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Sam Bullas drove a bullet into Smith Recycling Milton Keynes Lightning’s hopes of maintaining their home winning run when he struck with an overtime winner at Planet Ice on Saturday.

The goal 3mins 18secs into the extra period was all the more hard to take because until 20secs from the end of regulation time Lightning had led the game from the time Russell Cowley had opened the hosts’ account with just over two minutes gone.

Among the spectators was former champion boxer Frank Bruno whose foundation announced the sponsorship of Rio Grinell-Parke and performed a ceremonial drop of the puck with both teams captains, Cowley and Bullas. Bruno’s Northampton-based foundation is raising funds for a non-contact boxing centre for youngsters with mental health problems – the boxer having suffered in the past.

And after watching two periods of the game Bruno confessed he would rather fight Mike Tyson any day: “Ice hockey’s far too tough for me.”

It took just 3mins 36secs for the first penalty to be called when Wildcats’ veteran defenceman Neil Liddiard was sin binned for holding. By that time the home side were already ahead thanks to the swift reactions of Cowley who pounced after a Tomas Kana blast from distance rebounded off the back boards.

That proved to be the only goal of an opening period in which the home outfit had a five on three powerplay less than a minute after Liddiard’s infraction – Swindon’s player coach Aaron Nell being caught hooking Cowley in the fourth minute.

Both Tom Carlon and James Griffin were thwarted by Wildcats’ netminder Renny Marr when MK had a man advantage while Tomasz Malasinski’s short-handed attempt was blocked by the impressive Jordan Lawday in the home goal.

Liam Stewart and Robin Kovar went on a two man raid while Lightning were down a man after Cale Tanaka was serving two minutes for tripping but their bid failed to add to the hosts’ tally.

It was not until 1min 35secs into the second session that Lightning were able to double their lead when Stewart set up Kovar for a shot on the turn at the right hand side of goal which eluded Marr.

Both netminders were called into action in the ensuring minutes with Marr seeing his shot from the left taken with Marr’s catcher and Lawday saving from a Sam Godfrey blue line rocket. The teams were reduced to four apiece when Leigh Jamieson and Nell were assessed roughing penalties when there was nothing more than a bit of pushing and shoving in front of the Wildcats’ bench.

It was a slashing call on Grant McPherson in the 26th minute that gave Wildcats the chance to cut the deficit when the experienced Max Birbraer fired in a shot which appeared to deflect off Lawday’s shoulder before hit the back of the net at 27mins 48secs.

Neither combatants were able to add to their scores throughout the remainder of the never the less keenly fought middle period and thus there was still all to play for as the game went into the final session.

With neither outfit giving anything away in terms of penalties in the opening minutes of the final 20 it took until a brilliant Jordan Stokes blue line effort hit the pipework, only for the ever alert Kovar to beat Marr to the puck to bag his second goal at 50mins 38secs – Grinell-Parke and Stewart also being awarded assists! That gave MK a two goal lead.

The game changing moments came within three minutes as Ross Green was beaten in a race for the puck and sin binned for interference on his opponent at 53mins 45secs and then Jamieson followed him to the penalty box for a high stick at 55mins 6secs.

With a five on three advantage Tyler Vankleef finished off with a shot which Lawday probably didn’t see until it was too late at 55mins 21secs. That set up a tense final three minutes – Swindon now having the momentum – and when Marr was replaced by the extra skater with 1mins 13secs there was an almost inevitable conclusion as Chris Jones supplied Birbraer for a shot to level the scores with only 20 seconds remaining of regulation time.

That spark continued into overtime for the Wiltshire visitors with heartbreak for the home fans coming as Jones was again involved when Bullas’ shot crept into the net with 1min 42secs remaining. One point is better than nothing but two points could have been gained had Lightning not conceded the two penalties on Green and Jamieson which set fire to Wildcats’ late surge.

Man of the match: Robin Kovar

Photo: Tom Roberts