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Hull Pirates 6, Smith Recycling Milton Keynes Lightning 5
A Tomas Kana hat-trick was not quite enough to ensure Smith Milton Keynes Lightning success on Humberside when they lost out by the odd goal in 11 as the battle for mid-table places continued on Sunday.
While on the face of it the finishing spots in the middle of the National Ice Hockey League may not seem to matter in fact they do in determining the end of season play-off groups. Fifth spot would mean Lightning playing the league champions but avoiding the second and third placed teams. With the top two teams in each group qualifying for the Coventry finals weekend fifth place would, on paper, be preferable.
Lightning went into Sunday’s game in that coveted fifth place but the 6-5 loss at Hull Pirates meant they slipped to sixth – despite that there is still all to play for in the final four league games, the last two of which are against the league champions-elect Telford Tigers who could have other things on their minds by the time those games are played.
The encounter marked the 500th appearance in Lightning colours for Grant McPherson – following exactly a week after Leigh Jamieson’s milestone achievement of the same total of games.
And it was a case of anything you can do I Kana do as well as Tomas Kana followed up Rio Grinell-Parke’s hat-trick the previous night with one of his own. He got the first of his three goals on the powerplay with a blue line shot on 13mins 23secs.
By that stage Lightning were a goal behind, having conceded after 1min 20secs when goalie Dean Skinns made the initial save but couldn’t stop the follow up from Sam Towner, aided by Jordan Fisher and James Archer.
The visitors saw off a hooking penalty on Jordan Stokes in the ninth minute – Skinns making a great save during the short-handed spell before striking while Pirates were a man down with Archer serving two minutes for slashing.
When Cale Tanaka dropped the gloves he earned two minutes for roughing with his Hull opponent, not part-taking in the encounter, remaining unpenalised. That put Pirates on the powerplay and they made the most of it with Matt Bissonnette supplying Lee Bonner to give the hosts the lead again after 18mins 39secs.
Within seconds it was 3-1 thanks to a Fisher strike at 19mins 17secs to give Pirates a two goal advantage going into the first break – an early reply needed to get Lightning back in the game when the middle period began.
It took just 17 seconds for Lewis Christie to score his first goal of the season for MK – a blue line blast to defeat goalie Ashley Smith, set up by Russ Cowley. That prompted several minutes of pressure by the visitors but it was Hull who registered the next goal when Matty Davies made the pass for Archer on 24mins 25secs.
After Jonathan Kirk was sin binned of holding on 29mins 49secs Lightning made the most of the powerplay with McPherson celebrating his half millennium by scoring from a set up by Kana and Liam Stewart after 30mins 45secs.
Once more Hull replied, this time Bissonnette was on the mark with assistance from Davies and Archer after 34mins 25secs. – the response from Lightning was swift thanks to a delay of the game call on Kevin Phillips 15 seconds later.
Kana scored the all-important fourth goal on the powerplay with Cowley and McPherson aiding him at 35mins 45secs to keep MK in with a real chance of taking something from the match as the third session started.
However despite early pressure from Lewis Clifford’s men Hull edged further in front with Bonner beating Skinns on 46mins 23secs to give the home outfit a 6-4 lead. Less than a minute later MK found themselves a man down as James Griffin headed to the penalty box for kneeing.
Back at full strength Kana completed his hat-trick on 50mins 32secs thanks to a supply from Tanaka and Cowley to set up a tense final few minutes with Lightning desperately seeking an equaliser.
In a final throw of the dice Skinns was withdrawn to enable an extra skater to take the ice but Pirates’ rear-guard could not be breached.
Man of the match: Liam Stewart.
Photo credit: Alice Purser