Stars Cruise To Play-off Semis After Bad-Tempered Victory

The second leg of the playoff quarter final saw the Oxford City Stars ’host’ the Bristol Pitbulls; with the Pitbulls playing their home games at Oxford, both legs were played there, but the Saturday match was classed as an away game for the Stars. After that match, the Stars were ahead by the narrowest of margins, winning 4-3, with the Pitbulls needing to win by 2 goals on the Sunday to take the victory.

However, it was not to be the Pitbulls’ night, and the home fans had plenty to cheer for as the Stars took a comfortable victory.

It was the Pitbulls with the puck in the early stages, Sam Shone taking a shot around the Stars’ net. Play progressed evenly, with both sides with chances. Matthew Lawday set up a shot by passing to Joshua Florey who then passed to Dax Hedges, the latter right in front of the Pitbulls’ net, but the shot missed. Joe Edwards, Conor Redmond and Dominic Hopkins had shots, and Olly Shone for the visitors then found himself on a breakaway and went to the Stars’ net, but netminder Milan Ronai saved the shot. Joshua Oliver tried to find an opening in front of the Pitbulls’ net and 6 ½ minutes into the period the persistence paid off and the goal came; Redmond with the assist. Soon after the first penalty was called, on the Pitbulls’ Jordan Jefferies for cross-checking, and the Stars were on a power play. Shots followed by Hopkins, Josh Florey and Hedges, but they were not able to score. Halfway through the period and Andrew Cox was thrown into the sin bin for slashing. The opponents were not able to take advantage of their power play. With the Stars back to five skaters, Joe Edwards passed the puck from behind the Pitbulls’ net to Darren Elliott, and the home side scored their second goal, with a further assist from Cox. As the minutes ticked down in the period Theo Bundock took a shot that hit the net post, the Pitbulls tried a shot of their own but the Stars got the puck back and added a third goal, Hopkins passing to Redmond right in front of Ross Miller in the Pitbulls’ net, the second assist coming from Oliver. With 45 seconds left to play in the period Richard Hargreaves was penalized for slashing. Hopkins took a shot towards the net but it bounced off Miller’s shin pads, and Redmond had a further shot but it was saved as the whistle blew for the end of the period, the Stars now 7-3 up on aggregate.

The second period began with a couple of chances for the Pitbulls, most notable for Joshua Dolphin, but it was the Stars who were to add to their goal tally yet again with a goal from Edwards, assisted by Hedges, a few minutes in. About 40 seconds later, Oliver found the back of the net for the second time, this time with assists from Stewart Tait and Alexander Staples. The home side then continued to bombard Miller with shots, and a few minutes later were successful again, when scrapping in front of the Pitbulls net led to a goal from Cox, assisted by Elliott and Edwards. Seeing their chances of progressing in the playoffs slipping away, the Pitbulls called an immediate time out. A shot from Elliott was caught in Miller’s hand; however seconds later came yet another goal, this time Bundock from Staples. Miller was having a bad night, and was replaced in the Pitbulls’ net by Andrew Leckie for the remainder of the period. A couple of shots from opposing players led to a bit of shoving and resulted in penalties for both teams, with Edwards for the Stars given 2+2 for roughing, and Jefferies was given 2 for roughing for the Pitbulls. Soon after came another penalty on the Pitbulls and Logan Prince sat out for holding. The Stars had a few chances but were unable to capitalize on the extra player. However a couple of minutes later they scored their eighth goal, Lawday this time slotting the puck in from a pass from Oliver, with a second assist for Josh Florey. Hedges had a chance after this from right in front of the net, but was unable to get the puck in. With 39 seconds left on the ice things turned violent with fighting amongst several players, which the referee had to break up. As tensions escalated the players went into the locker room early whilst the  officials worked out the penalties. The score at this point was 8-0 in this game (12-3 to the Stars on aggregate).

When the players came back out onto the ice, the remaining 39 seconds were played before the netminders changed ends and the third period started. Miller was back in goal for the Pitbulls. The Pitbulls had a shot in those 39 seconds, but nothing materialized. Penalties had been called on Edwards (2+2 for roughing and 2+2 for fighting), Elliott (2+2 for fighting) and Hopkins (2+2 for checking from behind) for the Stars and for the opponents it was Sam Shone (2+2 for fighting) and Richard Hargreaves, who was given 5+ game for roughing. He was later also given 2+2 for fighting, along with Hopkins from the home side. Joshua Galea had a shot for the Pitbulls and for the Stars Oliver had a go; the rebound was collected by Staples but wasn’t successful. The opposing side was given another penalty, on Giacomo Raffaelli for charging. The Pitbulls managed to clear the puck from their end and despite shots were not able to connect with the net. Sam Shone took the puck on a breakaway and almost scored a short-handed goal for the visitors but Ronai managed to save it. With less than 10 minutes to play in the game, the Stars were continuing to create chances and they had success when the Pitbulls were penalized yet again, much to the consternation of the Bristol fans; Sam Shone was taken to the sin bin for kneeing, and Cox scored a power play goal with the help of Josh Florey. A cross-checking penalty soon after for Galea gave them another chance, but this one wasn’t successful. In the last six minutes of the game, a slashing penalty on the Stars’ William Harrison gave the Pitbulls an opportunity, but the Stars killed the penalty with no problems, even adding a short-handed goal to their tally, from Josh Florey assisted by Martyn Gray. In the last few minutes both sides tried to score, and with 45 seconds left in the game the Pitbulls finally scored a consolation goal, with Adrian Smith finding a way past Ronai at last, assisted by Daniel Murrells and Jefferies. The opposing fans celebrated like their team had won the playoffs, glad to finally have something to cheer for. They took another shot as the whistle blew but nothing resulted. It was a hard night for the Pitbulls and their fans after such a close game the night before, and the Stars booked their place in the semi-finals in Bracknell next weekend.

Final score: Stars 10 Pitbulls 1 – Stars 14 Pitbulls 4 on aggregate.

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