It was a game of firsts for the UEA Avalanche Ice Hockey team; their first home match this season, their first time against the Birmingham Lions C team this year, and their first win of the season at 3-2. Though they faced a few challenges before even getting on the ice – such as the bus and ice resurfacer nearly breaking down, and coach Richard Spink having to step in to referee – this didn’t deter them from a stunning victory.
The first period of play began with a face-off between Craig Jacobs of UEA Avalanche and Benjamin Tomlinson of Birmingham, sending the puck into UEA’s defensive zone. Luckily, UEA regained possession to nearly score a goal under two minutes in, a close call just missing the net and setting the game off to an exciting start. With two saves in quick succession by each respective goaltender around the twelve minute mark, it could’ve been anyone’s game.
However, despite major possession by UEA halfway through the period, Birmingham’s defence didn’t falter as they relentlessly deflected the puck back up the rink, presenting an excellent challenge for the Avs to show their resolve. Avalanche saw their first of two minor penalties of the night during this period; 14 minutes in John Ballinger was given two minutes in the penalty box for checking, leaving Avalanche shorthanded for Birmingham’s power play.
Finally, the no goal streak was broken by the Lions with three minutes left in the period, leaving the Avs trailing 1-0. Though an attempt was made by UEA with two minutes left in the period to bring the scores level, the puck didn’t find its way home.
The second period began with play initially tending towards UEA’s defensive zone. There were several close calls in the first three minutes, though none found the net as UEA fought to regain the offensive ground. However, Avalanche’s second penalty of the night, a minor to Phil Carter for checking, marked a turn in the game for the better, with a bid to score coming a minute afterwards. While play moved away to the centre for a time, UEA soon pushed forward again with Chris Dobson nearly scoring nine minutes in.
This seemed to give the team the boost they needed- two minutes later Craig Jacobs scored, bringing Avalanche level 1-1. The rest of the period was a shutout for the Avs, with several great saves from goaltender Sam Birkentals and bold plays from the rest of the team, including two more attempts at scoring from Paul McDermott, and an attempted slap shot from Birmingham with less than 30 seconds left – emotions were running high.
As the teams went into the third period evenly matched, the Avs truly began to come into their own. An impressive two goals in a single shift from Craig Jacobs sent the Avs up 3-1, and gave him an astonishing hat trick in under twenty seconds of play. He set the stage for more aggressive plays as the end of the game approached.
Another effort was made to score for UEA by Jacobs in the first minute of the period, however it was thwarted by a well executed glove save from goaltender Steven Thetford, who went on to stop a further three shots. Play rapidly came down to UEA’s defensive zone, however Birkentals (Man of the Match of the previous two away games) was prepared and managed to keep the Avalanche in the lead with his goalkeeping prowess, even leaping for the puck at one point. The defence’s quick action sent the puck sailing back across the rink in time for a shot from Ballinger, nearly putting the Avalanche up 4-1. However, puck didn’t quite cross the crease and bounced from the goalposts back into play.
The last few minutes of the game seemed to be a constant battle of McDermott and Jacobs pushing the puck up the rink, while Birkentals strived to deflect it from the goal. With just under two minutes remaining, Birmingham scored for a second time, but it wasn’t enough to stop the Avalanche storming to their first full game victory. The Lions declared a deserving Paul McDermott Man of the Match, whilst the Avs chose Tomlinson, Number 68, of the Lions.
It was an all-around incredible effort from both teams, only the second game for a few of the Avalanche’s rookies, making their victory even sweeter. It has set the stage for future wins and personal triumphs for the growing club, who look forward to their next game against the Hull Ice Hogs in March.