By Tom Pink
My oh my, what on earth did we witness in Gillingham on Saturday night? Part miracle? Part farce? Part horror show?
There were people in the stands that couldn’t watch. That were shaking with adrenaline and nerves and who knows what else.
There’s far too many incidents to write about, and both sets of fans run the entire gamut of emotions twice over. You’re just going to have to trust me.
I thought that Bristol away would safely remain the best game of the season. To come back from 3-1 down in the third period takes some doing.
But to race to 3-0, in some style I should add, then lose a 4-1 lead to four unanswered goals, equalise with a minute left on the clock, narrowly avoid losing in OT, and then win the shootout having scored the only goal. Well. This will be hard to beat.
It was pure spectacle and entertainment. The however-many-hundreds of people who came along were laughing because most had only paid £7 to see the game of the season.
I’d been thinking about this for a while, but after Saturday it’s firmly set in my mind. I think we can egregiously shove any notion of this as a ‘development league’ in its most cynical guise. Anyone who watches South 2 regularly will know this. I don’t care who you are or what you think you’ve got elsewhere that’s better than this, because I simply don’t believe you.
Yes we want to develop players, but this is more and means so much more to so many people. Hundreds of people on Saturday didn’t decide to turn up to watch their local development team play in their development league. No. They turned up for the love of their club. Because they wanted to see two of the best teams in the league go toe-to-toe.
What we, and everyone else there, got to see was the very best and very worst of Your Haringey Huskies.
The Mustangs start brightly.
There’s an early scramble in front of the Huskies’ net, but they manage to clear. Invicta are fast and hungry. There’s a few early shots Luke Clark has to deal with. Stephen Woodford has the first Haringey shot on net after three minutes.
Invicta take the opening seven, but Haringey start to come back into it. Sam Roberts does well on the forecheck, harrying the Invicta players. Matt Hepburn tries to send one through traffic but it’s blocked.
I love that forward line of Sam, Joe Tearall, and Conner Smith and they’re starting to really click.
After 10 minutes or so in the first period Haringey are utterly irresistible. All three of the goals are of the highest quality. After that period you’d be forgiven for thinking that we were going to steamroller the Mustangs.
The Huskies work the puck across centre ice and onto the left wing, where Sam picks it up and from the left hash marks goes near side, top corner with a great finish.
Next up is Stu who heads straight to net from the right, backhand forehand, backhand forehand, dekes and dekes and goes topshelf for a brilliantly taken solo effort. Such a good goal.
To cap it all off, Sam puts it across the ice from the left to Conner Smith who instinctively spins and backhands it from the slot 5-hole.
Three goals in two minutes for Haringey. Ouch.
The second sees a change of atmosphere. The Mustangs come flying out and score early, in under 20 seconds. A shot comes in from the right point, bounces up into the air and lands at the back post where the waiting forward can whack it in. A far from ideal start.
Invicta continue to knock on the door too. Luke makes a number of good saves early on.
Matt Hepburn snags the puck in the slot but can’t get his shot off. Bryn Griffiths tidies up in the d-zone along the boards. Cass McCormack and Matt almost make it work with a 1-2 but it’s intercepted in the slot.
Sam gives it to Joe Tearall in the slot from behind the net but he airshot’s it. Huskies continue to live on the edge, and although we’re two goals up it would be wise to score the next one.
With 1:40 left in the period, we do just that. Sam gets his second of the night, going high from the right for a much needed Haringey fourth goal.
The third is a different story altogether. It’s tetchy for 10 minutes, with Invicta wanting to force the issue and the clock running down.
They do eventually score from the left wing with a wrister that goes through bodies and into the net farside.
Chaos. Suddenly Haringey have no grip on the game whatsoever. The momentum is all with the Mustangs.
I think we do need to talk about our power plays. There’s a particular chance (and goal) that we’ve been conceding on the power play since at least the second half of last season and now in this one, where after establishing ourselves and possession in the offensive zone, we’ll lose it and the opposition forward will race away and score 1-on-1.
I remember it happened in the 4-1 loss against Guildford at the Palace last year when it was 5-on-3 on the ice.
It’s happened a few times this year, and nearly happened several more, and it happened once again on Saturday.
We lose it in the offensive zone on the power play, and Invicta skate down ice and score bottom right for a short hander and 4-3 on the board. Six minutes left, nerves everywhere.
Too often, instead of being a strength they turn into our weakness and we look vulnerable.
With three-and-a-half minutes left we give away a penalty shot. The forward goes very, very slowly, waits and from near the crease goes 5-hole and scores.
Parity. Invicta tied it up with minutes remaining. But they go one better. With 2:49 on the clock a one-timer flies in far side and they take the lead.
Awful, awful stuff from Haringey. The worst capitulation yet.
But by some miracle, with only a minute remaining in the game, Conner sends a wrister from the slot into the back of the net, and all travelling fans onto their feet. There’s two shots left with as many seconds on the clock with Sam and Woody going close. But that’s it and into overtime we go.
Invicta really, really should win it.
We give possession away almost instantly from behind our own net. It’s carnage, bodies, sticks, flailing diving limbs trying to get in the way of any shot that might be incoming. It’s a miracle we survive, but we do.
We have a couple of chances; Tom Avery shoots over the bar and Joe Willingham forces a glove save from the left. But really, Invicta should have won it there.
We somehow drag ourselves to the shootout. Mustangs first.
Clarky stick save from the right. 0-0.
Sam hits the post. 0-0.
Luke makes a stick save from the left. 0-0.
Conner dangles and sits the goalie down but he’s able to get a hand to the puck as he falls. 0-0.
Invicta shoot wide. 0-0.
Pete Toth dekes and scores from the right (the only Haringey shot I didn’t manage to record!). 0-1.
Invicta shoot over the bar. 0-1.
Tom Avery sends the keeper the wrong way but hits the post with his backhand. 0-1.
Clarky stands tall, Invicta forward skates straight down the slot and tries to go 5-hole, but Luke’s wise to it and it’s a pad save and pandemonium in the D block. 0-1.
Huskies. Win. The. Game.
It is a shame that one team had to lose because neither deserved it. Mustangs at least take a point, but for large parts of the game were the better side. The third period in particular, we had absolutely no answer to them.
Luke Clark is awarded player of the match for his performance across the whole game and three monster saves in the shootout.
That win means we definitely get the cup semi-final weekend over January 27th/28th.
The last game this year is away at Basingstoke. I’m expecting a war.
We played Basingstoke across back-to-back weekends last year, winning 10-0 at the Palace only to find ourselves 2-1 down at the end of the second period the following Sunday. Matt Hepburn scored a couple of great shorthanded goals that day, and the Huskies came back to win 5-2.
But this year will be different.
They’ve pulled in a lot of friends from the National League, and they’re on a six-game win streak.
The team talk writes itself. These lads think they’re going to drop down to South 2 and walk all over you; so what are you going to do about it?
One last push for 2023 and then onto the downslope in the New Year. Freewheeling all the way.
Let’s Go Huskies.