Slough Jets Play-offs Review

So the final puck has been battled for, the final whistle has blown and the final hooter has sounded and the 2010/11 hockey season is over. Nothing can take away the obvious disappointment shown on the faces of the Slough Jets players after last night’s game that they won’t be at Coventry to defend their Play-off Title.

Out of four match ups at the weekend two went with the obvious league position result and two went against as ourselves and the Bison were beaten by our lower placed opponents at the quarter final stage. I remember talking to Bison’s Graham Bell a few weeks back when the league table was still open and us discussing how no one wanted the four vs five match up and while I was happy with three vs six giving us Peterborough part of me couldn’t help but feel as we ended up 6-0 against MK in the regular season the four vs five match up for us would have done no harm at all.

From reports I’ve read it’s been a tough season for Peterborough, with players leaving the club and Darius Lelenas leaving only to return without ever actually leaving. In the games I’ve seen the Phantoms play this season I’d say that either Lelenas or Stephen Wall in their net would be their player of the season. From a while out in the run in it was pretty obvious that the Phantoms would finish sixth, they were too far behind MK to have a chance of taking fifth and the chasing tail enders were too far behind in seventh and eighth to stand a chance of catching them. For us on the other hand at the same time anywhere between second and fifth was still possible as a finishing position.

For the Jets the run in to the end of the regular season was tough, on a parallel to that of last year’s league winners Milton Keynes who then got eliminated from the play-offs at the ¼ final stage. A long road trip to Manchester got rescheduled for midweek and qualification for the cup semi-finals and later finals ensured an extra four midweek games. There had always been a midweek trip to MK in the schedule so the last few weeks were nothing short of manic.

Every single guy that plays Ice Hockey knows the necessity for a high level of strength, conditioning and fitness and each guy works hard over the close season to improve on and through the season to maintain their bodies in the ultimate physical condition demanded by the sport. For the Jets the weekly schedule includes three training sessions and usually two games. In the run in to the end of the regular season that schedule changed to include three competitive games in most weeks which is a huge demand.

Playing one extra game and turning one week into a three game week is no great hardship but to do this consistently over four or five weeks adds to the already incredible physical demands made on each player.

Compare this to the NHL schedule where teams regularly play three or four games a week and you can see a difference. Squads in the NHL are larger, enabling Coaches the option of resting healthy players to try and help them stay healthy and let’s not forget that the players who play in the NHL don’t have full time jobs that they have to hold down in addition to hockey. NHL players live, breath and sleep their sport, their daily lives and routines are tailored around their ice hockey meaning they can factor in training, resting and game time easily. In the UK, in the EPIHL most players also have to factor in full time employment meaning that they have to juggle the immense demands of playing ice hockey alongside the demands of leading a regular working life too.

While these extra games were filling the schedule players were starting to pick up niggles and knocks. Most ice hockey players will happily play through a bit of pain and carry on but their comes a point where an injury is too much to play through, not only painfully but also sensibly when you consider the healing process.

This means that the players left on the ice will up their game to cover for their team mates, as you’d expect which again over a normal schedule wouldn’t be anywhere near as demanding as having that extra game consistently across many weeks of the schedule.

March 23rd was the final additional game in the schedule as the Jets took on the Basingstoke Bison for the second and deciding leg of the Premier Cup Final. Guys strapped up their injuries and took to the ice to play their part in helping their team lift the season’s first trophy. 60 minutes of ice hockey saw the Jets capitalise on their 3-2 lead from the first leg to win on aggregate and become 2010/11 Premier Cup Champions.

Attention then turned back to the matter in hand of one remaining league game and then the play-offs but now an additional player was missing through injury. Influential Adam Calder, scoring at over 2 points a game on average had as it turned out played his last game of the season and the Jets would battle on an import down.

With players missing injured and some playing injured a tired Jets squad travelled to MK and were pushed hard by the Lighting but came through in penalties to record their final game of the regular season as a win.

Play-off time then and we lined up against the Peterborough Phantoms who we had the better of the regular season record against. We also recorded the only tie of the season when the Phantoms ice became unplayable at 2-2 after 40 minutes.

Being the higher placed of the opponents the Jets got the choice of home days and opted to play at home second after a trip to Peterborough. The road game then first up and the trip up to Peterborough for a 7pm face-off. After 40 minutes the game had little between the teams, with Slough missing Adam Calder and Paddy Ward there were gaps both at the back in defence and the front in attack but the depth showed through and the Jets came out 4-2 winners with a 2 goal lead to bring home.

A decent crowd of supporters from both teams and some from our local rivals the Bracknell Bees gave us a brilliant atmosphere for the final home game of 2010/11. The officials came out first, Matt Thompson the man to take charge of the Hangar’s final senior hockey for the season. The Phantoms came out, followed by the Jets and after the line-ups and anthem it was time for action.

Any thoughts of the traditional tough play-off game were dampened firstly the night before and secondly when the opening 2.54 saw Slough penalised twice and the Phantoms scored at 3.24 with the 5 on 3 advantage. After 15.15 Maris Ziedins scored shorthanded for the Phantoms to lead 0-2 and level up on aggregate.

Neither team scored in the remainder of regulation time, the Jets ending the game with some pressure around Peterborough but the large Phantoms netminder being able to use his chest protection to deal with most saves.

The Hangar crowd got to witness overtime to end the final home game of the season. Four on four for five minutes of sudden death, followed by penalty shots if necessary to send one team to Coventry and end the season for the other team.

Overtime lasted 1.24 and I have to admit until I saw the video footage I didn’t even see the goal. I saw Andy Munroe and Darius Lelenas go down behind the goal, I saw the puck thrown back into play and looked away to select what tune I would play at the upcoming stoppage. In a fraction of a second I heard the Phantoms fans erupt, looked up and the goal light was on and the Phantoms were celebrating. The season was over for the Slough Jets and the Phantoms were to join Manchester, Guildford and Milton Keynes at Coventry for the finals weekend.

From the video footage you can see the two players battling behind the net, Lelenas ending up on top of Andy Munroe. The puck then appears to, from the video footage, be thrown back into play, Lelenas gets up leaving Munroe still down and centres the puck to Carlon who beats Rockman. The puck’s in the net, the goal light is on and no-one is doubting that however everyone is doubting the legality of how the puck managed to get from the players tussle behind the net to Carlon in front to score.

I appreciate that the officials do a tough job, I appreciate that without the officials there would be no hockey and I appreciate that they get just once chance to see all the action and make their decisions however is it time for the EIHA to make provision for video replays to be included in the controversial decision making process. The video clearly shows the goal should not count, if there was provision for the video to be included in the decision making process then the correct decision could have been reached. It would have taken a brave man to interrupt the celebrations and call for the video replay but it would have at least ensured the correct decision had been made.

Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose and it may very well have been that we’d still not have won but the facts are that 61.24 should not have been the time that game ended.

Good luck to the teams at Coventry, and let’s hope that by next season there is the ability to utilise available video footage to ensure that bad decisions are wherever possible eradicated from the game.