The Invicta Dynamos turned a 3-0 deficit into a 4-4 draw against the Chelmsford Chieftains at the Riverside on Saturday night leaving all to play for in the NIHL Southern Cup Final 2nd leg in Gillingham on Sunday.
The Mos arrived in Chelmsford short of Mark Lee and Grant Baxter but the side were bolstered by the homecoming of defenceman Billy Phillips who made his much anticipated return following his exit from hockey in late January. Despite this it was the Chieftains who made the brighter start – Matt Turner skipping through the middle and firing high over the shoulder of Mark McGill from the slot at 03.19 to make it 1-0. It could, and perhaps should, have been two soon after as both Cameron Bartlett and Darren Brown escaped the rear guard for a 2-on-0 but McGill dived across his crease to deny the back post attempt. Down the other end Callum Fowler came closest for the Mos with a near post drive that Euan King beat around the upright before a boarding penalty to Nicky Lewis put Chelmsford back on the front foot. They would take advantage at 09.10 – Matt Turner’s drive from the blue line flying through traffic and meeting Ross Brears on route before slipping under the pads of the netminder to make it 2-0. The Dynamos attempted to answer in what remained of the frame but an elbows minor to Juraj Huska and a roughing penalty to Billy Phillips stunted their efforts to leave them two behind at the first break.
In the second period Chelmsford continued to have the better of the chances and they looked to have seized total control at 22.34 as they added a third – the Mos picking up two delayed penalties before Martin Piecha smashed home, through bodies, from the back of the left circle. One minor killed, the visitors then had to see off a cross-checking penalty to Arran Strawson with a fourth goal surely scuppering any comeback hopes. They remained defiant though and a return to even numbers quickly saw them put a marker on the scoreboard to end a run of 123 minutes without a goal against the Chieftains. At 25.01 Juraj Huska and Andy Smith countered up the ice – the Slovak sweeping to the far post from the left channel and Smith thumping beyond Euan King to cut the deficit to 3-1. Just 58 seconds later it was then 3-2 – the clock stopping at 25.59 as Michal Oravec worked the puck out from the left corner for Smith to convert again from close right for his second of the evening. By now the Mos were in the ascendency but penalty trouble would hinder them for the remainder of the frame as they picked up four minors, often overlapping, to face an extended powerplay. Anthony Leone was dispatched for putting the puck over the glass, Billy Phillips was penalised for tripping and Adam McNicoll was also called for delay of the game. Having returned to the ice Phillips then caused controversy seconds before the buzzer – Chelmsford goalie Euan King leaving his crease to play the puck in the corner but being beaten to it by a speeding Phillips who caught him with a shoulder to send him sprawling. Ryan Giles wanted immediate retribution but Andy Smith successfully held him back – Phillips given two minutes for interference and Giles a misconduct for incitement. At 39.56 the Chieftains made the most of a two man advantage – another venomous drive from the blue line rippling the back of the net with Michael Ranby the scorer this time around.
4-2 down heading into the last the Dynamos had work to do to keep it close ahead of the second leg in Gillingham the following night but, having lost their momentum, they displayed great character again to cut their deficit at 43.05. Arran Strawson set Andy Smith and Callum Fowler on their way and a neat interchange ended with Fowler sweeping across the crease and Smith poking in at the back stick to make it 4-3. End-to-end hockey would follow as both sides tussled for an edge – Cameron Bartlett being denied by the quick glove of Mark McGill whilst Eaun King showed swift hand work of his own at the opposite side of the rink to catch a Billy Phillips slapshot from deep. This was a night when the Mos were fully committed and that was never more evident than when both McGill and Elliott Dewey threw themselves to the ice to prevent the Chieftains poking home during a goalmouth scramble late on. The deciding moment would come at 58.10 though – with the visiting fans already on their feet to salute a battling display, Peter Beerling found Anthony Leone right in front and the Dynamos captain forced beyond Euan King to level it up at 4-4.
So it was honours even after the first leg – a formidable result for the Mos and one that left their destiny firmly in their own hands as they return to a surely raucous SilverBlades for the second clash on Sunday. The Dynamos had exhibited all the discipline and desire that had been missing from their most recent encounter with Chelmsford and shown their determination to lay hands on the NIHL Southern Cup. Man of the match awards went to hat-trick hero Andy Smith of the visitors whilst Matt Turner took the spoils for the Chieftains.