Nottingham Lions 4 Sutton Sting 4
The Nottingham Lions have been relegated to ENL Division 2 North after a thrilling encounter at the National Ice Centre in their 2nd leg playoff game against Sutton Sting on Sunday evening.
The result meant that Sutton won the tie 11-8 on aggregate and are now promoted to ENL Division 1 North.
After a lackluster performance in yesterday’s first leg defeat at Ice Sheffield, the Lions needed to overturn a three-goal deficit to get back on level terms with their Nottinghamshire rivals.
After a ten-minute delay to allow the record crowd of 1048 to take their seats, Nottingham started the game brightly, Gareth O’Flaherty bouncing the puck off Alex Birch’s crossbar seven minutes in. The feisty winger wasn’t to be denied three minutes later, finding the net after some good initial work from ex-Panther Nicky Balchin.
After a tight first ten minutes of the second period, the Lions stunned their local rivals with three quick goals in three minutes to put them into an 8-7 aggregate lead. Jack Clarkson grabbing the second goal on the half-hour mark, followed by Joe Wightman and a classy finish on a one-on-one with Sting goalie Birch, from Chris Colegate.
Nottingham netminder Alan Levers had to be in fine form as the Lions took a succession of roughing and checking penalties late in the period. However, just as Lions had killed a 5-on-3 Sutton powerplay and a fourth man was leaving the penalty box, the Sting pounced through ex-Hull Stingrays winger Ben Lowe to level the aggregate scores.
In the first ten minutes of the final period, both sides looked nervous and a little fatigued, having played over 100 minutes of hockey in just over 24 hours.
With five minutes left, Birch made a fine point-blank save from Jack Clarkson before Sutton broke away at the other end and Ben Lowe fired past Levers to give the Sting the advantage.
Just seconds later, Lowe was there again to complete his hat-trick, triggering wild celebrations from the Sutton contingent in the crowd.
Nottingham battled on but couldn’t find another score and with seconds remaining, the Sting sealed the Lions’ fate with an empty net goal, tying the game on the night and putting the aggregate score out of the reach of their opponents.
So a tough season for the Lions ended up, disappointingly, in relegation. There were however, many positives in the young squads’ performances over the 34-game season which show plenty of promise for the future and some consolation can be taken from such a big, noisy crowd coming down to watch what was a great advert for ENL hockey.
A LionsTV post-game interview with head coach Matt Bradbury can be found below;
Gareth O’Flaherty 1+0, Jack Clarkson 1+1, Joe Wightman 1+0, Chris Colegate 1+1, Christy Johnson-Brown 0+1, Nicky Balchin 0+1, Danny Rose 0+1.
Period Scores: 1st 1-0, 2nd, 3-1, 3rd 0-3.
Lions MOTM: Chris Colegate.