Despite the best efforts of blueliner Dallas Ehrhardt, the Manchester Storm were outclassed and outplayed by a hungry Cardiff Devils side. Three unanswered goals in the final period would ensure the defending champions took the two points, but not without a few flashpoints…most notably Jake Morissette receiving a game misconduct and Linden Springer ‘introducing’ himself to Josh Batch.
Manchester Storm vs Cardiff Devils (15/12/18)
The return to the line-up of Mike Hammond provided Storm with an instant offensive boost, his midweek hat-trick against Nottingham wasn’t quite enough to overturn the sizeable aggregate lead but acted as a remainder of what they have been missing. The absence of captain Dane Byers (groin injury) allowed Logan MacMillan another opportunity to stack his claim for a more regular spot in the side.
The only absences for Cardiff were Luke Piggot (yet to dress this season) and youngster Toms Rutkis. GB international netminder Ben Bowns, as expected, would take the crease with long-time back-up Thomas Murdy rounding out the defending champions line-up.
It would take just 74 seconds for the visitors to take the lead, when a major breakdown in defensive coverage allowed blueliner Gleason Fournier to step into the play and fire the puck over the hapless Matt Ginn. The early tally appeared to rock the home side, as only one shot was registered on the Cardiff goal inside the opening 8 minutes. A spark was most definitely needed at this point, if anything to steam the Devils flow of offence, cue Linden Springer’s fists. The deceptively powerful Canadian take umbrage to a Josh Batch crosscheck and responded in the way many Storm fans have now become accustomed too, a fight. A stinging two-punch combo dropped, the significantly taller, Batch to his knees and brought the home fans of their seats for the first time in the game. And they would be back up again, when Dallas Ehrhardt carved his way through the Devils’ defence. A nifty exchange with Rob Linsmayer at the blueline afforded Ehrhardt the space to skate across the zone and pick his gap, cue teddies! The ice was quickly littered with fluffy goods, as the heartwarming annual Teddy Bear Toss was completed (kudos to both teams for offering help to the youngsters). The festive atmosphere would burst by another Fournier goal, this time on the powerplay. Another defensive mix-up allowed Fournier to ghost into the slot and unload a booming slapshot, as Finnerty was visible disappointed by giving up a second sloppy goal. The first period action would not stop here, as Jake Morissette unintentionally blindsided Harrison Ruopp and was thrown from the game. A call which wasn’t contested by the away bench or player, and handed Storm a five minute powerplay opportunity. Good penalty killing prevented any further scoring in the first, which meant it would be Cardiff 2-1 up at the first intermission.
The one goal lead would quickly evaporate in the second period, as Dallas Ehrhardt added another goal to his vastly improved offensive game. After dumping the puck on goal, Storm were fast on the forecheck and kept the puck deep in the zone. An odd-angled shot by Ehrhardt rebounded off Bowns’ pads and with the puck free, in the crease, the defencemen was able to tie the score when he was first to get his stick on the puck. An evenly contested second stanza saw very few chances created, as excellent penalty killing from the Storm kept things level. Although, the fluid nature of Manchester’s forward lines must not go unmentioned, as Finnerty elected to rotate 8 forwards through three lines. A move which unfortunately froze out young Brit Adam Barnes (understandable against this calibre of opponent), but advertently deployed a tactic that is largely restricted to training drills and practice. This continual rotation was presumably aimed at keeping the short-bench fresher for longer against a four-line opponent and appeared to be working when the scores remained 2-2 at the second intermission.
However, in a third period which saw Cardiff outshoot Manchester 19 to 9, ill-discipline and astute changes to the system from Cardiff would prove all too much for the hosts. A poor play from Ruopp, which saw him called for a minor slashing penalty, allowed the Devils powerplay unit to take advantage. Following a quickfire combination of passes from Charles Linglet and Joey Haddad, the latter would somehow beat Ginn on the shortside from close range. This relatively soft goal give-up by Ginn is now one of many in recent weeks, after a sensational start to the campaign his SV% is now dangerously close to dropping below the expected minimum of .900. Any chance of a recovery for the Storm would be snubbed out, after Evan Richardson failed to clear the defensive zone. A smart-play from Bryce Reddick trapped the puck and immediately shifted the puck to Linglet, whose cross-ice pass gave Mike Hedden a tap-in at the back post. The third period dominance by Cardiff was completed when Joey Martin skated into the zone unchallenged and used Felix-Antoine Poulin as a screen, before unleashing a wicked wristshot that killed the game.
After a closely contested first and second period, the visitors would eventually run-out winners in regulation and deservedly so. The number of errors from Storm’s blueline would make winning any game difficult, especially against one of the league’s best outfits, and left Finnerty cutting a frustrated figure on the team bench. A poor game between the pipes the from Ginn didn’t help matters either, as the current win streak was snapped. A second victory in Altrincham, for the Devils, will have pleased Andrew Lord as his team bounced back from a disappointing cup lose to Glasgow Clan.
MVP’s: Dallas Ehrhardt (Storm) & Joey Martin (Devils)
SOG’s: 31 Storm & 45 Devils
Feature image: Matt Collier/ Manchester Storm Facebook page