Ice Hockey: Raiders 1 Bracknell 1
PUBLISHED: 19:48 23 March 2019 | UPDATED: 19:48 23 March 2019
Everyone Active Raiders will have to win in Bracknell if they are to progress to the semi-finals of the National League Division One play-offs after being held on home ice on Saturday.
Captain Aaron Connolly gave them a fine start, netting with barely three minutes played.
But Raiders spent too much time on the penalty kill as referee Tom Stephenson called a string of minor penalties throughout and the visitors eventually made them pay to earn a share of the spoils.
Filip Sedivy had the first shot of the night held by Dean Skinns, while Jake Sylvester wired one wide from Juraj Huska’s pass and Connolly was off-target from Brandon Ayliffe’s feed.
But Raiders opened the scoring with barely three minutes gone as Sedivy fed the puck out of the corner back to the right point for Julian Smith to send a wristshot goalwards for Connolly to deflect past Skinns.
The hosts could not capitalise on an interference call against Tyler Vankleef during the first power play of then ight, with Michael Gray producing a stick save to deny Vankleef on his return to the ice.
A tripping call against Julian Smith gave the visitors their first man advantage, but Ayliffe nearly got away on a shorthanded counter-attack, before Vankleef’s blast thudded off the pads of Gray.
The Raiders goalie robbed Ed Knaggs at close range after Smith’s penalty expired, before Aidan Doughty was binned for a late hit on Ollie Baldock.
But Raiders lost Dan Scott to a roughing call, for a retaliatory punch after a hit on teammate Baldock by Gray’s net and Ayliffe was thwarted by Skinns on another shorthanded chance.
Skinns also produced a pad save to kick out Sylvester’s shot in the last minute of the first period, but Raiders lost captain Connolly with just three seconds left to a harsh hooking penalty.
Vankleef rang the post in the opening stages of the middle session and saw Gray kick out another attempt as Raiders remained on the penalty kill during the early stages of the middle session.
Referee Stephenson sent Smith and Matt Turner to the box on successive minor penalties, with Roman Malinik thudding a shot into Gray’s chest, after Baldock was thwarted by a Skinns pad save.
Gray shut the door on Doughty at close range, before Webster tested Skinns twice in quick succession, but then the teams came together in the corner when Turner and Joe Baird tussled.
Baird and Webster ended up with holding and roughing minors and Skinns produced a glove save on Sylvester, with the Raiders winger ringing the crossbar after Shaun Thompson was binned for tripping.
Baird went back to the box on a hooking call to give Raiders 31 seconds of 5-on-3, but despite some good zone time, they could not find a second goal and were then left shorthanded again before the buzzer when Smith was binned for the third time on the night.
Bees could not capitalise, though, and tension began to mount among a large crowd, with the match remaining on a knife edge in the early stages of the final period.
Webster was given a 2+10 penalty for a check from behind on Harvey Stead in the 47th minute, all but ruling him out for the rest of the match.
And Bees made the home side pay as Thompson tapped in an equaliser at the far post, after Gray had blocked the initial shot from the right face-off circle.
There were still just 12 minutes to play, but Raiders took a short while to gather themselves, before Ayliffe’s blast from the left point forced a blocker save from Skinns, who also held Liam Chong’s angled shot from the left.
But Gray produced a sharp save at point-blank range to keep out Doughty, as the clock ticked below seven minutes.
Huska then saw a close-range tip from Baldock’s pass held by Skinns, but hearts were briefly in mouths as Gray pawed Josh Martin’s harmless-lookinng wristshot over the bar.
And Skinns somehow managed to keep out Connolly from Sedivy’s centre as play continued to swing from end to end.
As the clocked down inside two minutes, JJ Pitchley almost produced a wonder goal, slaloming his way through mid-ice and towards the Bees net, before crashing into Skinns.
But Raiders needed Gray to keep out Malinik after he found space up the middle, before the hosts were caught with too many men on the ice with only 34 seconds left in the game.
And Knaggs almost saw a shot get through in the final seconds as it ended all square to set up a tense return leg in Berkshire on Sunday.
Scorers, Raiders: Aaron Connolly 1, Julian Smith 0+1, Filip Sedivy* 0+1.
Bees: Shaun Thompson 1, Ed Knaggs 0+1, Harvey Stead 0+1.
Shots on goal: Michael Gray (R) 14-13-14=41-1; Dean Skinns (B) 10-12-10=32-1.
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