On Saturday the fans turned out in numbers to Riverside to witness the first clash of the year. Oxford City Stars were the visitors, coached by ex-Chieftains coach Dean Birrell.
Chieftains were once again had their net protected by 16-year-old Luca Tessadri, backed up by returnee Billy Cook. Joint #1 netminder Sonny Phillips is still to return. He was joined on the missing list by forwards Liam Chong and Matt Turner.
Chieftains fans had waited almost five weeks for hockey action, but they didn’t have to wait long to celebrate the first goal of 2022. Ethan Reid’s pass found Stanislav Lascek who skated with pace in on the Stars net. His shot was saved by Ross Miller but the puck rebounded off his pads, straight to Andy Munroe who directed the puck into the back of the net. 1-0 Chieftains with just 1:01 on the game clock.
Chieftains kept the pressure on and were rewarded once again at 6:13. Playing the puck around the Stars defensive zone looking for a clear-cut opportunity to shoot. Bailey Chittock’s open-ice check on ex-Chieftains favourite Alex Staples behind the Stars net left the big defenceman on the ice. He could only look on as a fierce slapshot by Michal Korenko on the blue-line was deflected cleverly by Kieran Raynor into the net, doubling the Chieftain’s lead.
Just four minutes later and it was goal number three for the home team, Chris Cooke tried to kill the puck on the boards behind his own net. Chittock poked the puck out from his skate and came from behind the net. As Miller covered his near post. Instead of going for goal, he directed the puck across the keeper into the path of Raynor who simply directed it over the goal line. 3-0 it remained as the teams went into the first break with the goal stats proving their dominance, Chieftains outshooting the Stars by 23 shots to 5.
But if they thought it was going to be an easy day in the office, they were made to think again when the Stars came out firing in the second period. The visitors were celebrating early in the second period when the puck snuck under Tessadri. But the whistle had sounded seconds before the puck crossed the line, the referee assuming the puck had been smothered. A get out of jail card for the Chieftains but a warning all the same. This gave the Stars all the confidence they needed and it was now end-to-end hockey, both netminders called into action on numerous occasions. Both stood firm and at 40:00 the buzzer sounded to end a goalless second period, twenty minutes remained for the Stars to turn the game around.
Chieftains took the ice for the final period without James Pentecost and Chittock, both having to withdraw through injury.
Two minutes in and Reid was placed in the sin bin for hooking. At 42:55 the Stars ended Tessadri’s shut-out chance when Matt Lawday scored a powerplay goal to open the scoring for the visitors. Chieftains began to look tired which gave Oxford further motivation and they lit the goal lamp once again at 51:56 Will Birch scoring unassisted.
With the visitors back within one goal and still eight minutes remaining the home fans began to look nervous, especially when a tripping penalty handed to Grant Bartlett gave the Stars another powerplay. Chieftains killed the powerplay and when they returned to full strength went on the hunt for a goal to secure the game. James Ayling picked the loose puck up behind the Stars net, looked up, and spotted Grant Bartlett bearing down on goal. His pass was met with a fierce shot from Bartlett that flew past Miller low into the back of the net.
Chieftains fans celebrated what was the game clinching goal, a 4-2 victory on home ice. Kieran Raynor collected the Man of the Match beers for his two goal haul.Twenty four hours later and the Chieftains were ready to go again. This time across the Dartford crossing into neighbouring Kent to face Invicta Dynamos. Always a tough encounter, especially if you are injury hit and travel with just 12 skaters and 2 netminders.
Things didn’t start well and the Chieftains found themselves a goal down with just 1:24 on the clock. Harrison Lillis fired the puck over the shoulder of Tessadri in the Chieftains net to give the Dynamos an early lead. But Chieftains made a quick reply, Matt Turner equalising at the five minute mark. Turner picked up the puck and skated over the halfway line passing to Grant Bartlett. His shot was stopped by Ben Clements in the Dynamo’s net but the rebound was picked up by Turner who fired home.
A minute later and the travelling Chieftain’s goal celebrations were muted when another ex-Chieftain favourite, Anthony Leone picked up a Juraj Huska pass in front of the Chieftain’s net. He fired and Tessadri made the initial save but Leone forced the puck home with his second bite at the cherry, 2-1 to Invicta at 6:04.
After the restart the Dynamos pressed and Tessadri pulled off a great save to thwart the Dynamo’s attack. Chieftains regained the puck and attacked the Dynamo defence. A Dynamo defenders poor clearance was pounced on by Grant Bartlett and the Chieftain’s forward skated at the goal with Clements to beat. Skating across the face of the goal he back-handed the puck into the net to make the score level at 2-2 at 9:17.
But this was to be Grant Bartlett’s last action as a hard challenge from Lillis as he skated away from the net left him on the ice with a painful looking leg injury. The Chieftains bench was furious especially as the challenge went unpunished. Already a short bench and now without their top scorer the remaining two and a half periods were going to be a mountain to climb for coach Joe Wilson and his players.
The temperature was raised and both teams found themselves in penalty trouble. Grant’s twin brother Cameron was given a 2+2 penalty for a cross-check and slashing, Lillis being his main target. Almost as soon as he took his seat in the sin-bin Invicta took advantage of the extra man. Billy Phillips scored a screamer from the blue-line, Tessadi left unsighted by the traffic in front of goal. This gave the Dynamos a 3-2 lead at the end of what had been a very eventful opening 20 minutes.
A determined Chieftains side came out fighting in the second period once again taking the game to the home team. At 23:40 Tommy Ralph was called for delay of game when he pushed the net off its moorings as Chieftains got a little close to equalising for his liking. Chieftains failed to capitalise on the powerplay, but when Phillips was directed to the bin for roughing they took full advantage. Playing the puck around the Dynamos defensive zone Laslek picked out Turner who had lost his marker and he one timed the puck past Clements to even things up at 3-3 at 30:36.
Phillips returned to the ice and then left again this time for slashing, giving the Chieftains a further man advantage, but this time Invicta stood firm. Soon after they returned to full strength the home side were celebrating once more. But the outstretched arms of the referee signaled the goal would be wiped-out as Leone was in the goal crease. The period ended and despite the lack of numbers and with Grant Bartlett sitting in A&E the Chieftains were very much still in the game and shaded the 2nd on the percentage of play.
At 44.30 Chieftains captain Julian Smith and Dynamo Billy Phillips dropped gloves behind the Chieftains net. Smith took Phillips to the ice to the delight of the travelling Black ’n’ Gold Army. Dynamos pushed forward to try and claw back the two goal deficit and at 56:11 they were rewarded as Tomas Banovsky’s shot from the half-way line almost caught Tessadri out. The young keeper stopped the puck with the paddle of his stick but the puck rebounded right into the path of Billy Woods who scored to narrow the Chieftains lead to just one goal.
Four minutes to go, could Chieftains hold firm? Dynamos piled the pressure on and the pressure cooker blew when Tessadri smothered the puck. Smith didn’t like the attention Phillips gave to his shot-stopper and once again the two came together. Fists flew and both players once again went to the ice, both receiving a game penalty with Phillips given an extra two for a slash.
With 15 seconds remaining Chieftains were given a scare when a trip from Brown gave the Dynamos one last chance to take the game to overtime with the extra man. But Chieftains held out for an amazing 5-4 win on Invicta ice and the fans saluted their heroes as the buzzer sounded. Matt Turner was awarded as the Chieftains Man of the Match.
This puts Chieftains in 5th place in the league, 2 points behind second-placed Invicta with two games in hand. Streatham is running away with the league on 30 points, the Redhawks only defeat coming from the Chieftains earlier on in the season.
Chieftains are on home ice again this weekend with Bristol Pitbulls the opposition at Riverside on Sunday. 6 pm face-off with doors opening at 5 pm. Tickets are available on www.chelmsfordchieftains.com Covid-19 restrictions are in place at Riverside see website or our Facebook page for more details.