An Andy Smith hat-trick helped the Invicta Dynamos become the first NIHL outfit to claim the scalp of an EPL side in the English Challenge Cup on Sunday as they overcame the Bracknell Bees 6-4 at a bouncing Silver Blades Gillingham.
The Dynamos were up for the battle the instant the puck dropped on Sunday evening and a hooking minor to Jordan Gregory gave them a powerplay opportunity early on. It was a chance they would seize at 02.19 – Arran Strawson’s blue line shot saved by the pads of Tom Annetts but Andy Smith in place to steer in the rebound from close right for the 1-0 edge. After killing off a Strawson cross checking minor they then made it two at 07.03 – Elliott Dewey’s interception sending Smith and Juraj Huska through 2-on-1 and the Slovak controlling an early centring pass before lashing over the line for the two goal cushion. The bright start had caught the Bees by surprise but at 08.45 they claimed a fortunate response to halve the deficit – Sam Waller thumping towards goal from the blue line but his shot taking a hefty deflection off of Matt Foord en route and leaving netminder Mark Lee no chance for 2-1. The reply saw Bracknell go in search of an equaliser but Lee was formidable for the remainder of the period allowing the Mos to return to the changing room one goal to the good.
The Dynamos began the second period on the powerplay courtesy of a tripping call on Lewis Turner and Andy Smith was unlucky not to claim his second of the night when he lifted onto the underside of the bar from right of the crease. An exchange of penalties then ended with the Bees a man up but Scott Spearing was unable to make the advantage count as he used his teammate in the middle as a decoy on a 2-on-1 and saw his goal bound wrist effort from close left swallowed by the swift glove of Mark Lee. However a delay of the game minor to Smith eventually resulted in a leveller for the visitors – the clock stopping at 32.52 as Lewis Turner’s shot from wide left on the blue line slipped under the outstretched leg of Lee and inside the near post to make it 2-2. Despite the setback the Mos continued to look dangerous moving forward and shot stopper Tom Annetts had to literally use his head to deny Juraj Huska and Billy Phillips late on in the frame.
With forty minutes unable to separate the sides the team’s returned to the ice in the knowledge it was now all or nothing ahead of the puck drop in the third. It would be the Mos who gave their all – three goals in six minutes seeing them pull 5-2 ahead and generating a phenomenal atmosphere inside the Silver Blades. The first of the trio came at 41.18 – Callum Fowler battled his way straight down the middle, beyond the reach of three and then tucked in beyond Tom Annetts with a clear shot right in front that made it 3-2. Exactly one minute later the clock would stop again – 42.18 showing as Steve Osman found Billy Phillips back on the blue line and the defenceman thundered home with a trademark drive that left Annetts motionless and the twine behind him rippling. At 45.20 the fifth was then scored – Phillips trying his luck from range again but his deflected effort dropping to Andy Smith in the slot who controlled and roofed over the goalie’s shoulder for the considerable three goal cushion. Bracknell tried to reply but Mark Lee was in sensational form – Matt Towalski denied with a clear backhand flick right in front that a sprawling Lee guided to safety. However, at 56.34 his defiance would be undone – Joshua Smith’s shot only found the pads of the netminder but Ryan Watt thumped home the rebound from between the circles to pull the Bees back to within two. At 59.21 the deficit was then just one – Radek Hubacek exhibiting the class of an EPL import as he crossed the blue line and picked his spot over the shoulder of Lee from distance before the goalie could set himself for a nervous 5-4. Despite a now tense finish the Silver Blades was on its feet willing their side to victory and the upset was sealed at 59.58 – Tom Annetts pulled from goal and Andy Smith tucking between the posts from close right to complete the remarkable 6-4 win.
So it was an EPL scalp for the Dynamos but one they fully deserved after perhaps their most complete performance of the campaign. Individually excellent but collectively brilliant, the Mos hustled and harried their opponents from the league above all game long and were good value for their 6-4 victory – the first for any NIHL side over an EPL outfit in the competition. Man of the match awards went to Ivan Antonov of the Bees whilst and outstanding Mark Lee took the honours for the Dynamos.