Coventry Blaze earned a vital 3-2 win over Guildford Flames, as the race for the top half intensifies in the Elite League. Blaze, who fell behind in the opening minute, came from behind to complete a memorable comeback without the help of Luke Ferrara, the league’s top-scorer, and Ross Venus who are currently on international duty with Team GB.
It was an opening minute to forget for the hosts, with Guildford Flames taking the lead just 35 seconds after puck drop. A smart play by Braylon Shmyr allowed the Flames forward to break beyond Dillon Eichstadt, creating enough space ahead of the crease to allow him to place the puck between the legs of CJ Motte.
Danny Stewart’s side responded admirably, testing Travis Fullerton with finessed efforts from Bloodoff and Laakkonen within five minutes of falling behind. During the opening phases of the first period, the visitors seemed to be coping better without their Team GB teammates, but the Blaze would soon strike back.
On twelve minutes, Guildford Flames dumped the puck into the Blaze zone; it backfired. Smart defensive play from David Clements allowed the hosts to break quickly. With the Flames on the retreat, Eichstadt’s driven effort was deflected beyond Fullerton by Johnny Curran to draw the hosts level.
A smart combination between Hache and Bloodoff almost gave Coventry Blaze an early lead in the second
With moments remaining in the first period, fan-favourite CJ Motte was forced into action once again, thwarting three dangerous plays to send the hosts into the break on equal terms.
With tempers fraying, both sides visited the penalty box for the first time in the second box. That didn’t stop the hosts from starting the period brightly, a smart combination between Hache and Bloodoff almost gave Coventry Blaze an early lead in the second.
With Kruise Reddick in the box for tripping, Blaze heightened the pressure on the Flames defence, most notably as a goalmouth scramble almost saw David Broll onto the scoresheet. Broll, renowned across the league for his physicality, came to the fore soon after; was awarded a minor interference penalty for his troubles. The host’s most impressive penalty killer excelled between the pipes, Motte was once again on hand to keep Stewart’s side level. Fierce efforts from Crooks and Reddick were not enough to break the deadlock.
Instead, it was left to Andrew Johnston to fire Coventry Blaze ahead. A fine break caught the Guildford Flames exposes in defence, unable to stop Laakkonen and Johnston from giving the Blaze their first lead of the night. The Blaze would soon double their lead at the start of the third period. A bouncing puck arrived at the feet of Alex Forbes, who utilised his composure to aim a driven shot over the glove of Fullerton.
Coventry Blaze survived a late scare after Jordan Rowley’s close-range effort reduced the travelling side’s deficit to just one
With Coventry Blaze two goals to the good, the home support continued to grow into the game with chants of “CJ Motte, Motte, Motte” ringing around a buoyant Skydome Arena. Two minutes later, Justin Hache forced another stop from Fullerton, who plucked the Canadian’s powerful slapshot out of the air with relative ease.
Coventry Blaze survived a late scare after Jordan Rowley’s close-range effort reduced the travelling side’s deficit to just one, ending the game to a jubilant standing ovation from the home side. Coventry Blaze, who narrowly missed out on an empty net goal in the closing stages, have consolidated fifth position in the EIHL, moving four points clear of Guildford Flames. With fourteen fixtures remaining, Coventry Blaze sit fifteen points above the play-off line and look increasingly assured of securing a place in the post-season.
Speaking after the game, Blaze head coach, Danny Stewart said: “I though we played a really good hockey game. Not an ideal start there, thirty-five seconds in, but you know what? To be fair the kid made a good play, really skilled play and scored a really nice goal against us; but I think from then on, we didn’t give too much, from a defensive standpoint I though we limited them off the rush.” Previously an Elite League champion as a player with the Blaze, Stewart added: “it was a good sixty minutes all round”.