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National League: London Raiders 5 Cardiff Fire 2

PUBLISHED: 20:19 03 February 2018 | UPDATED: 20:19 03 February 2018

London Raiders line up on the blue line before the first match at the Sapphire Ice & Leisure Centre

London Raiders line up on the blue line before the first match at the Sapphire Ice & Leisure Centre

Archant

Ice hockey returned to Romford after a near five-year absence and fans had plenty to celebrate.

London Raiders took on Cardiff at the Sapphire Ice & Leisure Centre London Raiders took on Cardiff at the Sapphire Ice & Leisure Centre

It was almost a case of a hockey match breaking out in the middle of a massive reunion of old friends.

Supporters were back out in their number to see the London Raiders take to the ice in special commemorative jerseys, with a nod to the 1987 vintage who had first brought the sport to the town.

And it didn’t take long for the first chorus of “Romford, Romford” to start up in the stands.

The question on a lot of lips concerned who was going to go down in history as the first goalscorer in the new rink and Juraj Huska thudded the first shot at goal, into the pads of the Cardiff goalie Jordan Lawday, before fellow Slovak Marek Nahlik was denied in similar fashion.

A big crowd watched the first match at Sapphire Ice & Leisure Centre A big crowd watched the first match at Sapphire Ice & Leisure Centre

Huska drilled a slapshot from wide right into the goalie’s glove, before Raiders Michael Gray had a nervy moment playing the puck in front of his own net.

Brandon Ayliffe showed some good speed into the attacking zone, while the first big hit of the night left a Cardiff player grounded behind Gray’s net.

Alan Lack had a quick wristshot held as the home side continued to pose more of the attacking threat, as befitted their fourth-placed status against the league’s bottom club.

Jake Sylvester and Ollie Baldock combined well to set up Huska, who saw a wristshot kicked out from the low slot, before Ayliffe picked up the first penalty of the night for a big hit in the corner, which earned him a 2+10 call for checking to the head.

The first fight in the new building followed soon after as Alan Lack put a big hit on Callum Buglass and was then set upon by Elis Sheppard, who picked up the extra cross-checking minor on top of coincidental double minors for fighting, which handed Raiders a short power play.

John Connolly and Huska tested 19-year-old Lawday with big shots during the man advantage, before Cardiff’s David Manning was called for slashing to give Raiders two full minutes on their next power play.

But the visitors spoiled the party by breaking on a 2-on-1, with Jackson Price writing his name inn the record books as the first player to find the net in Romford’s shiny new rink.

The Oxford City Stars had done the same in 1987, before Romford Raiders came back for a 9-6 win on their debut at Rom Valley Way, so there was no need to panic at this point.

JJ Pitchley put a great chance wide from a Tom Davis feed, after Jack Cooper’s fine outlet pass to the left wing, as more cheers of ‘Romford, Romford’ started up in the stands.

And former Romford junior Olegs Lascenko obliged with a neat close-range finish into the roof of the net to level things up in the 18th minute, with an assist to Nahlik.

Lascenko went close to putting Raiders head early in the second period with a deflection of a Callum Wells pass, but Lawday held on at close range, and Sylvester saw a big slapshot kicked away by the left pad of the Cardiff goalie soon after.

Pitchley was denied by the blocker hand of Lawday, while Wells saw a hard-struck shot plucked out of the air just past the midway point.

Ayliffe was unable to control a pass up the middle from Julian Smith and Cardiff were given a power play chance when the big defenceman was called for holding in mid-ice, with just over six minutes left in the middle session.

But Raiders survived the shorthanded spell and then saw Nahlik and Davis go close in quick succession, only to be thwarted by the impressive GB under-20 international Lawday.

A great up-ice pass by Callum Burnett put Huska into space, but Cardiff’s defencemen did a good job of forcing him wide and Lawday held the shot when it came.

Raiders began the final period, back in their regular jerseys, with a 31-11 edge in shots and Lack saw another attempt on the turn kicked away, before picking up a slashing minor with barely a minute gone.

And the visitors regained the lead on the power play as Lewis Smith found Sam Bryant on the edge of the crease and he slipped the puck past Gray on the backhand.

The hosts ought to have got back on terms soon after, following a great right-wing dash from Thomas Beesley, who picked out Nahlik in front of the net, only for the import to fan on his shot.

And Huska was denied after being sent in on goal by Barry’s angled pass, while Nahlik and Lack could not force the puck home from close range as the frustration mounted.

It was all square again, though, on 49 minutes as Lack worked hard by the net to create an opening for Turner to slip the puck home on the backhand and the goal was welcomed by a loud cheer from the crowd.

Wells almost diverted Huska’s pass through the pads of Lawday as Raiders looked to feed off the energy, with Lascenko close again before Ayliffe forced a stick save from Lawday.

And Raiders took the lead with 7.17 left as Nahlik fired into the roof of the net from the right face-off circle, to great relief in Romford’s shiny new rink, before making it 4-2 moments later as Pitchley found Lascenko on the right and he teed up Ayliffe to sweep the puck home.

A fifth goal followed soon after as Turner teed up Connolly to send a wristshot into the top corner to really get the party started in the stands.

Raiders travel to Streatham on Sunday, before returning to Romford on Wednesday to welcome Swindon to the Sapphire. Face-off will be at 7.45pm.

Raiders: Matt Turner 1+2, Olegs Lascenko 1+1, Marek Nahlik* 1+1, Brandon Ayliffe 1, John Connolly 1, Alan Lack 0+3, JJ Pitchley 0+1.

Cardiff: Jackson Price 1, Sam Bryant 1, Lewis Smith 0+2.

Penalty minutes: Raiders 22, Cardiff 10.

Shots on goal: Michael Gray (L) 6-5-4=15-2, Jordan Lawday (C) 15-16-22=53-5.

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