Photo Credit: Tom Scott ©
The Islanders season came to a close this weekend with an unfortunate lack of silverware.
The season started slowly for the Isles, winning just four of their first seven matches. The veterans and new recruits had to build chemistry, which put them at a disadvantage going into the season against teams that had played together for years. Plus, with some key players picking up injuries before the season and in the first few games, the team was bound to struggle. The scale of the losses to Chelmsford put the Islanders league hopes in jeopardy early on, but they rallied hard and went on a 15 game winning streak. This put them not only into the cup finals and the playoffs, but also gave them a realistic chance of winning the league. The consistency the team found mid-season was even more impressive given the inconsistency in the line up. Several key players were called up to the Phantoms throughout the season, which meant lines had to be chopped and changed regularly. This disruption however was not exclusively negative. The absence of players provided the opportunity for the Islanders to introduce some junior players into the line-up. The Peterborough set-up is now heavily focused on player development and, as players step up to the Phantoms and beyond, younger players have the chance to begin their senior hockey career with the Islanders. The confidence these youngsters played with this season inspires hope for seasons to come.
Here's what Stevie Johnson had to say about the season...
"Firstly I want to thank everyone for all the hard work it takes to put this team on the ice. Dave and Jo for their endless hours doing paperwork and putting in their own money to support the team. All the off ice helpers (to many to name so don’t want to forget anybody) for all they do for our games and training. All the players family’s for letting their loved ones out to play a few nights a week and weekends."
"Then most importantly all the players who have been excellent this season. You guys have not got what you have deserved this season but have got very close and all should be proud. This season has been testing with such a big squad, so to leave out players has been very tough but everyone has stood by the choices made. When I look back on the season it was better than the 14/15 season. Phantoms used a lot of our player this year. Wallis, Moore, White, Stokes, Lane & Long with young Medcalf getting a call up at the end."
"I just want to say enjoy the summer and thanks again to everyone. I am sure what every happens over the break Islanders will be back ready to go again 16/17."
Followed by Steve Wren...
"What a roller coaster ! Massive highs and massive lows. Everything from a 15 game winning streak to 2 heart breaking semi final defeats."
"I have been involved with the Islanders since their inception in the 1996 / 1997 season and so far this has been a season that would rival many of those in the earlier days that I saw as a player on the team. The dressing room was everything a coach could want, lots of banter, lots of fun but when the chips were down a room full of players that would go the extra mile for each other and stick up for each other no matter what. It is a credit to the organisation as well as the players that the team have seen so many players progress through the ranks this season from U18's stepping up to Islanders and Islanders stepping up to regular ice at EPL level."
"I am not sure the team that I am proud to be associated with, could have given any more and I would like to go on record to say that regardless of the end of season results we did have the best team in the league for all those reasons I have mentioned above."
"Finally, a massive thanks to Dave and Jo Lane, Wendy and Lou for all your support throughout the season. We would not have accomplished any of this without you. Here's looking forward to the 20th anniversary season next season."
In the penultimate weekend of this Islanders season, the Islanders found themselves in Alexandra Palace taking on the Swindon Wildcats in the NIHL South 2 Cup semifinal. The Islanders were keen to improve on last year’s performance and progress to the final. They started strong fighting hard and finding the net through Clint Herring less than three minutes in. However the Wildcats fought back and levelled the game in the seventh minute. Not to be outdone, the Isles took the lead once more a few minutes later after some beautiful link up play between Zandy Cleves and Brad Moore. This goal was to mark the start of a magic night for Moore, who put the Isles 3-1 to the good as the game clock struck 11:33. The Islanders stalled in the second period and the Wildcats were able to tie the game up. However, Moore came back with a vengeance in the third period netting two more goals. Unfortunately, these goals were separated by a fourth goal from Swindon. When the Islanders picked up a penalty 2 minutes 30 seconds from the end, a 5-4 game seemed like an increasingly vulnerable scoreline. However, it was the Isles that struck shorthanded courtesy of Conor Pollard, securing a spot in the final.
The cup final was a tense affair from beginning to end. Cleves gave the Isles a lead after a threaded pass from Stokes 7 minutes in and they held that lead throughout the first period. Spirits remained high during the break, but a lapse in concentration at the start of the second allowed Chelmsford to tie the game up. Both teams assumed defensive positions and the rest of the period remained goalless. The final period saw a 50% increase in shots from both sides as they went for the win. In the 50th minute Stokes gave the Islanders the lead, but Baldock stopped the Islanders cheers, making the game 2-2 just one minute later. A controversial penalty four minutes from the end turned out to be the Islanders downfall. Just before the penalty expired, the Warriors used the man advantage to take a lead with less than two minutes to go. A stroke of luck for the Islanders found them on a 6 on 3 (after pulling net minder Dan Lane) for the final 40 seconds of the game, but they were unable to capitalise and watched the cup slip through their fingers.
The season was not done however and the Cardiff Fire waited around the corner in the NIHL South 2 playoffs. The Islanders were disappointed from the Cup Weekend, but were excited to face another different team. The league set-up has meant that the Islanders have come up against some teams 6 times or more, so a change of pace was welcomed, despite the distance between rinks. It was Cardiff that took on the away journey first, travelling to Bretton on the Saturday. The game started in a rather cagey fashion as both teams tried to get a measure of one another, but a dump on goal from distance slipped past an unlucky Dan Lane and gave the Fire the lead 5 minutes in. After this however, it was all Islanders hockey. Shot after shot peppered the Cardiff keeper, but Myers stood on his head to keep the shots out and was only beaten once when White, Moore and Stokes linked up with some stunning teamwork. The Isles outshot the Fire 40 to 19 and, despite the game ending as a draw, the Islanders were confident that they could secure victory in Cardiff.
After a long coach journey and a dressing room mix up, the second leg of the playoff was ready to get underway. The islanders missing key forwards Brad Moore and Conor Pollard who both picked up injuries in Saturdays game. Whilst the first leg of the match up was reasonably amicable, the second leg was plagued with penalties, particularly for Cardiff. Craig Wallis twanged a shot off Myers helmet and into the goal when he stepped in on the power play to start proceedings, but the period ended level after a shorthanded equaliser from the Fire left the Islanders angry. The Fire took the lead in the second period. Dale Jowett was able to put the Islanders ahead, but the Fire struck back with two goals before the period was done. The Islanders were staring down the barrel of a long journey home and a loss was not a desirable leaving gift. Craig Wallis was the man to step up to the plate. Despite an injury to his ribs and wrist, Wallis set up two power play goals in the space of 3 minutes. Shaun Yardley and James White found themselves on the end of some great passes to retake the lead. The Islanders looked strong until the final 5 minutes. Then, an implosion. A string of penalties allowed the Fire a 5 on 3 opportunity which they capitalised on through James Manson. The Islanders continued the nurse penalties and just had to hope for extra time. Unfortunately the 4 on 4 extra time yielded no rest, as more penalties kept the Isles on the defensive for the majority of the sudden death period. When they finally returned to even strength they threatened the goal, but there was no time to clinch the victory and the game was sent to penalty shots. Nathan Pollard showed his talent with a confident deke, finishing backhand and ringing the cross bar as the puck flew in. However, this was not enough as two Fire players found the net on their attempts and sealed the victory for the Fire.
A good season for the Islanders overall, but they met an unfortunate end. So, to paraphrase T.S. Elliot... This is how the season ends, not with a bang, but with penalties.
On behalf of all of the Islanders players and staff, thank you all for your support this year! We hope to see you again next season!