Stars seal crucial point at Chelmsford after horror defeat
Oxford City Stars recovered from a night to forget in Cardiff losing 7-5 to record a memorable point away in Chelmsford in a 2-2 draw against the league champions.
Stars knew a win against Cardiff would be enough to make them avoid relegation but the start was with the hosts, scoring a shorthanded goal from Kieran Latchford five minutes in after a Darren Elliott roughing penalty. Dax Hedges would level up the game even handedÂ on a huge scramble in front of net.
Cardiff would get their lead back almost immediately from Jonathan Nash with Latchford getting the assist. Stars looked like a team working hard but failing to string passages of play together and in the end, a counter attacking Cardiff team scored from Steve Newton after a penalty expired on Cardiff and Newton returned unchallenged from the box to record the finish.
A series of penalties from Cardiff saw Oxford go on the five on three. First up David Sadler got a tripping penalty, but Jordan Powell was thrown out of the game for high-sticking to give the Stars a major powerplay which carried into the 2nd period and itâ€™s here were Stars struck, firstly from Evan Mackintosh with two goals in less than a minute with goals from the right and left sides of the net to level up the game.
A few minutes later, Mike Whillock scored a classic hard-working goal jamming the puck in at the back post after Oxford crashed the net with perfection to make it 4-3 to the Stars. Stars looked the better team for a lot of the second period with James Pentecost having a great chance but Cardiff pegged them back and back more as it went on. Latchford got his got his second of the game with five and a half minutes left in the period and the Devils restored their lead from Jamie Hayes with a goal two minutes from time.
Into the third and Stars needed something to get themselves back in the game but Hayes scored a controversial goal as Cardiff clipped Josh Oliver from behind for no penalty called by the referee Stephen Matthews and Hayes exploited the effective man advantage to score a critical goal.Â Stars needed something quickly and with 9 minutes to go, Darren Elliott scored to make a contest out of it. Sadly for the stars, it turned out to be nothing more than a conciliation when Hayes completed his hat-trick on an empty net goal to secure a 7-5 victory.
A trip to the league champions the following day would be galling for any side but Stars knowing that Cardiff only needed a single point to avoid relegation were under serious pressure.
It was nothing short of an unexpected classic of a game, a pulsating, outstanding advert for NIHL1 hockey, dominated by one man, James Skaife, Stars netminder who would go on to record 47 saves out of 49 shots on goal in one of the single greatest every performances by an Oxford player in the clubs 30 year history.
Evan Mackintosh got another goal on a standout weekend from the American after he pinged in a goal from a tight angle on the left hand side of the net five minutes into the game. After that however, it was nothing short of one-way traffic with Chelmsford dominating a period that saw Chelmsford putting 18 shots on goal to Stars 8. Several saves in particular were massive Lukas Zatopek having a great chance but denied on the double save, and you would be hard pressed to pick of your favourite save that was produced by Skaife.
Into the second period, and slowly but surely it was a case of Stars building and building and creating chances outshooting Chelmsford 17-10 in dramatic fashion towards the end of the period.
Mackintosh hit a big shot towards the Chelmsford keeper Euan King which set off a minor conversation between the players, a pattern that would continue for the rest of the game. Dax Hedges was the next player to have a great chance as he managed to shoot the puck on the bottom left for it to narrowly dribble past the post.
Zatopek took a penalty for the Cheiftains, which gave the Stars a great chance. Jake Florey and Mike Whillock both had their chances on this PP that was created. Chelmsford would take two minor penalties in short succession to put the Stars on a 5 on 3 powerplay but Chieftains would look to defend it well.
Stars pushed hard at the end of the period. Darren Elliott had a huge double chance denied of a great double save by King but then with just 12 seconds left in the clock Mike Whillock scored a fantastic goal on the rebound to double the Stars lead to put the visitors in dreamland.
Into the third, it was a slow start to the period with Stars looking to try and grind out a result. Skaifes herorics were increasingly being called into action with a massive double save before the clingfilm was finally ripped with a rebound goal by Michael Ranby lifted over Skaifeâ€™s left shoulder.
The game slowed down with icings and offsides left right and centre but Chelmsford continued to have their chances. Joe Oliver was forced to take a penalty with four minutes left to avoid a goal scoring opportunity but after two fantastic saved, Chelmsford levelled up the game from Cameron Bartlett
The game saw a thrilling conculsion Darren Elliott managed to get a breakaway saved by king with 12 seconds left on the clock then a stunning save by Skaife ran out the clock and saw time expire.
The result means that the season is in the balance between Oxford and Cardiff for relegation. If Cardiff beat London away in the capital on Saturday night then Oxford are relegated otherwise Stars Â will avoid relegation.