Last week, the Milton Keynes Lightning announced that they were parting ways with Head Coach Doug McKay. To some, the news was a shock, but to others, not so much. With just one win from eleven games, many fans were calling for change, and they got it in a big way.
On Wednesday, just hours before Lightning’s first ever live televised home game, the club announced McKay’s departure, paired with the appointment of players Tim Wallace and Ryan Lannon taking over coaching duties for the time being.
Fans had mixed reactions over on social media with some slaying the “Doug Out” brigade. It was clear, however, that this was going to be a fresh start for the troubled team.
As soon as the puck dropped at Planet Ice MK, it was obvious that this team had a point to prove. A strong offence and equally tough defense stunned the visiting Clan, whose boss is former Lightning coach Pete Russell. The atmosphere at the arena was like that of a playoff final game with Lightning dominating the visitors from start to finish, with the fans backing their team to victory. A Tim Wallace hat-trick helped the Lightning sail to a 6-1 win.
It was clear in the post match interviews with Freesports that Wallace was over the moon with his team’s performance. Despite a few controversial moments, the team seemed new and, certainly, improved. It gave fans everything they wanted. Goals, fights, and a true team spirit that had rarely been seen thus far.
Due to the controversies, Lightning’s Cole Shudra and Patrick Killeen both received disciplinary action from DOPS the following day. The incident occurred toward the end of the second period that started with a kneeing penalty on Clan’s Zack Fitzgerald.
After that, the ball started rolling with Brendan Connolly skating towards Patrick Killeen and trying to lift the goalie’s helmet off. Shudra then jumped off the bench to protect his netminder by one-punching Connolly square in the face. DOPS deemed this unnecessary and gave Shudra a 5 game suspension. They also suspended Killeen for one game for inciting the incident by leaving his crease and shooting the puck, apparently, toward Connolly. Most fans saw this as appropriate action and accepted the punishments for the players’ actions, with some even commending Shudra for what he did.
Fast forward to the return game on Saturday in Glasgow, and the Lightning dropped the points but, again, many fans commented on the passion that the team showed on the ice. It was there. It was sudden. And it proved that the team were looking forward to and enjoying playing together as that team.
Sunday night saw the Lightning ice their third game of the week back in Milton Keynes against Coventry. The Blaze have seen some great results of late, so it was unclear what the Lightning would do in front of their home crowd. The home fans didn’t go home disappointed. The Lightning battled hard with three powerplay goals and beat the Blaze 4-1.
After the game, some fans tried to start a hashtag on Twitter with #WeHaveOurLightningBack as MKL have managed to peel themselves off the bottom of the table to sit in tenth place. Certainly a better sight than in previous weeks and this gives the fans something to cheer and be happy about.
However, a minor (or major, depending how you want to look at it) the Lightning were dealt with a blow this week with the announcement of forward Eric Neiley heading back to Yorkshire to the Sheffield Steelers, where he spent most of last season. Coaches Lannon and Wallace will have their work cut out to find a replacement at this point while also trying to keep their team turning out the good results.
Onwards from here on out. The team seemed to have finally found their spirit and fight, something that was sorely lacking before. Was the coach to blame for that? Fans may never know, but it does look like that this new Lightning fight is staying. With Lannon and Wallace overseeing coaching duties for now, there is a lot of potential in this team and fans are certainly jumping in to ride out the rollercoaster of the 2018/19 EIHL season.