The British University Ice Hockey Association’s National Championship in Sheffield gives university ice hockey teams all over the UK a chance to face off against each other. For the third year running, the UEA Avalanche ice hockey team took up the opportunity to show what they were made of, fresh off a win against the Birmingham Lions. Unfortunately, however, they didn’t quite make the semi-finals, missing out by the margin of just one point.
The Avalanche’s first game of the weekend was against the UCL Yetis B, whom they had yet to face this year. It was a close game, with the Yetis starting the attempts on goal early on in the game. Luckily, goaltender Sam Birkentals executed several excellent saves, to keep the sides on equal footing at 0-0. The defensemen were on point throughout the game, with some fancy footwork from Ross Arthurs kicking the puck out and away from the Yetis. The Yetis’ netminder saved several shots from assistant captains Paul McDermott and Adam Fulford, until UCL scored the only goal of the game, winning 1-0.
Next, the Avs faced the Imperial Devils C, the eventual Tier Five winners. The Devils’ goalie had proven quite the character – chirping even his own teammates – so this was always going to be an interesting matchup. UEA had the best possession, but it was the Devils who opened the scoring with 14 minutes to go. Despite this, Avalanche fought back with some excellent plays, Craig Jacobs lifting the puck past the goaltender making it 1-1. Later, in a heart stopping moment, the puck nearly teetered over UEA’s goal crease, but Birkentals saved it just in time, living up to his previous Man of the Match titles. Although the Devils scored again on a breakaway, making it 2-1, Graham Austin scored a stunning goal with 40 seconds left on the clock, evening the scores. The score remained unchanged, despite two more shots on goal in the dying seconds for the Avalanche.
The next day was a new start for the Avs, facing off against the Birmingham Lions D. UEA needed to win their next two games to be in with a chance of getting through to the semi-finals. For a few moments, it looked as if the Lions were down a goaltender with Hull Ice Hogs’ nearly having to fill in – luckily for the Lions, though, theirs turned up just in time.
UEA got off to a hot start, with three shots on goal in three minutes. However, despite being late to the ice, the Lions’ goalie managed to make the saves, barely keeping the Avs off the scoreboard until, with nine minutes remaining, Ben Long scored. Not two minutes later, Austin scored again for UEA with an assist from Chris Dobson, bringing them up to 2-0. Finally, Jacobs scored once more, taking it up to the final tally of 3-0, aided by some great defence work from rookie Zack Breeze. Avalanche ended with 15 shots on goal, the Lions with a paltry three. This truly was UEA’s game.
What would end up being UEA’s final game of the Nationals was against the home team, Sheffield Bears E. While the Avs won the first face-off, it was the Bears who took the first shot on goal. It didn’t reach the net, thanks to Birkentals sending it back into play for Dominic Rodwell to pick up. The Avs then executed some stylish tape-to-tape passes, leading up to a shot that went just wide. There were some worrying moments, with the Bears nearly scoring, but Birkentals wasn’t to be beaten, hustling the puck back into play.
Frustratingly, when Jacobs was on a breakaway and looked to have a good scoring chance, he was tripped by one of the Bears who took a penalty. It was a late start, but Jacobs scored on the power play with three minutes remaining, and an assist from team Captain, Adelice Kraemer, bringing the score up to 1-0. However, the Avs weren’t finished yet, with Jacobs scoring another goal with 12 seconds remaining, this time assisted by Austin, leaving the final score at 2-0 to UEA.
Unfortunately, despite their best efforts and some amazing goals, UEA narrowly missed out on the semi-finals. Nonetheless, they ended on a high note, with two consecutive wins, and two shutouts for Birkentals. Birkentals ended up joint first with Imperial Devils’ goaltender, Karl Zimmerman, for save percentage at 0.89, and Craig Jacobs made it onto the leader board for goals and points, both well-deserved achievements. All in all, though they didn’t see the finals this year, Avalanche really showed they were not a team to be taken lightly.