Milton Keynes Lightning returned to the ice for the first time in eight months – pioneers in an experiment to bring back hockey without the fans as they travelled to Swindon Wildcats for the first of a series of six livestreamed games.
While the result – an 8-6 defeat for Lightning may not be the one the team and fans would have wanted – the excellently produced stream attracted nearly 1,700 subscribers, some of them fans from clubs up and down the country, including those from a number of Elite League clubs starved of action.
Both outfits drafted in players from the higher competition to fill gaps in their rosters – Lightning bringing back Lewis Hook from Belfast Giants plus Ross Venus and David Clements from Coventry Blaze. But it was some outstanding performances from the younger players, including man of the match, Ed Knaggs, that caught the eye.
It was Wildcats’ recruit from Cardiff Devils, Matt Myers, who opened the scoring on 9mins 51secs with shot over goalie Jordan Lawday’s shoulder.
Penalties were too prove MK’s undoing throughout the first and second periods – with Lewis Clifford’s men playing short-handed for most of the time. However it was during one of those spells that new signing from Hull Pirates Bobby Chamberlain’s resilience drew the visitors level on 13mins 52secs after forcing a double save from Renny Marr.
It didn’t take long for Wildcats to fire back with Great Britain international Myers setting up Toms Rutkis in the 14th minute. That’s the way it remained at the first break with Lightning twice two men short due to penalties.
MK suffered a further blow within 25 seconds of the start of the second period when, again short handed, they went further behind as Polish international Tomasz Malasinski defeated Lawday again.
Clements was next in the sin bin but that did not stop captain Russ Cowley from cutting the deficit with a cracking effort at 23mins 17secs. Aaron Nell was able to take advantage of a delay of the game call on Sam Russell to make it 4-2 to the home side after 24 minutes.
The teams were at last at even strength when Chamberlain bagged the second goal of his hat-trick at 27mins 15secs, before rounding off his trio just 35 seconds later to put Lightning level going into the second break.
Once more MK fell behind to an early third session goal from another GB player Ben Davies, aided by Rutkis and Cardiff’s Josh Batch. But then MK equalised from the unlikeliest of sources as Hallden Barnes-Garner, who had been few minutes in the game previously, with a superbly taken goal in the 45th minute.
Lightning edged ahead for the first time when Robin Kovar had a hand in Clements’ marker three minutes later. Within seconds though Wildcats struck again with Myers the supplier for Rutkis to level things up.
With less than seven minutes remaining Malasinski registered for a second time before Rutkis – again supplied by Myers – gave Swindon a two goal cushion which they were not to surrender in an 8-6 result.
Man of the match: Ed Knaggs.