Haringey Huskies 4, Invicta Mustangs 2

Saturday 7th October 2023

By Tom Pink

Sounds like I didn’t miss much then?

A shootout win and by all accounts the save of the season from Luke Clark, after only the first game. A semi-routine 4-2 victory over Lee Valley. We’re in the business of collecting points, good games or bad. Yes, we want to see Haringey play well, but ultimately it’s coming away with the two points that matters (I’d like to nip in the bud any calls for me to stay away more often…).

This was a game that somehow defies description. It’s everything all at once. So fractious, so stop-start, so many penalties. But a good win, a necessary win, a vital win. These are the games you need to be winning if you’ve got designs on the title.

I don’t know about you, but I feel like every game is a must-win at the moment, even this early in the season. It’s so bizarre, and definitely shouldn’t be this way, but maybe it’s a product of how competitive and unrelenting South 2 is. Maybe it’s the unnecessary anxiety of a clueless fan. Over the last two seasons though, the difference between the league winners and Haringey has been two wins and small change. Four points, give or take. It’s that close.

Invicta are so dogged and barely give you any time on the puck. They’re also pretty quick. Several times we were caught on the break and there’s just no catching them.

It was nigh on impossible to keep up with at times. I may as well have been taking notes in morse code. It came in fits and starts. The first period was electric. A buzzing, broiling intensity carrying along both teams. It’s heated, it’s physical, there’s edge, there’s bite. It’s always a good game between these two but there’s recent history now; a 7-2 playoff final.

It’s only the third game of the season and already the Palace is packed out. That must have been close to a capacity crowd. As a fanbase, the Mustangs do really well on the road and it was great to see so many of their fans turning out and making themselves heard (I’ve seen the social media stuff. It’s awful. These people wouldn’t do this in any other aspect of their lives (you hope, you really really hope…), but a large crowd and quantities of booze emboldens them. There was a 10-match ban for homophobic abuse on the ice last year in South 2. These people aren’t playing sport, they’re in public at a public event. Abuse motivated by prejudice towards sexual orientation is a hate crime. Something can and should be done about this. We’ve been here before.).

The first period has some of the best play I’ve seen from Haringey. For large parts of the game our passing and movement is so slick and crisp. There’s a clear outline to what we’re trying to achieve.

The Mustangs come flying out and have the first shot after intercepting a Huskies’ pass, but it’s saved. Sam Roberts puts it across the slot but there’s no one backing him up. Ryan McFarlane does well to intercept the puck and keep it in centre ice.

It’s a very pleasant surprise to see Tom Avery back in the team, and it doesn’t take him long to get himself back among the points. After two minutes, Tom at the point finds Matt France by the hash marks who slides the puck across the slot for Stephen Woodford to turn in at the backdoor. 1-2-3. It’s simple, effective play and gets Haringey on the scoreboard and settles any early nerves. 1-0.

Joe Tearall is sent through and his shot from the right wing is held by the Invicta keeper. Joe Willingham does well to get back and tie-up the Invicta forward along the boards after a breakaway.

Marton Szasz finds captain Stuart Appleby on the right wing, but he can’t find the net. Péter Tóth’s one-timer from the blueline is saved. Stu gets stick on puck in the slot but can’t score.

It’s number 29 Conner Smith who doubles the lead; Ryan Gadeke plays the puck from centre ice which Conner collects. He skates to the right between two Invicta players, across the slot and at the second time of asking scores 5-hole for a really well taken goal. 2-0 and not even ten minutes gone.

Invicta are a constant threat though. There’s an odd-man rush and a wrister from the right brings a save from Luke which tips onto the post and bounces away. Moments later Luke makes a point-blank save from the crease.

Conner, full of twists and tricks, dangles his way past the Invicta defence but he can’t beat the netminder. The kids are alright y’know. John Beldecos shows great strength, as does his brother Ben. John does well to keep the puck in the d-zone and get himself out of trouble with good hands.

At the end of the first Tom Avery makes a staggeringly good block to deny an almost certain Mustangs goal. The Invicta forward sits down Luke in the crease, and with the goal at his mercy, Tom dives to block the shot and manages to get his stick on the puck. As good as a goal that.

We come out in the second lining up with Mac, Pete, Sam, Conner, and Ryan.

James Hepburn knicks the puck back off Invicta in the defensive zone in trademark, lung busting fashion. Ben does well again, carrying the puck across both lines before being fouled.

Luke makes another fine save from the slot after the Huskies lose possession. Woody sees his backhand attempt held by Wyatt in the Mustangs’ net.

It’s back and forth a lot. The game swings between moments of intense chaos, and long delays for penalties and grievances and explanations.

The travelling Mustangs fans were audibly unhappy with some of the on-ice decisions, and they might have had a point with some of them, but I don’t think Invicta helped themselves. They were visibly frustrated and made it all too easy for the Ref to blow his whistle. They gave him an excuse.

It’s a weird situation. Invicta go into meltdown, completely lose their heads trying to chase the game, are hugely frustrated with all of the decisions, but at the same time they’re still so dangerous.

There’s two quick goals at the end of the period. Haringey stretch their lead even further; Sam puts Conner through across mid-ice, he teams up with Ryan who takes it close and scores to make it 3-0. I thought Ryan had a very good game and had several good opportunities to add to his tally.

But a minute later and with five left, with Haringey on the powerplay, establishing their forecheck, Invicta steal the puck and race away down ice. Luke makes a great stick save, but the puck loops in the air and is jammed in at the back post for 3-1.

Haringey are awarded a penalty shot at the death after Matt Hepburn is pulled down after going clean through. I desperately wanted Matt to score, for him as well as the scoreboard. I think he missed the last penalty shot we had. But Matt shoots left and wide.

There were a couple of times where Joe Tearall and Seb Downing combined really nicely without any end product. Something to keep an eye on though.

The Mustangs score quickly after the start of the third. It’s a scrappy goal and Haringey should clear the zone, but Invicta slot from the left and what was a comfortable 3-0 lead is now reduced to a one goal deficit.

You know there’s been a few penalties (it’s six) when the crowd are ironically cheering everytime it happens. They’re desperate for Haringey to see this through. There’s groans for every misplaced pass, on every powerplay that quickly ticks down. But the Huskies’ patience pays off. Stu finds Tom who finds Matt France on the right, and his slapshot flies in to make it 4-2.

There’s more penalties, there’s more aggro, but time runs out and the clock ticks down and Haringey have won themselves two very hard fought points.

Player of the match goes to John Beldecos. A big, big performance from him with tireless work not giving the Invicta forwards an inch.

And so, to Bristol.

I’ve been looking ahead in the fixtures list for when all of the easy games are coming up, and I’m afraid to report that there simply aren’t any this year. It’s a year of absolute adrenaline fueled nail biters. But we wouldn’t have it any other way.

That’s three out of three. 100% still intact. It’s yet another tough, tough game next Saturday. Bring on your Pitbulls. The Huskies are on the march.

Let’s Go Huskies.

Photos by Phil Hutchinson (@77phil77sports)