Sutton Sting edge Minators thriller to keep title hopes alive

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Sutton Sting kept their title hopes alive with a hard-fought 6-4 win at Manchester Minators in the National Ice Hockey League One Moralee Conference.

Before the game Manchester were sitting second to bottom in the league, but with the league’s leading goalscorer, import Lukas Zeman, in top form Sting boss Ian Johnson knew this wasn’t a game they could take lightly and the Minotaurs were given complete respect.

But Sutton are the current in-form team having won nine of their last 11 games, and it was essential that they secured maximum points to maintain a play-off spot and pressurise the top teams around them in the league.

Sutton travelled with 21 players, while the home team only iced 16 players.

However with their latest signing, netminder Jorge El-Hage, who joined the Minators from the Manchester Phoenix English Premier League side, the Minators were going to be a match for anyone.

The game was immediately taken to the Minators, but El-Hage soaked up everything the Sting forwards threw at him, and after some sustained pressure at the other end it was John Murray who fired past Sting goalie Zimozdra from long range to put the Manchester team ahead at 14.59.

Just under two minutes later the lead was doubled when man of the moment Zeman fired home from close range to make it 2-0 at 16.49.

Shellshocked and under pressure, the Sting boys dusted themselves down and looked for inspiration.

It was immediate as Chris Colegate received a pass from defenceman Ryan Johnson and delicately wrapped the puck around the net and neatly under El-Hage at 17.04.

That goal seemed to lift the Sting, and with 19.40 on the clock, it was Sutton’s super sniper, Chris Sykes, who beat El-Hage for the second time in under three minutes to bring life into the game and level the scores.

Period two saw the game flow with both teams playing some nice hockey, and both being kept in the game with some excellent netminding.

However, it was again Sting veteran forward Colegate who took the game by the scruff of the neck, and scored the go-ahead goal for Sutton, easily beating El-Hage at close quarters with 29:40 played with Sutton now leading for the first time in the game.

A minute later it was Manchester’s turn to apply the pressure and equalise as Lee Pollitt jumped off the bench behind Sutton’s last D-man, to receive a great head man pass from Brian Worrall, and easily beat Sutton netminder Dmitri Zimozdra high above the blocker side.

Now the game was alive and there was certainly all to play for.

As the seconds counted down in the period and just before the break, it was Sutton who pushed ahead again.

Again getting on top and forcing save after save from the new goalie, Sting defenceman Simon Offord hit Sutton’s fourth goal after a scramble in front of the Minators’ net.

With the momentum squarely with the Sting, another goal was added with less than 50 seconds played as Sutton’s Canadian import Thomas Stuart-Dant neatly cut inside, finishing the pass from Adam Robinson to make it 5-3.

The pace of the game was starting to show on the short bench that Manchester had, but they still stuck at the challenge and worked hard throughout the third period, and with 50.27 on the clock, they halved the lead with a neat finish which looked like Zimozdra had gloved, but the puck rolled out and into the net, putting Manchester back in the game.

With less than five minutes of regulation time remaining Manchester tried to make the final push until their forward Sean Day received a two minute penalty for slashing at 56.27.

With the Sting on their second power play of the night, and with their recent power play form, it wasn’t a surprise that they reinstated their two-goal lead with a second goal of the night for Offord.

This victory gave Sutton two excellent and hard fought points in a game that both sides could have won on the night.

Sting Coach Ian Johson applauded the work ethic and team spirit that the Minators have built this season and said: “It was a tough game, and nothing less than I expected.

“This year there have been many changes with the Manchester team and management, and their league position does not reflect the quality and passion they have, nor their ability.

“We were taken all the way today by a short bench who worked hard for 60 minutes and never let their heads go down. This team will take plenty more points off others in the remainder of the season.”

He added: “My guys dug deep, and maintained composure throughout the 60 minutes, and when called upon, the senior guys in the team, Chris Colegate, Ryan Johnson and Simon Offord all pulled-out the stops and got us right back in it.

“The smaller ice at Altrincham doesn’t suit how we play, and Manchester can be proud of what they are achieving this year.

“Their import forward, Lukas Zeman, is one of the best forwards in the league, and they always give us a game, so I wish them well for the remainder of the season.

“We are now only a point behind Billingham Stars in second place, and depending on how they go on Sunday against Blackburn Hawks, we could be in a very promising position come Monday morning.”