Chelmsford Chieftains management had a busy week off the ice as they searched for players to fill the gap left by the ten regular team members that had tested positive for covid. Initially, the club looked for the fixtures to be postponed. But the league surprisingly refused the request, hence coach Joe Wilson had to burn the midnight oil and drafted in players from Peterborough, Swindon, and the City’s very own NIHL2 team, the Warriors.
With little time for introductions, the players boarded the minibus on Saturday to travel to the sell-out new ice arena in Bristol to take on the Pitbulls. Chieftains had mauled the Pitbulls 10-6 at Riverside the previous week. But Cameron Bartlett, Stanislav Lascek, Darren Brown, and James Ayling who shared seven of the ten goals, were all on sick leave back in Essex. So a heavily depleted squad of 11 players took to the ice. Luca Tessadri remained as starting netminder despite the return of Sonny Phillips from his Christmas break.
Chieftain’s captain Julian Smith was sent to the sin bin for slashing at 4:00 and as the Pitbulls proved the previous Sunday, they are deadly on the powerplay. A little over a minute into the powerplay the Pitbulls took the lead through a strike from Jason Warren. But within 2 minutes at 6:34 Chieftains were level when Kieran Raynor netted unassisted.
At 11.32 Pitbulls were ahead again, Mason Lipsey latching on to a Warren pass to slot the puck past Tessadri. The first period coming to a close at 20:00 with the home team taking a 2-1 lead into the first break.
Both teams took to the ice to battle it out in the 2nd period. At 23:07 Chieftain’s Nick Green and Pitbull Richard Hargreaves took the word battle literally and went toe-to-toe mid ice. Both went to the ice and were then directed to the sin bins. Both receiving a 5 minute fighting penalty with Hargreaves getting an extra 2 for incitement. Back to hockey now and both sides had chances. At 33:25 Lipsey scored unassisted to give the Pitbulls a two goal cushion which they took to the dressing room for the second period break, 3-1 at 40:00.
One period remained and Chieftains were putting up a great fight as they looked to even things up. But they began to look tired and just 5 minutes into the period Pitbulls looked as if they had put the game to bed. Tamas Elias finished off a great passing move Lipsey and Warren with the assists. A 4-1 deficit and being short-benched was going to be a step too far for the Chieftains who put on a brave performance, against the odds. The buzzer sounded at 60:00 with the home fans celebrating and the Chieftains preparing for the long drive home.
On Sunday Chieftains were once again on home ice at Riverside Leisure Centre with Slough Jets the visitors. Chieftains had a stronger roster with Lascek and Bartlett returning, also guesting was Ex-Chieftain Brad Moore. Phillips made his first start between the pipes for the first time in 2022. It took just 1:03 for Bartlett to announce his return with a great finish after Matt Turner picked him out in a crowded opponent’s defensive zone. 2 minutes later and it was 2-0 with Lascek one-timing a pass from Moore, past Brett Massey in the Jets net.
At 14:46 the red light was lit behind the Slough goal again as Bartlett added to his personal tally, giving coach Joe Wilson and his squad a 3-0 lead and it looked like the Chieftains were scoring at will. Another couple of half-chances but the period ended and Chieftains deservedly took a 3-0 lead into the dressing room for the first period break.
The second period started and despite having the best of the first few minutes it was clear for all to see Slough were still in the game, only Phillips preventing a Jets reply. Just after the half hour mark Lascek was on target again, Ethan Reid the provider. Now 4-0 on the scoreboard and it looked like game over. And that’s how it remained until 57:30 when Phillips hopes of a shut-out return were dashed. With Chieftain Raynor in the sin-bin, the Jets took full advantage of the extra man, Lewis English’s shot beating Phillips from close range. Raynor left the bin and less than two minutes later he was back in after the officials called a tripping penalty. Unfortunately, it ended the same way as the previous powerplay, English scoring his second powerplay goal in as many minutes to make it 4-2 at the end of the night.
A good weekend for the Chieftains despite their injury/illness problems. A two point haul, much better than the -3 point threat made by the league. Every player, whether a full squad member or a guest wore the Chieftains jersey with pride.
This weekend the Chieftains have a really tough match-up with league leaders Streatham Redhawks in South London on Saturday. On Sunday the Solent Devils are the visitors to Riverside. Face-off is at 6pm and tickets are available via www.chelmsfordchieftains.com