The week started with the first ever IIHL Development Division game and finished with the Latvian Hawks’ first win of the IIHL. Maybe we should call the past week “The Week of Firsts” as we also had the first penalty shot of the season of both leagues as well as the first game to finish in a tie, therefore, having the first penalty shootout as well. So it’s been an eventful week but more importantly it was an entertaining one.
The IIHL Development League kicked everything off on Wednesday night. The Dundalk Bulls B hosted the DKIT Ravens in the opening match. It was quite simply put, great. The majority of these players took up the game less than a year ago or have only rekindled their love of the “coolest game on earth” recently. The enthusiasm they display is infectious, and it reminds you that this game is about fun. Both sets of players stepped onto the ice with smiles and the intentions of having nothing but fun and a good game. Going from the reactions of both teams at the final whistle, they had just that.
The Ravens won the game 6-2 and did not do anything to hide their emotions at the end. They were delighted. The Bulls B players on the other hand were somewhat disappointed. Of course that is understandable but being the good sports that they are, they took it on the chin, and enjoyed the moment. My own personal highlight was watching the players of both teams shake hands in good spirits, nothing but smiles. It should also be noted that the very first penalty shot of the season took place in this game. After gaining a breakaway, a Ravens’ player was taking down from behind having just crossed the Red line and the referee was left with no choice but to award a penalty shot. Michael Rogan coolly converted the opportunity as he put the puck passed Sean Pepper who was in net for the Bulls B. All in all, this was a great way to start the week and gave Dundalk a certain buzz as it prepared itself for the weekend.
Hockey Night in Dundalk is quite certainly Saturday, as there will be two games taking place from now on. Saturday saw the Dublin Rams host the Flyers I.H.C. in the IIHL in the first of a double header. It was followed by the IIHL Development League game in which the Belfast Eagles took on the Dublin Rams. The Rams and Flyers’ game was bound to be a good one as there appears to be something of a healthy rivalry developing between the two teams. The Flyers are bolstered by the Team Ireland players that hail from Dublin. And it has to be stated that these players seem to relishing the opportunity to play hockey on a regular basis. Barry Higgins and Stephen Cooper, are maturing as forwards and are solid defensively. They do simple things in their own end and clear the zone. This allows the Hungarian sniper Sandor Szabi the space to score those important goals. This is what worked for the Flyers on Saturday as they gave the Rams a run for their money in what was a closely contested game throughout.
Having gone down 4 – 1 to the Rams, the Flyers fought back in the last 10 minutes of the game to tie it 4 – 4. The Rams, made some beautiful plays and they moved the puck extremely well. The first two goals that they scored were very unfortunate for the Flyers goalkeeper, Dermot Carney. The first of which was a deflection from his own player, Dean Kelly, who could have made more of an effort to block the shot from the point. Dermot was left with no chance and the second goal was something similar. However, the other two Rams goals were beautiful plays. The Flyers defence and forwards guilty of not picking up their men and drifting towards the puck. The Rams, point men simply taking a low hard shot/pass at the Flyers’ goal and the players in front were all alone to knock it in. However, credit has to be given to the Flyers players as they fought back in the 3rd period and levelled the score. Dermot Carney stood on his head for most of the game and played his most impressive game of the season so far. While his opposite number Sean Gibson made some very impressive stops and looked solid in his first outing of the season. With the scores level after regulation, each team was awarded a point, and to decide who received the extra point on offer, a penalty shootout ensued as there was not enough time for OT. The Flyers, won 2-1 with Dermot Carney denying the Rams while Sandor Szabi and Emile Kalir scored for the Flyers.
Immediately following that game, the Belfast Eagles took on the Dublin Rams in the IIHL Development League. The game started a bit late as a result of the penalty shootout. The Rams ran victorious by a score of 12-1 and just dominated the Belfast team, who I believe were somewhat under strength. The Eagles were unfortunate not to score more but they struggled to put the puck past Sean Gibson. It appeared that they just could not make that final play in front of the Rams net. There was always a Rams defenseman there to break the play up. It also did not help that their Captain, Chris Evans, received a misconduct and sat in the penalty box for 10 minutes. In this time the Rams scored 6 goals. Following this they were somewhat deflated and were unable to fight back. However, it was a great effort from both teams and the Eagles can take a lot of positives from the game and will surely train hard over the next few weeks. They will certainly improve, while the Rams, seem to have a good mix of players and will look to challenge everybody in the league.
Sunday saw the final game of the week, in which the Latvian Hawks hosted the Belfast City Bruins in the IIHL. The newly improved Hawks were no doubt hurting from their loss to the Rams the previous week in which they lost 9-7. They came out with all guns blazing as did the Bruins and the match started at a fantastic pace. Everybody finished their hits and everybody skated at full speed. The Latvian Hawks, made the breakthrough early on with a power play goal at 2:27 of the 1st period. Robert Leckey was penalised for holding the stick. The Hawks then followed this up with a short handed goal 3 minutes later. Adding two more power play goals before the 10 minute mark allowed the Latvian team to go into the first intermission with a 4-0 lead. In the 2nd Period the Bruins put up more of a fight, with two goals from Michael Wandschuri. However the Hawks kept rolling and outscored them 3-2. The final period saw them dominate even further with 5 goals to the Bruins 1, scored by Stephen Ewen. The final score 12-3 to the Latvian Hawks giving the Hawks their very first win of the season.
The Latvian team now look like a well oiled machine. With these new players, they are fast in all departments, forward and defence. Their passing is crisp and accurate and beautiful to watch. More importantly, their captain Aigars Brencis who has carried the team on his shoulders now has somebody to play with. While the Bruins are a much better team than they showed in that game. The one observation I have about them is that they need to start playing more as a team. They have as much skill and speed as anybody in the league but they need to get back to basics and do the simple things. Far too many times they tried to skate from their own zone with the puck and lost possession of the puck before the opposing blue line and created a turnover. They need to gain the red line and get it deep and this will give them possession in the offensive zone and allow them to create chances. That was the other thing, they did not seem to really test the Latvian goalkeeper, the Bruins need to pass around more but take the opportunity to shoot when they have it. Personally, I think this game was just a blip on the Bruins radar and they will bounce back and reinforce their position as a team that is up there with the best. On the other hand, the Hawks have found their feet and they had better keep them moving.
So it was a fantastic week of hockey and any predictions prior to the season about which teams would dominate and which teams would struggle, have now been put on their head. Everyone now it appears has an opportunity to win the game they are playing in, regardless of who they are playing. Things are heating up and are going to get very competitive over the next few weeks. Despite it being a fantastic week of hockey, there were some unfortunate incidents that marred the weekend. Firstly, in the Rams Flyers game, Flyers captain Philip Darcy suffered a very serious injury. He feel awkwardly and hurt his arm. It was later found out that Philip broke his arm in 3 places and will require an operation. He is facing at least 3 months out as a result of this very unfortunate accident. In the same game, Aaron Cuskeran of the Rams also injured himself. It is not known exactly what injury he suffered but he may also be facing some considerable time out. I’m sure everyone’s thoughts will be with these two players and we wish them a speedy recovery and hope to see them on the ice again soon.