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Fans played a massive part in a different way last night as they stole the show with an impromptu, rousing acapella performance of God Save the Queen, followed by an amazing (almost) record-breaking Air the Bear contribution when Smith Recycling Milton Keynes Lightning scored their first goal.
In hockey terms Sheffield Steeldogs were put to the sword in a possibly more comprehensive victory than the 5-2 scoreline suggested at Planet Ice on Saturday. Lightning dominated long periods of play – especially in the first and second periods before a wobble in the third session saw Steeldogs find a way back into a game they looked to have been locked out of at the middle period break.
To be fair, Steeldogs were missing a couple of key players but an increasingly cohesive Lightning were no mood to show mercy as they demonstrated fine penalty killing on the first three of the Yorkshire side’s powerplays – often keeping the play high and away from the dangerous defensive zone.
For once it looked as though Liam Stewart was not going to score for the first time in five games. Until that is Steeldogs withdrew netminder Dimitri Zimozdra with 50 seconds to go after Cale Tanaka was penalised for holding the opponent’s stick. ‘Disco’ Stewart won possession in MK’s half and left his Sheffield marker in his wake as he sped away to score on the empty net within seven seconds of the penalty being called.
However Stewart made his mark on the game in other ways as the sole supplier for both of Robin Kovar’s brace of goals which earned the Czech centre a deserved man of the match award. Indeed MK’s fortunes have taken a marked upturn since Kovar’s arrival, such is the understanding he has with Stewart on the ice.
Lightning opened their account on 8mins 18secs when they took full advantage of a hooking penalty on Steeldogs’ assistant coach Greg Wood, drafted into the team to cover for absences. Straight from a face off to the left of the Sheffield goal Tom Carlon fed Tomas Kana who rifled in a rocket blast past Zimozdra.
Less than a minute after the goal MK had a second powerplay when Alex Graham brought down Kovar and Stewart saw his shot pushed away with the netminder’s skate.
Both sides were reduced to four skaters when Lightning incurred a too many men penalty but that didn’t stop Kovar going on an ultimately unsuccessful one on one raid with Zimozdra pushing away his effort. And after Sheffield returned to full strength Stewart had a shot which went behind the net.
Lightning had a let off within the first minute or so of the second session with a shot which pinged off the pipework before being cleared and within a minute Stewart sent Kovar away for a one on one with Zimozdra – beating him with a backhand shot high into the goal to double the hosts’ advantage at 21mins 38secs. Stewart had a short-handed effort saved with Tom Carlon in the sin bin for hooking Craig Elliott. But apart from one scare Lightning had another good penalty kill.
They soon went on to add a third goal on 33mins 4secs when Kana’s pass from the right was turned into the goal by Russ Cowley. At this stage a big Lightning win looked to be a possibility but when Charlie Thompson showed some heavy handedness on Logan Prince his senior team-mate Carlon waded in to deal with the Steeldogs man – promptly earning himself a match penalty for fighting.
The penalty continued into the third session and Steeldogs were at last able to make an impression with player coach Ben Morgan shooting through traffic past an unsighted goalie Jordan Lawday, making his first appearance after injury, within 43 seconds of the restart.
The dismissal of Carlon and resulting reshuffle of the lines seemed to unsettle MK for a while with Sheffield enjoying their best spell which led to a second goal on 48mins 51secs when Lawday blocked but didn’t hold a shot from youngster Nathan Ripley – Thompson quick to pounce to push the puck over the line.
Lightning fans’ nerves were eased though when Stewart’s long pass from just inside the blue line was turned in by Kovar at 52mins 58secs.
Tanaka’s penalty with 50 seconds remaining prompted Steeldogs to withdraw Zimozdra for the extra skater. But it backfired spectacularly within seven seconds as Stewart drew gasps of awe with his lightning – there is no other word for it – pace to seal a 5-2 victory with an empty netter.
MK now look to be a force to be reckoned with. If they had been showing this form early in the season they would be among the front runners in the National Ice Hockey League.
Man of the match: Robin Kovar.