A clinical road performance from the Nottingham Panthers helped maintain the frosty feelings in Altrincham. Despite the early pressure applied by the hosts, six unanswered goals all but secured the visitors a deserved place in the semi-finals. The words of coach Finnerty could still be ringing in the Storm players ears after this home effort…
Manchester Storm vs Nottingham Panthers (04/12/18)
The only alteration in personnel saw Hull Pirates forward Lee Bonner added to the line-up. However, in game line combinations were adjusted throughout, most notably new signing Chance Braid moved up from to bottom-line to the top in replace of club captain Dane Byers. Matt Ginn would again start between the pipes and Logan MacMillan the only other available import a healthy scratch.
After some big spending this off-season by Head Coach Rich Chernomaz, the Nottingham Panthers have rung the changes with Tyler VanKleef (trail), Alexandre Boduc, Marek Tvdron, Patrick Munson and Dylan Richard all joining after the start of the season. Their counterparts Jacob Doty, Tyler VanKleef, Sam Gospel (loan) and Tyler Biggs have all since departed. However, options are still abundant with two import goalies Patrick Munson and Michael Garnett , the former getting the start tonight. The luxury of four forward lines could be decisive in their ability to mount a challenge up the table before the turn of the year.
One of the many quirks within British ice hockey is the Challenge Cup, a cup that divides opinion to say the least. Yet, whatever your opinion on it, the opportunity for the higher ranked sides to hand-pick their opposition is certainly unique and provides some additional bite to the proceedings. Well at least you would expect it to…the result would indicate Nottingham chose wisely and were aided somewhat by the poor form Storm are currently showing, in what would otherwise be a tricky away tie.
The opening signs were promising for the home supporters, as relentless forechecking and quality puck possession would have made many think an upset was on the cards. The growing pressure lead to a miscommunication on the Panthers bench which saw them rightly pulled up for a ‘too many men’ minor penalty which gifted Storm a powerplay opportunity. Excellent puck movement from the powerplay unit eventually worked an opening for defencemen Felix-Antoine Poulin to fire on-goal, a shot which would be neatly deflected by Byers and passed Garnett, to take the lead after 7:59. This opening goal surprisingly triggered a gradual implosion on the Storm bench, as lackluster and uninspired play from the majority of the home squad would be easily capitalised upon. A classy wristshot finish from Alex Guptill tied things up at 16:03, when Justin Kovacs was allowed to skate into the offensive zone uncontested and drop the puck back onto Guptill’s blade. The score would remain 1-1 at the first intermission and in truth both sides looked fairly matched at this point.
Three Panthers goals within seven minutes silenced the Shelter, as individual errors were seized upon by the visiting side. An eager Dallas Ehrhardt was caught massively out of position for the Panthers second goal, after his attempted forecheck proved costly. The impressive Tommy Hughes was able to regain position quickly and set relatively new signing Dylan Richards free down the abandoned left-hand side. This additional space allowed Richards to easily skate away from Harrison Ruopp (who had been dragged over to cover) and fire into the roof of the net. Another mistake produced another goal less than five minutes later, after a poor line change from Richardson and Moffat. Moffat’s attempted ‘dump’ was expertly read and intercepted by Garnett, who was then able to throw the puck quickly across two zones to Alex Guptill and make Manchester pay the ultimate price. Smart skating from Guptill opened a lane for Mark Hurtubise to fly into and double their advantage. When many thought things couldn’t get any worse in an abysmal second period showing for the homeside, it did courtesy of a Dane Byers turnover. A turnover which saw Ryan Finnerty blow his top and Byers would righly feel his wrath on returning to the bench. The captain of the ship, Byers, played a no-look pass at the top of the offensive zone which was misplaced and instantly sent Nottingham 3on1 the other way. The games best player, Alex Guptill, would again be directly involved in a Nottingham goal as a swift one-two between him and Robert Lachowicz, allowed Lachowicz to tap into a largely vacant goal as Matt Ginn was left helpless.
The tide wouldn’t abate in the third period, as further goals from Alex Guptill and Mark Hurtubise perpetuated the sense of ‘bah humbug’ in the Shelter. The only real highlight for the hosts in the remainder of the game was young Brit Declan Balmer delivering some meaningful upper-cuts on Robert Farmer. Perhaps, both had read the earlier piece on fighting? However, this passion was simply too little too late, now on a skid in league and cup Finnerty will be desperate to turn things around before the crucial New Year period. On the other hand, the Panthers will be buzzing back into Altrincham on Saturday after a string of impressive performances (8-3 vs Guildford, 7-2 vs Glasgow and 6-1 vs Manchester) has seen them clamber back into second place.
The seething words from Finnerty, during and after the game, should warrant a reaction from his roster, otherwise more heads will roll. Already carrying two spare imports and with Finnerty reinforcing the fact the clock is ticking on some skaters, don’t be surprised to see further changes in personnel as Manchester look to kickstart their spluttering campaign. In short, write nothing out at this stage, joint 10th nearing Christmas is no longer accepted in Altrincham and the revolving door could well have a few more turns in it just yet.
MVP’s: Dane Byers (Storm) & Alex Guptill (Panthers)
SOG’s: 32 Storm & 44 Panthers
Feature Image: Nottingham Panthers Official Facebook page