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Smith Recycling Milton Keynes Lightning completed their first four point weekend in two years with a superb performance at Sheffield Steeldogs on Sunday.
The 3-1 victory came almost exactly two years to the day after Lightning posted a pair of narrow Elite League wins against Coventry Blaze and Manchester Storm. Unfortunately from then on the club’s path was downward – unlike the present team who have been given a huge psychological boost by the arrival of Liam Stewart.
The former Coventry and Guildford Flames player added a pair of goals at Steeldogs to the two he scored to help down Bracknell Bees the previous day, before Tomas Kana rounded off the night with an empty net strike. For the second game in a row Stewart was man of the match for his team.
In an instant those results have lifted Lightning off the bottom of the National Ice Hockey League to occupy, for the present, third from the foot of the table.
Once again Dean Skinns, in the absence of the injured Jordan Lawday and Brandon Stones, assumed the netminding duties and as on the previous evening he did a sterling job while Tom Carlon returned after missing the Bracknell game.
Sam Russell drew the first penalty of the game when he went for tripping after just 3mins 3secs. Although Steeldogs couldn’t capitalise on the powerplay they did strike first when Kieron Brown set up James Spurr on 7mins 17secs.
Lightning did better on the powerplay after Ashley Calvert was caught hooking on 10mins 12secs – it took Stewart just 11 seconds to find the net thanks to Rio Grinell-Parke and Cale Tanaka’s assistance.
That provoked an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Steeldogs’ Craig Elliott, giving MK another powerplay during which Skinns made a massive glove save to maintain the score at one apiece – a tally which remained at the first break.
Steeldogs had an anxious moment early in the second session when their goalie Dimitri Zimozdra suffered a knock but he was able to carry on and keep Lightning at bay until Tanaka supplied Stewart to strike again on 35mins 35secs to give MK the lead for the first time.
Skinns was called into action early in the third period, saving with his face, and prompting a clash in which Sam Russell earned two minutes in the sin bin for a late hit. That penalty and a subsequent call on Leigh Jamieson for interference all passed without consequence as did a cross checking call on Steeldogs’ Cameron Brownley and hooking infraction on Tanaka.
As the hosts desperately sought an equaliser they withdrew Zimozdra in favour of the extra skater. Unfortunately for them the move backfired with Kana banging the puck into the empty net to make victory secure for Lightning at 59mins 36secs.
Man of the match: Liam Stewart.
Photo: Tony Sargent