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Numerous penalties cost Smith Recycling Milton Keynes Lightning any chance of an upset as they went down 5-1 to National League leaders Swindon Wildcats at Planet Ice on Sunday.
The hosts lost the services of two key players – Cale Tanaka and Tomas Kana – within minutes of each other at an important stage of the game when Lightning were trailing 2-1 in the second period. Both were handed ten minute misconduct penalties after being involved in face off violations.
Their indiscipline meant MK were short of one or other of their top line forwards for a quarter of the game. And when Wildcats capitalised on the second of those penalties through the always impressive Tomasz Malasinski while MK were two men down at 38mins 30secs, the mountain became too high for the home side to climb.
It was not the first time this season that penalty trouble has hit short-benched Lightning’s hopes. In 75 per cent of their 13 matches they have picked up more penalties than the opposition to become the team with the most infractions in the league. Only once where they have had more penalties than their competitors have they won the game.
In the 53rd minute goalie Brandon Stones, who had put in an excellent performance, had to be assisted off the ice with a leg injury – to be replaced by Dean Skinns, brought in as injury cover for Jordan Lawday. Skinns showed enough in seven minutes on the ice to justify keeping him on at least as a third netminder as he saw off nine shots to stop Wildcats from further increasing their 5-1 advantage.
To add to MK’s woes the team saw Rio Grinell-Parke thrown out of the game with just over five minutes to go on a game misconduct call for a boarding which floored Wildcats left winger Chris Jones. Penalties are arguably the last thing Lightning need at present with the absences through injury of Grant McPherson, James Griffin, Russ Cowley and Lawday. The addition of former MK star Tom Carlon on a short term basis has no doubt strengthened the side while Logan Prince, promoted from MK Thunder, shows promise.
Until Lightning hit second session penalty trouble they were doing a fair job of containing a Wildcats side missing Max Birbraer who had scored his team’s opening two goals in their 5-2 home win against Raiders the previous night. Never the less they still had impressive firepower on a top line of Malasinski, Aaron Nell and Sam Bullas – the Polish marksmen a member of his national side and the latter two both having Elite League experience.
Nell and Malasinski were both involved when Jones opened the scoring on the powerplay at 5mins 11secs while Tanaka was off the ice on a hooking call – his second penalty for the same offence called on 4mins 31secs.
When Sam Godfrey was sin binned for tripping Tanaka was able to make amends for the earlier offences by slotting in at the right post at 8mins 29secs as the puck ran loose thanks to Grinell-Parke and Carlon’s persistence in front of goal.
Those proved to be the only goals of a first period which saw just one more penalty per team. It was not until early in the second session that Wildcats were able to break through again when Stones was caught on the wrong side of goal by Toms Rutkis, assisted by Edgars Bebris and Jones at 24mins 44secs.
Malasinski made MK’s task almost impossible – give the long penalties on Tanaka and Kana – with goal number three just before the second break with Loris Taylor bagging the fourth on 49mins 25secs. Despite Tanaka’s misconduct penalty he picked up the man of the match award.
Just over a minute later Rutkis set up Bebris on the powerplay – Sam Russell serving time for tripping – to make it 5-1 to seal a miserable night for MK.
Man of the match: Cale Tanaka.