The Invicta Dynamos were unable to make it a cup and playoff double on Sunday despite a valiant effort as the Wightlink Raiders secured a 6-4 win in Gillingham to take the silverware with a 9-6 aggregate victory.
The Dynamos returned to Kent with a 3-2 deficit to overcome from the first leg on the road the night before and they made the ideal start – captain Anthony Leone crossing the blue line and finding the bottom far corner with a wrist shot from deep to immediately restore parity at 03.36. However a hooking minor to Elliott Dewey and a boarding penalty on Michal Oravec saw them down two skaters allowing the Raiders to respond quickly – Jaroslav Cesky’s flick finding Corey Watkins in the right circle and the Welshman picking out the narrow gap between Mark Lee’s shoulder and the crossbar to level it up at 06.40. Billy Phillips then came close to cancelling out the effort as his drive caught a deflection, collided with the goal frame and dropped the wrong side of the line before Wightlink tallied a second to lead both on the night and on aggregate. At 11.39 a lofted clearance from Nick Compton put Richard Facey and Owen Griffiths 2-on-1 and Facey made Mark Lee commit close left before teeing up a simple back post finish for Griffiths for the 2-1 edge. When play restarted the Raiders set about antagonising the player they had identified as the biggest threat – Craig Tribe ensuring the officials were looking the other way before crosschecking Callum Fowler to the ice well behind the play to incense the home crowd. However despite his antics the Mos would answer at 18.13 – Damon Larter in the box for Wightlink as Juraj Huska found Billy Phillips in front of the blue line who thundered into the top right corner to level it up at 2-2. With time nearly at an end Corey Watkins turned up the heat as he collided with goalie Mark Lee to provoke a shoving match when the buzzer sounded but the officials successfully separated the sides without the need for penalties.
Level at 2-2 on the night but trailing 5-4 on aggregate the Mos had work to do in the second but their early attempts at working an opening were frustrated as the Raiders packed the slot and suffocated their opponents. They then nearly netted on the counter – Jaroslav Cesky escaping on the breakaway and performing a full 360 in front of net only to find Mark Lee still in his way when he eventually released the puck close right. Lee’s save would prove even more vital at 29.19 as the Mos struck a third – Michal Oravec skating the length of the ice before cutting back to Callum Fowler in the slot who immediately drilled beyond Matt Colclough for 3-2. However the Raiders answered within a minute – a moment of brilliance from Cesky the difference as he picked up the play in the neutral zone, sped down the right channel, across the crease to ground Mark Lee and roofed home at 30.14 to make it 3-3. Tempers then flared at 38.01 – Simon Hobbis impeding Michal Oravec with persistent holding on his own blue line and the import reacting with some shoves before a brief exchange of blows. When play restarted the Raiders claimed a significant fourth at 39.14 – Carl Graham’s blue line shot through traffic diverted through the 5-hole of Mark Lee by Ryan Webb in front for a strike that made it 4-3 on the night – 7-5 on aggregate.
In the final period the Raiders had a two goal cushion to protect but they nearly extended that edge when Craig Tribe escaped on the breakaway only for Mark Lee to divert his effort over the bar. Down the other end the Dynamos were becoming increasingly frustrated as Wightlink stubbornly refused to give up space in front of net – their best chance coming by way of a penalty shot as late as 53.19. Referee Paul Brooks determined that Carl Graham launched his stick to prevent Michal Oravec tallying on the breakaway but, under pressure, the Slovak sent his effort over the bar to leave the Raiders 4-3 up. The home side’s cause then looked lost at 55.09 – Steven Balmer’s backhand flick from behind the goal catching the back of Mark Lee and crossing the line for the 5-3 lead – a cushion of three on aggregate. Now at desperation point the Dynamos pulled Mark Lee and they mustered a reply at 58.58 to keep their faint chances alive – Juraj Huska finding Arran Strawson in the slot and the now attacking defenceman turning inside the left post to cut the deficit to 5-4. However, still requiring a pair to level the tie on aggregate they had little option but to surge forward and Jaroslav Cesky’s poke check in the neutral zone turned into a goal as the puck carried over the line into the unguarded target to seal a 6-4 win – the Raiders taking the crown 9-6.
So at the final buzzer it was Wightlink celebrating a hard fought win though a brief shoving match greeted the end of the game as two teams experiencing the opposite extremes of emotion brought about by a final almost clashed. However order was quickly restored and the handshakes and presentations took place without commotion – the Raiders enjoying a deserved fairy-tale end to their campaign that had seen their very existence come into question over the closing months. For the Mos it was a disappointing conclusion but still a much improved season that saw them claim the NIHL Southern Cup, finish second in the league and runners-up in the playoffs – a feat that will no doubt be further appreciated in the days following the final.