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Late Goals Win Thriller for Telford

Hexagon Telford Tigers started their bid to make a third consecutive semi final of the National League Play Offs. With Tigers in Group B – along with Swindon Wildcats, Milton Keynes and Raiders – arguably the tougher path to the Final Four at Coventry.  Teams would play each other home and away for the next three weekends with the top two teams in each group progressing to the semi finals.

Tigers welcomed back Harry Ferguson from suspension but were still without Lucas Price, Aidan Wilson and Jack Watkins.

League games between Telford and Raiders had all been close this season with three of the five games going to overtime. Telford and Raiders both came into the playoffs in form with Tigers having won six in a row and Raiders had won five of their last six games.

Tigers made a poor start to the game and were behind within the opening four minutes. Net minder Brad Day made an error when he came out of goal to play the puck and passed it straight to Raiders forward Adam Laishram whose shot towards goal was deflected into the open net by Aaron Connolly. A minute later and the sides were level. Tigers were handed a power play when Callum Wells was called for high sticking. Jaden Peca set up Scott McKenzie who smashed a shot from the slot low to Raiders’ net minder Ethan James’ left.

It was then Raiders turn to score a power play goal after Nick Oliver was called for tripping. Jake Sylvester converted to put the home side back in front. 

An elbowing penalty against Zack Milton gave Tigers a second power play and once again the visitors took full advantage of the extra player with the second power play goal of the game. A superb individual effort from Archie Hazeldine saw the Tigers’ defender skate through from his own defensive zone into the Raiders offensive zone, past the entire Raiders penalty kill unit and then beat James with a well placed wrist shot.

At the start of the second period, Raiders were back in front in the opening minute of the period. A defensive turnover led to a break away and Connolly added his second of the game to put the home side ahead.

As regular as clockwork, another Raiders penalty led to Tigers equalising. With Jacob Ranson serving a tripping penalty, Vladimir Luka and Peca combined to set up Fin Howells to score the visitors third power play goal of the game.

In the dying seconds of the the second period, Raiders thought they were back in front when a shot beat Day but bounced off the cross bar.

The third period was very close and both teams were aware of the importance of the next goal.

Raiders looked to have won the game when Sylvester took the puck through the Tigers’ defence and shot past Day. Less than a minute later, the lead was doubled after a poor defensive turnover in front of the Tigers’ goal gifted the puck to 16 year old Brynley Capps who scored from close range.

With seven minutes left, the game looked over but Telford fought back and pulled a goal back when Jesse Sutton set up James Smith to halve the deficit. Then, with ninety seconds left on the clock, Peca sent the puck across the slot to McKenzie who smashed a low shot past James to level the scores.

With Raiders reeling Tigers gained a remarkable lead with a sixth goal with forty five seconds left. Sutton led a 2-on-1 breakaway and sent a pass across the ice to Smith who hammered a first time shot past James to give Telford their first lead of the game. 

Raiders called a timeout after the goal and then pulled James from goal to add an extra attacker but this just allowed Telford to seal a remarkable comeback with an empty net goal from Howells.

Tigers head home to face Raiders at Telford Ice Rink in the next game in Group B.

Final Score: Raiders 5 Hexagon Telford Tigers 7.

Scorers: James Smith (2), Scott McKenzie (2), Fin Howells (2) and Archie Hazeldine.

Man of the match: Archie Hazeldine.

After the game Head Coach Tom Watkins, commented, “That was a very good start to our playoff campaign with a battling performance on the road. It was always going to be an intense game and I think we grew into it as the game progressed. The third period was our best of the night, I just think we played the right way, we played how we need to in order to get a win in playoff hockey. 

We never lost focus or belief throughout the game despite going two goals behind late in the third period and we were confident in what we were trying to do. 

We stuck to the game plan, scored some big goals to get back level and then stole the two points with lots of character from the group.”

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