The Bristol Pitbulls opened their 2017-18 league campaign with a 5-4 win against the Slough Jets on Sunday in a game that wasn’t settled until four seconds to go.
It’s fair to say that Bristol had most of the game’s early running, helped in no small part by Slough’s repeated trips to the penalty bench. However, Josh Dolphin putting the puck past former Pitbull Chris Douglas on Bristol’s third powerplay attempt was all that the home side had to show for their dominance.
A penalty to Josh Dolphin a few minutes later proved to be the catalyst for Slough finding their own momentum in the game. Slough captain Liam Underdown converting the powerplay past Ross Miller in the Bristol net.
That warning wasn’t heeded by Bristol who would then make a further four trips to the penalty bench in the remainder of the first period.
Fortunately, it would still be Bristol who would finish the period with a one-goal lead. Mike Hargreaves stepped back on to the ice to end a double short-handed play. While still a man down, Hargreaves then jumped onto a turnover and put a sublime wrist shot into the Slough goal.
Jets tied the game up on the powerplay in the second period’s opening minute through Timo Lindgren. Bristol struggled to find space on the ice to re-take the lead with Slough doing a good job of closing Bristol down, playing a strong game, getting into the home team’s face and finishing their hits.
Finally, Olly Shone and Giacomo Raffaelli found themselves unmarked as Douglas came out to poke check a loose puck away, with Shone getting to the puck first to restore his team’s lead.
That was turned into a two-goal lead in the third period when Mike Hargreaves found himself alone on the break again. This time, however, he tried to pull Douglas out of the net before shooting. Douglas just filled enough of his net to take the angle away from Hargreaves. But it left a fast charging Logan Prince to score into what was effectively an empty net.
If Bristol harboured any thoughts that that two goal lead may be enough, they were quickly ended by Slough’s player/coach, Lukas Smital.
Smital had proven a problem all game long and had been instrumental in setting up his side’s first two goals. With 10 minutes to go, he reduced the gap to one after breaking down the right wing before tying the game up with a powerplay goal on a delayed penalty less than five minutes later.
Possibly as much down to the amount of time spent short-handed as anything, Pitbulls were struggling with pace this late in the game. Particularly against Smital’s line. One suspects that overtime would have been an uncomfortable experience.
And then stepped up Shone. Scorer of more goals than any other player in the team’s history, not many will have been sweeter than this. With just four seconds on the clock, and from what felt like an impossible angle out on the left wing, he score his second of the game to ensure that Bristol would start the league with a win.