A bumper crowd greeted a new era for Smith Recycling Milton Keynes Lightning when they were narrowly edged out 6-5 by Sheffield Steeldogs at Planet Ice on Saturday.

Match Report by Paul Brookman

Lightning may have dropped down a tier to the National Ice Hockey League but the fans have not deserted them with a record crowd of 2,154 for a pre-season challenge game witnessing a thriller that kept them on the edge of their seats.

Encounters between Lightning and Steeldogs when the two sides met in the English Premier League were often close run ones. This game proved no different with the lead changing hands on four occasions before the Yorkshire side seemed to have wrapped things up with two goals in as many minutes to take a 6-4 lead.

The opening minutes were a cagey affair with both sides seeking out opportunities but not really producing any decisive moves.  It took a piece of bravado from Callum Robertson to open the scoring as he went solo to beat one Sheffield defender and then fire in from close range on 9mins 43secs.  Within two minutes though the scores were level when Cameron Brownley was given too much space when supplied by Ashley Calvert to blast in off the right hand post at 11mins 7secs.

Steeldogs found themselves a man down for a third time with Tim Smith called for delaying the game in the 14th minute but that did not stop them breaking away to edge the first period with a goal timed at 16mins 2secs by Kieron Brown.

Lightning did not take too long to find their rhythm in the second period and they levelled things up on 24mins 12secs while they were shorthanded after Sam Russell was called for holding – James Griffin sending Rio Grinell-Parke away for an upstairs shot to beat goalie Dmitri Zimozdra.  Just over 30 seconds later at 24mins 46secs the hosts were in front for the only time, thanks to an Ari Nähri goal assisted by Cale Tanaka and Russ Cowley.

Steeldogs were back in the game before the half way mark though as they equalised with a close range Jan Danecek marker at 28mins 59secs.

They then edged ahead when Griffin’s efforts to block Alex Graham only appeared to shield netminder Jordan Lawday’s view of the Sheffield player’s long range blast to give the visitors a one goal lead at 32mins 12secs.  But Lightning were not going to roll over and die and they once again squared things up with a Cowley assisted equaliser from Tanaka just 30 seconds from the end of the middle period.

In the end it was two strikes within two minutes at 50mins 41secs and 52mins 19secs that gave Steeldogs a lead that they were not to relinquish – Brown bagging his second and then Calvert the other to make it 6-4.  That said Lightning did not give in and they narrowed the gap to one with 1mins 7secs remaining as Harry Ferguson set up Nähri for a shot from out on the left hand side.

Coach Lewis Clifford called time out with 47 seconds to go and quickly withdrew Lawday for the extra skater but it was to no avail with Steeldogs hanging on for the win.

Despite that there were a lot of positives for a new Lightning team playing their first game together.

After the match, Lighting Coach Lewis Clifford said: “Overall I’m pleased for our first game together as a new group.  There were a number of good performances out there, and the goals we conceded were caused by things we can fix together in training.  I thought fitness and workrate levels were good and we will work hard again tomorrow in Sheffield.  Thanks to the amazing crowd out there – you can really feel the support already!”

Man of the match: Callum Robertson.

Next home game is Hull on Saturday 14th at 7pm.  Tickets available here.