Raiders up and running with a win
- Credit: Archant
National League: London Raiders 6 Cardiff 4
London Raiders came from behind to make a winning start to the new National League season at Lee Valley.
The club was fighting for its very existence only a few short weeks ago, but dug deep to give their loyal supporters some payback on opening night – with an encouraging crowd boosted by support from rival clubs.
Player-coach Danny Marshall was forced to look on from the stands due to a one-game suspension, with Michael Gray and Frankie Harvey also serving bans.
But they were able to include new import defenceman Vaclac Drabek, whose registration was approved only hours earlier, as well as Cardiff trio Mike Brabon, Phil Manny and Stephen Deacon against their former club, and new youngsters TJ Fillery, Bailey Wootton and Jack Lee.
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Jacob Ranson returned to a Raiders jersey, meanwhile, following a stint with MK Thunder last season.
And the 19-year-old’s efforts were remarkable really, considering he had been in intensive care at Queen’s hospital less than two weeks earlier with severe burns to his face, chest and left arm, suffered in an accident at home.
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After a minutes applause to remember their late team manager Mick Cahill, Raiders might have had the perfect start inside 10 seconds as Jakub Klima raced clear, but he could not take his chance.
The Czech import spurned a shorthanded breakaway chance in the first period also, but he would eventually come good with a straight hat-trick in the final period.
Nonetheless, Raiders fell behind in the ninth minute when they conceded possession at their own blue line and Jonathan Nash set up Steve Newton for a neat finish past Brabon.
Deacon and Lee went close at the other end before another defensive zone turnover gave the visitors the chance to double their lead in the 18th minute, as Newton found the top corner.
But Raiders hit back on a powerplay before the first interval, as Jamie Hayes served his second cross-checking penalty of the session, when defenceman David Oliver forced the puck home from close range and celebrated with gusto.
Cardiff, despite being forced to replace starting goalie Luke Takel with back-up James Whiting due to a skate problem, were quick out of the blocks in the second period as Hayes fired a first-time shot past Brabon from the high slot within 49 seconds of the restart.
But Raiders replied soon after when Klima and captain AJ Smith worked the puck to Deacon, who slipped it home on the backhand.
A high-sticking call against Zak Shanahan gave the home side a man advantage in the 29th minute and they made it count as Drabek rifled home a shot via the underside of the crossbar.
But Cardiff regained the lead three minutes later when Hayes swept home a rebound, after Brabon had kicked out an earlier effort.
Raiders had lost the energetic Lee to a shoulder injury by this point, but Wootton stepped in to good effect and Dan Peters rang a post during an all-action spell.
And they were back on terms early in the final period when Klima found the net from a tight angle after some intense pressure on Whiting.
They could not capitalize on an interference call against Joe Morris but when Giacomo Rafaelli was sent to the sin bin soon after for boarding, Raiders took their chance as Klima advanced from a face-off just outside the offensive zone and flicked the puck over Whiting’s shoulder.
The celebrations had barely subsided when Manny’s stretch pass found man of the match Klima in space and he waltzed in to outwit Whiting again to complete his treble and give Raiders some breathing space.
The impressive Drabek clipped the outside of a post, but Cardiff also rang the metalwork inside the final two minutes when a fifth visiting goal would have set up a tense finale.
But Raiders were good value for their win and, with Marshall back in the line-up for their next fixture against Bracknell and the likes of James Buckingham, Perry Richardson and Ross Wilkinson still to see the ice for their new club, the early signs are promising for their relieved fans.
Raiders: Klima* 3+2 Deacon 1+1 Drabek* 1 Oliver 1 Smith 0+3 Manny 0+2 Peters 0+1.
Cardiff: Newton 2 Hayes 2 Sadler 0+2 Nash 0+1 Rafaelli 0+1 Newberry 0+1.
Shots faced: Brabon (Raiders) 11-14-14=39-4 Takel (Cardiff, 20:00) 11-1 Whiting (Cardiff, 40:00) 8-10=29-5.
Referee: Yurij Solovjovs.