Power to the People
PUBLISHED: 15:19 26 February 2011
Island memories: good, bad and ugly
Trips to the Isle of Wight bring always back memories of a fond family holiday.
But then the Ryde Ice Arena opened a few years later and the Solent Vikings joined the ranks of British ice hockey.
Romford Raiders were playing in the British League at the time, but then hit money trouble and dropped into the English League in 1995/96 and a rivalry began.
The renamed Wightlink Raiders were the defending champions when the two sides first met and Romford’s young, rebuilt squad were comfortably beaten 10-2 on their first trip to the small ice rink in Ryde: Danny Marshall and Jon Beckett netted for the visitors.
They fared little better on their second trip for a cup match, Beckett, Rob Cole and Canadian Mike Rows on target in an 11-3 defeat.
And when Troy Walkington’s men and boys went back for a third time in the play-offs, they suffered a 22-0 shellacking.
My first trip to the island rink came in November 1996.
Romford’s side now included three Finnish players and coach Walkington gave a debut to British-Canadian defenceman Lee Saunders as they took on a Wightlink side unbeaten on their own ice for more than four years.
Tempers boiled over late in the first period, with both sides having two players sent to the penalty box, and Romford broke the deadlock when Ville Lilja’s shot deceived goalie Craig Wynn.
Lilja made it 2-0 early in the second period and, after some heroics from goalie Mikko Nurminen during a Wight powerplay, Romford doubled their lead thanks to two goals in a minute from Billy Rawles and Phil Donovan.
Two more goals from Lilja, 49 seconds apart, put Romford 6-0 up in the final period and, although Alain Jacob ruined Nurminen’s shutout hopes, there was no denying the visitors their historic moment.
Wightlink gained a semblance of revenge with a 7-5 win on their way to the play-off title and won both matches between the sides a year later (8-5, 8-2).
But Romford earned a 5-5 tie in the early part of the 1998/99 campaign and when they travelled to Ryde for a second time that season, the two teams were in a straight fight for the last play-off place.
There was bad feeling between the camps after Wightlink walked out of Rom Valley Way, claiming the ice was unfit for play, despite referee Mo Ashraff saying it was ok.
The match was tied at 1-1 at the time and the EIHA would eventually award both sides a point after their failure to agree a new date.
And after handing out an 11-1 thrashing in the return, in a match which saw Romford’s Ben Pitchley come off second best in a scrap with Wight’s Swedish player-coach Peter Nyman, Wightlink would claim the final play-off place by a single point.
It was two-and-a-half years before I returned for a third visit, with Romford – the defending play-off champions – having made a steady, if unspectacular start to the EPL campaign.
But there was much anticipation about a new signing – a certain Jason Rushton – and the Canadian lived up to his billing with an all-action display on his debut, which ended in a 5-5 tie.
Today’s trip to the island is surrounded by just as much, if not more, excitement as two in-form teams with long unbeaten records go head-to-head in a clash which could have a big day in the destination of the ENL title.
Romford have not tasted defeat in 14 matches (15 if you include the unplayed fixture at Swindon which has been awarded to them as a 5-0 win) and, frankly, look like the only team capable of stopping Wight, who are unbeaten in 20 and have just six games left to play.
Four of them look routine wins on paper, the other two are against Romford.
Hopefully it’ll be a good ferry and bus ride back to Essex later tonight...