Mixed fortunes of late for the Slough Jets, losses at MK and Sheffield, 4 point weekend vs Basingstoke, a split weekend against the league leaders leading into a tough weekend against Swindon at home and Manchester away.
Before we talk about the game itself a word to the officials. Around the 24 minute mark in yesterday’s game there was a close call regarding a goal/no goal situation. A shot from just in front of the goal line from Adam Calder rattled the pipe work and came out again. Play continued immediately but the word from some around the rink was that the home team were robbed.
At the time the goal light came on, the goal judge is instructed to flash his light when he believes to the best of his ability that the puck in it’s entirety has crossed the goal line. The referee is the official in charge and ultimately he decides whether or not a goal is scored. For a goal to be scored the puck must cross the goal line (either along the ice or in the air) entirely. The camera footage provides nothing at all that could justify calling the on-ice decision wrong. We get the benefit of two camera angles, the benefit of slow motion and in my case the benefit of frame by frame scrolling through the 25 frames per second footage.
Incidents like that prove the quality of the officials available to us in ice hockey. Matt Thompson got one chance to see that and at full speed only and made the correct decision. At 1-1 that would have been the go ahead goal had it been awarded and may have changed the result around but it seems the right decision was reached and reached on the spot.
On to the game itself and with so few points separating teams 2 to 5 every game takes on a great significance. Heading into the weekend second place was still a possibility which would have lined up the Wildcats as play-off quarter final opponents, third place was a definite possibility which would have lined up the Bison at opponents and fourth placed would have been the fourth vs fifth match up against the Lightning. Looking at the table now following the first half of the weekend it seems now that the probabilities are 3rd, 4th or even 5th with the MK Lightning home and away being the final weekend of the regular season.
A great start for the Jets saw them in an early lead when Darius Pliskuaskas opened the scoring but the first period equaliser from the Wildcats sent the teams into the interval 1-1. The second period saw one of the best periods of hockey Swindon have most probably played all season long when they dominated the shots on goal and were rewarded with their second and third goals.
Whatever was said in the second interval saw the Jets come out and turn the game around as it was their turn to dominate the shooting. The second goal for the Jets injected life back into the game and at 2-3 when Swindon picked up a late penalty the opportunity was taken to pull the netminder and go for the empty net gamble. As it turned out it was the Wildcats who scored, shorthanded into the empty net making it 2-4 and taking the points.
Think back to last summer and the change of Coach in the close season and you can see when Swindon have been a nemesis team for the Jets this season. Peter Russell worked with a lot of the Jets team from last season, he coached them for two years and therefore had a good knowledge of the key players in the Jets team. Peter Russell is a quality coach, and in my opinion far too good a coach to be a bench coach to Ryan Aldridge as a head coach. If you remember back to Swindon a few years ago they had Aldridge as a player and Peter Russell as their Head Coach and were doing well. The decision was taken to release Pete and promote Aldridge and the Swindon season headed into free fall from that point. The Wildcats dropped from a successful higher middle table position to a lower table position, Russell saw out the season with the Bees before joining the Jets.
If I was in power at Swindon, given the Coaching staff they have I know which one I’d have as the Head Coach and which one I’d have the greater confidence in to bring success to the Link Centre.
For the Jets the challenge gets no easier with a match up against the Manchester Phoenix in their rink before coming home and next weekend facing the giant killing Telford Tigers and then closing out the regular season with a home and away weekend against the MK Lightning.
Having Ryan Watt back in the line-up at some point will be a massive boost to the team. He is a real energy player, a goal scorer, a physical presence and a motivator and right now a big absence. Injury is something that we all wish we could rush but in truth injury is something that heals in it’s own time and something that we can’t rush. Ryan’s a young man, a massive talent and has a big future ahead of him so it makes sense for him not return to playing when he is fully recovered rather than risking himself with a premature return.
Doug Sheppard has said he is not worrying about which opponents we get in the play-offs but about ensuring we are in good form when we get there. There have been some disappointing results since the Christmas turn-around but some big wins in there too. It’s all about finding the balance now and getting as many players at full strength and getting Ryan back in the line-up to enable the team to re-gel ahead of the all important quarter finals.