept out Birbraer, and Nahlik held his nerve to net the final Raiders shot to clinch victory.
Raiders: Juraj Huska* 1+1, Matt Turner 1+1, Marek Nahlik* 1, Sean Barry 1, Olegs Lascenko 0+3.
Swindon: Maxim Birbraer* 1+2, Aaron Nell 1+1, Sam Bullas 1+1, Floyd Taylor 1, Chris Jones 0+1, Luc Johnson 0+1, Mikey Power 0+1.
Penalty minutes: Raiders x Swindon x.
Shots on goal: Michael Gray (L) 19-10-7-4=40-4; Remy Marr (S) 7-10-14-3=34-4.
Game Reports courtesy of the Romford Recorder