6 periods, 2 overtime periods, a shootout, 5 netminders and 25 goals. For fans of both teams, it was spectacular, it was dramatic, but it was equally infuriating as the offence amazed, the defence collapsed, timeouts were called, goalies were pulled and at the end of it, both the Guildford Flames and Coventry Blaze came away with 3 points apiece.
Coming into the set of games, the Flames were on a bad run of form. It took overtime for the Flames to beat Milton Keynes the week prior, and despite a full week of training for the first time in a long time, the Flames were not expecting a walk in the park by any means. But for the first 8 minutes of Saturday night, that is exactly what they got.
The big news from the Blaze camp this week was the signing of ex-NHL’er, Matt Hackett, who immediately took the starter position in net. But it took just 3:54 for Kruise Reddick to open the scoring. With 6:15 on the clock, an Ian Watters tip doubled the Flames advantage and an irate Danny Stewart called a timeout. A minute later, Brett Ferguson got in on the act and when Ben Davies netted a 4th just before the 8 minute mark, Matt Hackett found himself on his way back to the bench after saving just 6 of the 10 shots he faced.
With Hedley now in goal and the game seemingly over, the Flames sat back, Coventry steadied the ship, and quick goals from Nikiforuk and Crowder saw the first period end 4-2.
And then the Flames second period syndrome kicked in.
It’s hard to find a worse second period performance in their Elite League history, as the Flames fell apart. Pauly drew Coventry within 1 goal, but an Ackered goal looked like it may restore order. Then came 4 unanswered goals from the Blaze as they raced into a stunning 5-7 lead. A timeout was eventually called by Paul Dixon and Mike Will replaced Chris Carrozzi in the Flames net. A Calle Ackered powerplay goal pulled the Flames within 1 as the second drew to a close.
There were golden chances for both teams in the third, but the only goal of the period came from Kevin King at the mid-way point, which meant for the second week running, the Flames were going to overtime.
The Flames enjoyed the majority of possession as the teams went 3-on-3, but a terrible mis-control from Ackered saw the Blaze break and Nikiforuk went 5-hole on Mike Will to complete his hattrick and secure the points for the Blaze.
After the game, Paul Dixon said “It’s hard to decide if we are grateful to have a table point because we recovered a 2 goal deficit or if we are upset we should have had both points because we lost the handle on a 4 goal lead.”
Onto Sunday night in the Skydome where Matt Hackett was restored to the net for Coventry and Travis Fullerton was given the nod for the first time since the 15th December. With over 2000 in attendance, the commentators bemoaned their luck at missing out on the chance to call the game from the previous night. And then it started to happen again!
Flames raced into a 2 goal lead thanks to Ackered and Crooks after just 5 minutes. Quick goals from Pauly and Crowder saw the game level, then Pauly struck with just under 4 minutes left in the period to give the Blaze the lead. Seconds later, TJ Foster equalised and the first period ended with 6 goals once again!
The second period played out like the third period from the previous night – Both teams with big chances, some excellent netminding and just the 1 goal; again going in favour of Guildford.
The third period saw the Flames take a 2 goal lead again, as Davies netted on the powerplay. Coventry remained undeterred, and Lawrence halved the deficit at the mid-way point. With 5 minutes to go, Ferrara sent the game to overtime.
This time, both teams remained firm despite penalties either way, and the game went to a shootout. There were puck bobbles, mis-controls, a wonder save from Hackett (pictured), a goal scored by both sides (Nikiforuk & Watters) and then sudden death. Nikiforuk’s second penalty shot of the evening was saved and Jamie Crooks shot past Hackett to seal the 2 points for the Flames.
Taking 3 points out of a possible 4 for both teams is an incredible result, and a fair one overall. Whilst highly entertaining, both teams played suicide hockey, and whilst Coventry continue their impressive run of form, the Flames have some serious issues to address.
Giving up a 2 goal lead, twice in a game, is hugely concerning. Losing a game after leading 4-0 is, at best, embarrassing. Whilst there is the natural scapegoat hunt going on amongst some of the fanbase, the forward lines need to take a good look at themselves, because they are just as culpable as the defence this weekend. As the coach says: You attack as a team, you defend as a team.
On Wednesday the Flames are live on Freesports as they travel to the Storm Shelter to face the Manchester Storm in another fierce conference game. A building they are yet to win a game in at Elite level.
Saturday the Fife Flyers visit the Spectrum for the final time this season. A team the Flames are yet to beat this season.
Sunday, the Flames travel to Scotland to face the in-form Dundee Stars. A team yet to beat the Flames this season.
There’s a first for everything. For the Flames and their fans, could they finally have their first good run of 2019?
Featured image: Scott Wiggins Photography/Coventry Blaze