Late empty net goal seals Sting’s comeback

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After trailing 2-0 at one stage, a late empty net goal sealed Sutton Sting a memorable 4-2 National Ice Hockey League Moralee Conference Division One win at Manchester Minotaurs.

Previously, in the season opener at home, the Sting lost out 9-8 in a 17-goal thriller, so there were a few scores to be settled.

The game was played in front of a good crowd, and it wasn’t long before the Minatours were given a power play, as Sting’s Canadian import, Thomas Stuart-Dant was called a minor penalty for hooking as he tried to contain league top goalscorer Lukas Zeman.

The Minatours took their chance with a goal from Max Drakely with 8.04 on the clock.

With their noses in front, Manchester then pressed for a second goal which came from poor Sting defending in front of Sutton goalie Zimozdra, who found himself with no support in front of the crease and Joe Greaves slotted home a delicate back hand into the top corner to make it 2-0 to the home side and the Sting seemingly well out of the game.

Some strong words in the period break from coach Johnson gave his side a sting in their tails, and it was Sutton who then showed they wanted the points with some aggressive play going forward.

But Minatours goalie Nicole Jackson was up for the test, stopping a barrage of shots in the first three minutes of the second period.

Sting’s hard work eventually paid off when Shaun Ashton placed a simple and sublime wraparound goal, which slid neatly under the pads of Jackson at 24.52, assisted by Oliver and Matt Jeffcock, putting the Sting back in contention.

As the tempo increased and with end to end play, the Sting suffered a major blow when assistant captain Chris Colegate pulled up with a groin injury.

However this laid way to the latest Sting recruit, Myles Dacres, formerly of Blackburn Hawks, to jump onto line one and take his opportunity.

Less than two minutes later Dacres hit the net to equalise on 31.36 with an even-handed effort, assists from Thomas Stuart-Dant and Adam Robinson.

Ending the second period honours even, the Sting had begun to stamp their authority on the game and the Minotaurs now had a fight on their hands.

Into the final period and both teams were showing that they each wanted the points. But it was Sutton who had most of the play, and when young Bobby Streetley found space in the Sting defensive zone, he made a simple full ice pass to Sutton’s sniper-in-chief, Chris Sykes, who only had the goalie to beat.

With a fake right and quick release to the left, Sykes snapped the puck into the bottom left hand corner to grab a sensational goal to put Sutton in front for the first time in the game.

Manchester threw everything into the last eight minutes but Sting’s back line and goalie Dmitri Zimozdra stood strong and never looked liked giving the Minotaurs a sniff of a goal.

As the game entered the last minute and a half, Manchester called a time-out to try to muster their last attempt to equalise.

Pulling their netminder in exchange for a sixth skater, the Minotaurs made a last ditched attempt to get something out of the game.

As the seconds counted down, Sutton absorbed the pressure from the man advantage and, with just a few seconds on the clock and for the second week running, the puck fell to Sting’s Forward James Spurr, who kept his cool to hit another empty net goal, and clinch the game for Sutton.

Coach Johnson was delighted with his side’s turn-around in performance and said: “It’s what we needed, and what I think we deserved.

“We can now play for 60 minutes and not be phased by going behind, something that we have struggled to do this season.

“Today we have new kids on the roster, Dacres and Streetley, who looked to have settled in nicely, so with these additions and the way the team is starting to gel I’m expecting to see further improvements.

“Losing Chris Colegate is a worry as we have a double-header next weekend against Blackburn Hawks, so we will have to see how he (Colegate) recovers in the week. Chris is a big part of the team, so I really hope he will be okay for next weekend.”