Tigers Progress to NIHL North Cup Final. Hexagon Telford Tigers 1 played the 2nd leg of the NIHL North Semi Final at Telford Ice Rink on Sunday night against Solway Sharks. Tigers held a three goal advantage from the 1st leg on Saturday after beating Solway 5-2 the previous evening in Dumfries.
Coach Tom Watkins had commented in the build up to the games at the weekend how highly he rated Solway and how important it was to get through to the final. “They are a good side,” said Watkins. “The game at our place last month was particularly close (Tigers won 6-5).”
“It’s a huge weekend and we have a good chance of winning a piece of silverware. If that doesn’t motivate the players, then nothing will. There is also a financial incentive. The club relies on games to keep bringing in revenue and if we win this weekend, that is another weekend where we will be playing and another guaranteed home game so it is really important for us to make the final.”
Tigers lined up without Corey Goodison, Joe Hazeldine and Dan Mitchell. Tom Hovell for Telford and Calum Hepburn for Solway were the starting net minders.
Tigers started the game a little lacklustre and Solway were always looking to use their speed and catch Tigers on the counter attack. The best chance of the period for Tigers fell to Jason Silverthorn but, as he broke in on goal, Hepburn managed to poke check the puck away before he could shoot. Solway took the lead with the only goal of the period in the 17th minute. The always dangerous Cale Tanaka shot wide of the goal but managed to collect the puck and skate around the goal and score before Hovell could recover his ground. Jack Watkins got the crowd on their feet with a big hit on Solway’s Lewis Baldwin but Tigers couldn’t get the goal they needed to draw level.
Solway came out for the second period dominating the play when after just thirty seven seconds, Peter Gapa forced the puck home from close range cutting Tigers’ aggregate lead to a single goal. Tigers were living dangerously and were forced to scramble the puck from their own goal crease as Solway pushed for their third goal. Jack Watkins continued to show his physical presence with another big hit on a Solway player. In the 25th minute, Tigers settled the nerves of the crowd with their opening goal. Warren Tait battled to win the puck and managed to clear it out of the Tigers’ defensive zone to Ricky Plant who skated in on goal and showed fantastic stick handling skills to beat Hepburn with a sublime finish. Solway’s Kyle Horne then took a tripping penalty giving Tigers a much need power play opportunity. Tigers drew level on the night when Doug Clarkson found Adam Taylor in the left circle and Taylor shot low into the net past Hepburn.
Moments later, Taylor made a magnificent diving poke check to prevent a Solway breakaway. However, within a few seconds Solway scored their third goal of the game. Scott Henderson’s wrist shot flying into the top corner of the goal past Hovell.
Solway scored a fourth goal early in the third period. Henderson scoring his second goal of the game from a tight angle. The home crowd’s nerves were settled a minute later though as Plant once again showed great puck retention to create space and fire a shot in on goal which was tipped by Silverthorn past Hepburn for Tigers’ third goal. Solway continued to pressure the Tigers’ defence but the experience of Tait and Jonathan Weaver allowed them to run out the clock and seal an aggregate 8-6 win for Tigers and progression to the final.
Tigers’ win takes them into the NIHL North Cup Final where they will meet Sheffield Steeldogs after they beat Hull Pirates on penalty shots in the other semi final.
Result: Hexagon Telford Tigers 3 Solway Sharks 4. (Tigers win 8-6 on aggregate).
Scorers: Ricky Plant, Adam Taylor and Jason Silverthorn.
Man of the match: Jack Watkins.
After the game coach Tom Watkins commented, “ I’m pleased to advance to the final, it was not the result we wanted on the night but we essentially achieved our goal. We nearly doubled the shots on goal total over Solway, but didn’t take advantage. Solway kept pressing and brought the tie to within one goal. Credit to them, they are one of the hardest working teams we’ve come up against and they made it an exciting match.”