Nottingham Lions 4 Coventry Blaze 6
The Nottingham Lions suffered two consecutive defeats for the first time since March 2012, as third place met fourth in Sunday evening’s big Laidler Conference clash at the National Ice Centre.
The Lions were be looking to bounce back from a narrow loss at league leaders Deeside Dragons two weeks ago, whilst the Blaze were striving to get their season back on track after recent losses to title rivals Solihull and Deeside.
Latest signing Lee Holland made his home debut for the Lions, whilst James Francis-Barrie, Slawomir Kasprzak, Chris Allen and the injured Mikey Rose all missed out.
A cagey opening ten minutes saw both teams tentatively test each other out, with the visitors having the best chance to score, when Sam Hammerton found himself through on goal but was thwarted by the stick of Lions netminder Alan Levers.
Eventually, the Blaze did get the game opener on fifteen minutes, when Arthur Brookes’ low shot from the face off circle managed to find its way under Levers’ left pad.
The Lions’ response was almost immediate, when a stray Coventry shot rattled around the edge of the boards and then fell nicely for Luke Branin in the neutral zone, a few seconds of pressure on Connor Ranby’s net then followed, resulting in Stephen Breisner stabbing the puck into the net for the equaliser.
Nottingham then found themselves going into the first intermission with a one goal advantage, when a pin-point shot from Ben Wood zipped past Ranby and into the net, with just three seconds remaining in the period.
A penalty strewn second period began with Lions D-man Craig Wallis being given a match penalty for high-sticking inside the opening sixty seconds. Nottingham then couldn’t kill the resulting five minute penalty, as Josh Gent picked up his own rebound at the top of the crease to hit the game tying goal.
Coventry then put themselves ahead for the second time in the game just before the half-hour mark, when Miroslav Spisak’s shot found the net via a big deflection off Levers’ helmet.
The scoreline really didn’t reflect the performance of the Lions in the period as they produced some of their most aggressive, physical and spirited hockey of the season so far, out shooting the Blaze by 21-10 in the process.
However, that pressure was to count for little as Nottingham were then hit with a sucker punch with twenty seconds remaining in the period. The visitors found a fourth goal courtesy of Adam Alfoldy, leaving the Lions with a tough task to turn the game around in the final twenty minutes.
Nottingham got off to the worst possible start in the third, as Gent claimed his second of the night after just thirty-eight seconds to put Coventry 5-2 up.
The Lions battled on however and they were rewarded for their efforts three minutes later when Luke Branin caught the Blaze cold on a line change to skilfully fire home.
Branin then turned provider nine minutes later, after his pass across the face of Ranby’s goal found Dan Hazeldine, who was free to pick his spot and return the contest to a one-goal game.
A rejuvenated Nottingham side then pushed on looking for the equaliser but despite their best efforts it was Coventry who found the final goal of the game as Phil Pollock capitalised on the space in the home side’s zone to end the game as contest, with less than two minutes left on the clock.
The Lions now look to get their title challenge back on course next Sunday (15th December) against an ever-improving Blackburn Eagles side. Face off at the National Ice Centre is at 7.30pm. Ticket details are available by clicking here.
Stephen Breisner 1+1, Ben Wood 1+0, Luke Branin1+3, Dan Hazeldine 1+0, Rob Perks 0+1.
Period Scores: 1st 2-1, 2nd 0-3, 3rd 2-3.
Shots: 1st 11-17, 2nd 21-10, 3rd 13-14. Total: 45-41.
Penalty Mins: 1st 4-6, 2nd 39-18, 3rd 2-2. Total: 45-26.
Lions MOTM (sponsored by Ice Breakers): Luke Branin.