Just as the Chelmsford Chieftains were beginning to look settled and ready to push on with the arrival of the two Slovakian additions to the squad. Coach Joe Wilson was hit with a request from joint no.1 netminder Michael Gray to be released from the club, just three days before the big league cup clash with league leaders Streatham Redhawks. Not normally a problem but the club were aware of the non-availability netminder Sonny Phillips throughout December before the season began.
So up stepped 16-year-old Luca Tessadri. The week previous he recorded his first senior shut-out, but the Redhawks aren’t Milton Keynes Thunder and this was a whole new ball-game.
On the bright side, Darren Brown returned from injury to strengthen the forward line after a few weeks off of the ice.
It was always going to be a physical meeting of the two sides and the officials took only 48 seconds to warm the Chieftains sin-bin bench up.
Liam Chong was penalised for interference. This gave the visitors an extra man for two minutes. The Redhawks took full advantage and Michael Farn’s slapshot beat Tassadri on his glove side gave the Londoners a 1-0 lead.
Chieftains hit back at 13:15, club captain Julian Smith’s pass sent Grant Bartlett on his way with two defenceman to beat. Bartlett accelerated pass both and a powerful wrist shot beat netminder Nathan Gregory to level the score at 1-1.
A minute after the restart Chieftains forward TJ Fillery’s enthusiasm to get to the puck on the boards was halted by Redhawk Ben Ealey-Newman who grabbed Fillery by the helmet. Fillery wasn’t interested in a fight and tried to untangle himself, but Ealey-Newman had other ideas. He threw a barrage of punches which gave the Chieftain no other option than try to defend himself. The officials stepped in and both players were placed into the sin-bin with Ealey-Newman given an extra two minutes at 13:15.
This gave the Chieftains a two-minute powerplay, but unlike the visitors early in the game, they failed to capitalise. In fact, it was the complete opposite as Steatham’s young star Ivan Antonov stole the puck and left the forward pressing Chieftain’s defence in his wake. He skated in on Tessadri and slotted the puck into the net, a short-handed goal to give the visitors a 2-1 lead at 14:14.
At 20:00 the buzzer signaled the end of the opening period, the visitors going into the break with a slender one-goal lead.
2:37 into the second period the visitors lit the red light for goal number three. A really messy goal, Chieftains failing to clear the puck as Streatham surrounded Tessadi’s goal crease. They crowded the young netminder and the puck was directed into the net past the stricken Chieftain’s netminder by Antonov once again.
On another day that would have probably been called as netminder interference but not tonight and the referee signaled the goal.
Two minutes later and once again Redhawks demonstrated why they are top of the table. This time Antonov was the provider and Farn the scorer. 4-1 and it looked like it was game over for Chieftains coach Joe Wilson and his players. But hockey is a fast game and momentum can change in a heartbeat.
At 29:50 Chieftains were given another man advantage as goalscorer Farn was given a two-minute penalty for hooking. This time they took their chances and a long pass across the ice to Grant Bartlett who smashed the puck low pass Gregory to score a powerplay goal at 31:26. But Chieftain’s cheers were quickly silenced as the visitors replied less than thirty seconds later. Ealey-Newman netted to restore his sides three goal cushion.
It was end-to-end stuff and Ethan Reid collected the puck and took it behind his net. He looked for opportunities and with none appearing he took the puck down the left-wing the entire length of the ice. He looked up and saw Kieran Raynor poaching on the far post. His cross ice pass was accurate and Raynor pounced to score from close range. The period ended with the home side trailing 3-5 with just twenty minutes remaining.
In the final period, the Chieftains were still in the game and the large crowd began to get behind their relative teams. Both teams had chances but both defences stood firm, both putting in physical challenges. With five minutes remaining it was tense and Redhawk Connor Smith and Raynor came together behind the visitors net. Both players clashed toe-to-toe with Raynor taking Smith to the ice much to the delight of the home fans.
Again it was the Redhawk who was given two extra minutes, so once again Chieftains had a powerplay chance.
Chieftains played the puck around the Streatham zone teasing the visitors as they looked to open up the opportunity to shoot at goal. Stanislav Lascek passed on the boards to Grant Bartlett who saw brother Cameron on the blue line. His pass was met first time and Gregory was beaten as the unstoppable slapshot flew into the back of the net. Could Chieftains tie the game in the remaining two and a half minutes of play to take the game into overtime.
Chieftains were probably looking to pull the netminder in the remaining seconds in favour of an extra forward to try and rescue the game. But that chance didn’t arise as Lascek was a little too enthusiastic in the eyes of the referee. The Slovakian was sent to the sin-bin to end his night and Chieftain’s hopes of a famous recovery. A 4-5 loss but a very entertaining game in front of a massive crowd.
Chieftains have no home fixtures until early January but face Invicta Dynamos away on 19th December. If the City’s growing number of ice hockey fans need a hockey fix at Riverside the NIHL Division 2 South team, the Chelmsford Warriors are in action on 18th and 19th December. Streatham the visitors on Saturday followed by Invicta on Sunday.
Tickets and information are available on www.chelmsfordchieftains.com