Wilkinson Finals Weekend – 1st/2nd April 2023
By Tom Pink
Straight off the bat, I’m refusing to let Sunday’s result tarnish Saturday’s. It’s a conscious decision, and I honestly feel all the better for it. It’s important we take the small mercies in these moments. Let’s start with that.
I made the mistake of beginning this on Sunday morning, which made coming back to it on Sunday evening all the more difficult. But I can tell you that I started with something like this:
Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes.
That’s vindication. That’s redemption. That’s Hollywood. That’s romance.
That’s what we all knew Haringey were capable of. That’s the performance and result we’d seen in our collective minds’ eye. That’s the shutout Luke Clark had been due this season. That’s the culmination of two years’ work trying to learn how to beat this Phoenix side. That’s what we’re all in this for.
That’s Your Hockeyhound NIHL Wilkinson Playoff Finalists Haringey Huskies 2, Guildford Phoenix 0.
It’s a little hard to look at that now, knowing what we know, but I think it’s important we don’t lose sight of that result.
I loved everything about it. I loved that it’s a shutout. I loved our game management and smart play for 60 minutes. I loved the moment it comes in the season, the timing of it. I loved the celebrations at the end from management. I loved the coaches’ obvious passion.
It’s great to see the surprise return of Gyuri Dragomir, but bittersweet to see him go off after the start of the second with an injury. Just that brief glimpse though reminds us of the quality he brings to this team.
It’s a really testy first 5 and neither team wants to commit.
Marton Szasz pops-up on the right before firing in from the hashmarks high and hard for 1-0. I said in the Quarter-Final report that we’d have to score well, but it was our defence that made the difference on Saturday, and that’s defensive work from the entire team.
A mistake from Gyuri leaves Luke with a 1-on-1 which he saves down to his right. The first of many huge saves he’d make on Saturday. Remember, we don’t get Sunday without Saturday’s performance, and we don’t get Saturday without Luke Clark. An overwhelmingly deserved Player of the Match shift.
Whenever Guildford were on the puck there were bodies in and around them. Time and again we tied them up along the boards and didn’t allow them to build anything meaningful. The first ends, and it’s hugely encouraging stuff.
Thirty-seconds after the re-start and Guildford hit the post from the blue line. Still a big threat. We know how good this Phoenix side are. But honestly, there’s chances and chances for us to extend our lead.
Our entire roster was imperious to a man. Ryan McFarlane, Matt France, Bryn Griffiths and Péter Tóth were exceptional. Mac was playing an almost quarterback position, staying deep and finding passes across the lines.
The second goal eventually comes at the start of the third. “Shotgun Stu” Appleby settles the nerves and doubles the Huskies’ lead. That celly bringing a smile to every Haringey fan in the building.
It’s a hell of a scrappy finish, with the Huskies seeing out some huge penalty kills. Guildford hammering on the door, the goalie pulled with a minute and a half left but to no avail.
If that was to be the end of it, then fair enough. I would happily, joyously take it. But we get Sunday too. Tragically, the Final comes a day too late for Haringey though.
If you’re going to insist on constantly being amongst the biggest games of the season, you’ve got to accept that you’re not always going to win. There are too many good teams in South 2. That’s what’s made this season in particular so engrossing.
The Mustangs scored for fun in the playoffs, with 24 goals from Quarters to Final. Nearly double our tally.
They were so aggressive and gave us hardly any time on the puck. When they had possession, they were direct and eager to attack. We simply couldn’t live with their speed and finishing.
The damage is done in the first period. Four quick goals which we can’t respond to. Laming and Steadman utter livewires the entire game.
I’d watched their Semi against Bristol and was blown away. They’re always a really hard side to play against, but they had stepped it up significantly in the postseason.
At the start of the second there’s a sliver of hope. Tom and Sam combine across centre ice to put Sam in 1-on-1 and he coolly, calmly slots into the roof of the net. If there was ever going to be a comeback, this is the point at which it had to happen.
But Invicta are far too ruthless and four becomes five and gone are the hopes of a Haringey return. With the Huskies chasing the game and having to play so high, the breakaway was always on for the Mustangs, and we just didn’t have the legs to catch them.
Five becomes six, becomes seven. Too many Invicta players wanting to score, desperate to score, and overwhelming a dejected Haringey.
There’s a late consolation goal; James Hepburn scores a backhander from the slot from a rebound off the goalie’s pads, but it’s a foregone conclusion by that point.
Congratulations to the Mustangs who were far too good and much too much for the rest of the final four. Our wait goes on for silverware in the new-look South 2. I would be more concerned if we weren’t in the conversation, but to have consistently gone as far as you can two years running fills me with some hope. Eventually one’s going to drop for us. Just look at Saturday.
We get the highs, but we also get the oh-so-lows. That’s the agreement we make as fans. And the players as well. These lads put so much of themselves into this for the majority of the year, it will always be disappointing when you don’t achieve what you set out to. And so in life.
I didn’t like to see heads drop at the end though. It’s a team game and no one person should be feeling that they were at fault. The untouchable performance in the Semi from everyone in black and white means we get to have Sunday, warts and all.
And so we’ll lick our wounds, pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and go again.
Because we don’t get to Sunday if we don’t have Saturday. And we’ll always have Saturday.
Let’s Go Huskies.