The Invicta Dynamos ended a five year wait for silverware on Sunday by overcoming the Chelmsford Chieftains 5-3 in front of a huge capacity crowd at the Silver Blades Gillingham to lift the NIHL Southern Cup.
Having returned with a 4-4 draw from the first leg in Essex, the Dynamos knew that a win of any kind back on home ice would secure them their first trophy since 2009/10 and it was record crowd that packed out the rink to support them. The hosts were minus Grant Baxter, Mark Lee and Frankie Harvey whilst their guests were short of Danny Hammond and netminder Euan King after a collision with Billy Phillips the night before. Ben Clements replaced him between the pipes whilst Mark McGill continued in net for the Mos.
With no seats left empty at the Silver Blades, Chelmsford did their best to silence the considerable home support early on and made the perfect start – the puck finding Ryan Gilles on the blue line and the defenceman smashing low into the bottom right corner for 1-0 at 01.20. However his work would be undone at 05.31 – James Ayling sitting in the box as Billy Phillips’ diagonal found Andy Smith close right who redirected to the far post to leave Callum Fowler a tap-in. Both teams were then reduced to four shortly after, as Giles was called for tripping and Michal Oravec for slashing, and it was the Mos who made better use of the extra space to take the lead at 10.32. This time Fowler was the architect – the forward robbing Martin Piecha in the defensive zone, travelling the length of the ice, turning Sean Barry inside out and feeding Andy Smith for the close range finish that made it 2-1. It was a lead that should have been extinguished when Cameron Bartlett was teed up at the back stick with the goal at his mercy but the athleticism of Mark McGill robbed him of an equaliser. Chelmsford then seemed to have overcome McGill’s stubborn resistance at 15.30 as Michael Ranby prodded in from the crease during a scramble only to see the goal washed out by referee Thomas Stephenson. However their reward came at 17.25 – the visitors escaping on a 2-on-1 and Cameron Bartlett steering his centring pass around the dive of Elliott Dewey for Matt Turner to roof home from close right.
The 2-2 score at the end of the first, 6-6 on aggregate, did little to relieve the tension inside the Silver Blades and it was Chelmsford who came closest to taking the lead at the start of the second – Mark McGill required to deny both Julian Smith and Matt Turner from close range. Tempers then flared briefly at 29.09 – Cameron Bartlett’s late stick on the glove of McGill prompting a shoving match with Arran Strawson – both players sent to the box with coincidental minors. They would remain spectators as the Dynamos notched a third at 29.51 to lead 3-2 – Callum Fowler dancing in from the right boards, outside Darren Brown and inside Matt Turner before a shot low into the bottom far corner for the narrow lead. Again it was an advantage Mark McGill had to preserve – the Scot’s quick glove thwarting a goal bound wrist shot from Lukas Zatopek to keep his side in front. The Mos could then have been further ahead during a late 5-on-3 – Julian Smith and Martin Piecha in the box as Juraj Huska slotted in from a tight angle close left only for the referee to wave off the goal with the net moving from its moorings. When the buzzer sounded the hosts were edging the tie 3-2 – 7-6 on aggregate.
With just 20 minutes separating them from the cup the Dynamos began the third brightly and Callum Fowler rattled the far post with a slapshot from the back of the left circle. His misfortune would become all the more agonising at 41.15 as Chelmsford then struck an equaliser – Matt Turner speeding down the left before centring for Cameron Bartlett and, though Mark McGill saved brilliantly, Michael Ranby roofed the rebound to tie it up at 3-3. The setback had the potential to derail the home side but the Mos were not to be denied and were ahead again just 12 seconds later – Andy Smith carrying the puck to the slot before dispatching a slapshot over the head of Ben Clements and into the net behind him for 4-3. The hosts were on the charge and Callum Fowler struck the frame of the target two more times before an Alex Staples holding penalty saw them establish a two goal cushion at 46.05. Fowler was the scorer again to complete his hat-trick – the forward evading Julian Smith in the right corner and forcing under Ben Clements from point blank range to make it 5-3. Now down a pair, the Chieftains were wavering and only Clements prevented them falling out of sight as he shut the door on a Billy Phillips slapshot and thwarted a Fowler drive with his mask. Time was against the visitors and the Mos used this to their advantage – avoiding unnecessary charges forward, getting bodies behind the puck and clearing their zone at every opportunity. With two minutes to go a raucous Silver Blades was on its feet – the fans willing the clock to zero for a victory that would see the cup stay in Kent and, when it came, the noise at the final buzzer was deafening – the Dynamos victorious by a score of 5-3 – 9-7 on aggregate.
So it was an emphatic end to a five year trophy drought as the Mos defied the league standings to lift the NIHL Southern Cup. It was silverware secured with a sublime team showing – Mark McGill defiant in net with a save percentage of 95.24%, a determined defence launching themselves in front of every shot and an attack, led by the mercurial Callum Fowler, making their chances count at every opportunity. It was a historic night for the hosts but credit too for Chelmsford who played their part in a fantastic advert for NIHL hockey. Man of the match honours went to Callum Fowler of the Dynamos and Matt Turner of the Chieftains – the cup made a new home in Kent.