It was a home game away from home for the Blackburn Buccaneers this weekend as they welcomed Riverside Raiders to Deeside Leisure Centre whilst Blackburn undergoes refurbishment.
The Buccs went into the clash rooted to the bottom of the table, winless in 5 games and knowing that only maximum points would keep them in contention for a playoff spot. Having overcome Shropshire Huskies in a high-scoring contest in March, the Raiders already had points on the board but both were also desperate to secure some precious points.
The game got underway and the Buccs were straight out of the blocks, Patrick Thomson carrying the puck into the zone and finding Rob McNair who slotted past Melvin in the Raiders goal after just 11 seconds. The Buccs piled on the pressure in the early stages and doubled their lead on 7.52 as Michael Walsh carried the puck wide and fired in from a tight angle.
Riverside began to feel their way into the game and began to test Glen Rattray in the home goal but when Jack Walker was assessed a holding penalty, it gave the Buccs a chance to get back on the front foot. A couple of quick passes left Callum Greenhalgh free on the point and after a feed from McNair, he rifled a wrist shot right into the top corner for his third goal in two games.
The second period saw both netminders produce a string of fine saves with the Raiders having arguably the better chances and despite the number of opportunities, the period almost passed scoreless before Walker made up for his previous penalty by getting the Raiders on the board, Ben Donkin picking up the assist.
With a two-goal lead to defend in the final 20 minutes, the Buccs knew a Riverside onslaught was imminent and the bumper Deeside crowd were not left disappointed. Michael Filek’s first of the game finished a lovely piece of passing play from Riverside, with Stephen Harvey and James Kelly getting the helpers.
Then with 7 minutes to go, a turnover in the neutral zone sent Walker and Filek to the races. Filek made no mistake from Walker’s pass, perfectly executing a 2-on-0 leaving Rattray with no chance and setting up a grandstand finish.
The Buccs rallied in the final minutes and both teams had chances to bag a winner but the buzzer sounded and the game headed for a shootout.
First up was Buccs captain Michael Walsh who deked Melvin to put the Buccs in the drivers seat.
David Priestley attempted a quick release on his attempt but the outstanding Rattray swiped it with his glove.
Missed shots for Raivis Apfelbaums and Rob McNair for the Buccaneers and Filek for the Raiders left the pressure on Walker to take the shootout to sudden death however his attempt to round Rattray failed leaving the Buccs with the win and the extra point.
It was a fitting end to a great game played by two closely matched teams.
Prior to the game, Buccs forward Simon Pickering had announced to the team that he was hanging up his skates at the end of the month. But after 65 compelling minutes, those retirement plans were quickly shelved.
I think the win was just what the team needed. It wasn’t our best performance skill wise but the team played with more heart and grit than I’ve seen before. We started great going 3-0 up, then we lost our lead which was disappointing but that’s when the boys dig deep and battled to get the win on penalties. I was planning on retiring due to work and football coaching commitments but I think I’ll hold on a little longer. The team is really starting to gel and I don’t want to upset that so maybe I’ve one more year left in me!
Both netminders deservedly picked up the MVP awards for their efforts in a game that could have very easily been a high-scoring one.
The Buccaneers and Raiders will meet again at Planet Ice Widnes on 15th July in the return fixture.