Nottingham Vipers 3 Billingham Lady Stars 4
Nottingham Vipers contrived to lose a game they had expected to win in a one-goal game against the league’s bottom team. Vipers were hoping to gather momentum at the start of 2014 following a last-gasp home win against Manchester at the end of November and an 8-1 defeat at league leaders Whitley Squaws just before Christmas. Billingham were looking for their first win of the season after having had four straight defeats.
Billingham took the initiative at the start of period 1, with the Vipers seemingly unable to turn defence into a meaningful attack. The play was scrappy, with missed passes by both sides. It was no surprise that Billingham had the first shot on goal of the match when Joy Craighead strolled through centre ice; her shot was saved by Debra Gibson in the Vipers’ goal. This seemed to be a wake-up call, with the Vipers replying quickly with an attack up the right wing which was eventually cleared by the Stars’ defence. However, this precipitated back-to-back attacks from Billingham with Rachel Serrell and Sarah Burlington-Jackson both requiring intervention by Debra Gibson. Momentum then switched the other way when Laura Smith’s goal-bound shot was saved by Megan Quigley; this was followed by excellent interplay between Laura Smith and Robin Mullen, with the latter hitting the outside of the right hand pipe. Subsequent shots by Paige Dance and Michelle Peat did not trouble the net minder, the former running across the goal, the latter going over the crossbar. Robin Mullen then prompted a good stick save. Despite these attacks, the Vipers did not look confident. The play from both sides was scrappy with numerous attempts to take the initiative breaking down in centre ice due to sloppy passing and failure to control a bouncing puck. Towards the end of the period, Rebecca Cooke’s shot required a save from Megan Quigley and then Paige Dance’s shot across goal was inches away from Claudia Venables’ stick for what would have broken the deadlock. However, it was Billingham who finally took the initiative with an even-handed, unassisted goal, by Alison Walworth at 14.46. The period closed with Nottingham attempting a shot on goal following the face-off, but this was saved easily. The period was summed up by the fact that both sides could only muster 6 shots on goal apiece, with neither conceding penalty minutes.
The Vipers began Period 2 more positively with Robin Mullen hitting the post with the first attack following the face-off. This was followed by Emma French nearly getting a tip in from a pass from Robin Mullen. This was agonisingly close. However Billingham nearly extended their lead when the Vipers defence seemed unable to clear their lines. The bobbling puck eventually got caught up in an array of bodies, leading to a face off which was cleared safely. However, things got worse when a horrible Vipers line change not only converted a promising attack into a penalty kill situation 9too many skaters), but also led to Billingham’s second goal when Joy Craighead (assisted Jenny Henir and Rachel Serrell) slotted the puck home following a rebound on 17.38. Worse was to come. Vipers’ ongoing inability to clear their lines soon resulted in Billingham’s third goal when Rachel Serrell scored a deserved even handed unassisted goal at 19.09. Her solo incursions into Vipers’ territory had been a problem for the home team all game and this goal was waiting to happen. At long last, Vipers managed to get a goal back when Paige Dance skilfully slotted the puck over Megan Quigley’s shoulder to score a very nice goal (assisted Emma French). It could easily have been a second goal when Emma French hit the pipe, only for the puck to bounce into the grateful hands of Megan Quigley. After putting the Stars under pressure following a 2 minute interference call on Stars’ Philippa Blackburn, the Vipers then lost concentration to allow Rachel Serrell to score another even handed solo goal on 28.27. The period finished with the Vipers on power play. Paige Dance put in a good shot at the close, but this hit the net minder’s chest. The period had continued to be somewhat scrappy, with Billingham making fewer mistakes, factor which gave them their overall edge.
(Period shots on goal: 5-12, penalties 4-4).
The final period began with 1.17 left on the Vipers power play. They immediately went on the attack from the initial face off with a shot from Emma French producing a good pad save. This was followed by a great goal from Paige Dance on 30.37 (assisted Lucy Kendall). In many respects, a replica of her first goal, the puck powering over Megan Quigley’s shoulder to make the net bulge. Vipers continued to attack. However, all nearly came to grief when the Rachel Serrell cleared up at the back, only to cut across the ice diagonally from the right and nearly putting the puck past Debra Gibson. Vipers continued to attack, with Robin Mullen and Rebecca Cooke both forcing saves from the net minder. Belinda Chillman then hit the pipe but unfortunately the Vipers were unable to dig the puck out from the melee which followed. On 36.45 Robin Mullen made Vipers renewed dominance by scoring an excellent unassisted goal for the Vipers, having weaved through the Billingham defence to slot the puck through the 5-hole. This goal gave impetus to further sieges on the Billingham goal, the first resulting in the puck bobbling around the Stars’ goal, the second when Robin Mullen hit the post following an aborted line change by Billingham. However, Billingham then went on the offensive, taking advantage of Vipers’ inability to clear the puck in key areas; this phase of play resulted in the Vipers having to endure a period of penalty kill, at one point 5 on 3. Thankfully Debra Gibson stood tall and the deficit remained at one goal. Brilliant breakout by Emma French nearly resulted in a goal for the Vipers with the puck frozen right on the line by Megan Quigley. Vipers entered the last two minutes with memories of their last home game – would a goal emerge right at the death this time? Things moved in the right direction when the Stars took a 2 minute penalty for a body check on 43.58. A time out was taken and the nettie was pulled to generate a 6 on 4 power play but the resulting siege on the Billingham goal produced shots which hit defenders or the net minder. Billingham survived and ran out winners by 4 goals to 3.
(Period shots on goal: 8-6, pens 4-12). Paige Dance (2+0) was given the Spirit of the Game award.