If there’s one event every student in Nottingham has to attend over the course of their time at University, it’s the Varsity Ice Hockey event. Undoubtedly the showcase event during the Varsity season, Nottingham University play their Trent rivals every year in front of a sell-out crowd at the Capital FM arena and, as always, yesterday’s event lived up to the high expectations.
The game was packed from the get-go with Uni dominating the opening few minutes of play, mainly due to the great link up play of forwards Ben Gillingham, Luke Branin, and Jack Baveystock. Branin had an early shot saved, but followed up immediately with a goal to give Uni a deserved early lead. The crowd were on their feet, with the Nottingham students using a wide variety of chants to celebrate their early success, including the legendary ‘Stand up if you know your dad’ line. Harsh maybe, but the atmosphere amongst the Uni crowd was electric, and it continued as netminder Richard Griffiths made a fantastic save for Uni, only to then set up Simon Bell for a chance at goal which unfortunately hit the post.
Florida born Tom Bradshaw, winner of the Florida State Championship 3 times before heading over to Nottingham, began to dominate the play and Trent soon found themselves having to dig deep to prevent themselves from falling further behind. Uni proved too strong with 2 goals in quick succession, with the latter from Simon Bell who was looking hungry for more. Thankfully for all the Trent fans that had attended, it was soon game on again as Gareth O’Flaherty began to get himself into the game and scored late on for Trent, leaving the score at 3:1 before the period ended.
It was a storming first half, with the crowd engaging in chants to wind each other up and some great attacking play from Uni in particular. Unfortunately the second period failed to deliver, with no goals scored throughout and both teams finding themselves a player down on numerous occasions. If this was a boxing match, you’d be inclined to give the round to Trent, with the best opportunity coming from their number 19 Ryan Rathbone who had a great opportunity to claw one back only to force a good save from Richard Griffiths. Despite the atmosphere being slightly more subdued, the Uni fans were clearly happy that they were comfortably in the lead.
It was the final period that had the crowd screaming, chanting and yes, even crying. If the final quarter of the Varsity Basketball match left Trent students heartbroken, this could well have been their redemption. Whilst Uni started incredibly strongly, with Jack Clarkson’s powerful shot and rebound both saved by James Cantle, Trent began to play themselves back into the game and were rewarded with two quick goals, one from O’Flaherty who was having a stunning game and was clearly dictating play against the tired legs of the Nottingham team. There was clearly tension in the air, with the Uni support clearly subdued whilst the Trent Army were on their feet chanting. It was anyone’s game with just 5 minutes left and tensions were showing on the pitch as Reece Clarke, Trent captain, got himself involved in a fight with Uni captain Oliver Glover, resulting in both players being sent to the sin bin.
The momentum was with Trent at this point, who were mounting attack after attack. Clearly the nerves were kicking in amongst the Uni side having lost a 2 goal lead in a matter of minutes, and then spent much of the last 3 minutes tucked inside their own half. Thankfully an inspired Ben Gillingham led a last minute attack for Uni and he found himself setting up Luke Branin, who scored with just a minute remaining, silencing the Trent section of the fans who had just watched their team come back from 3-0 down.
Nottingham held on in the dying seconds and claimed a 4-3 win after an incredibly close game, representative of how the Varsity season has been so far. It was easy to see why this is such a hyped up event and it clearly didn’t fail to deliver once again.