The University of Nottingham (UoN) survived a late Nottingham Trent University (NTU) comeback to edge the Varsity Ice Hockey 4-3 in a thrilling encounter at the Capital FM Arena.
Goals from Alex Stewart, MVP Tom Bradshaw (2) and Christy Johnson-Brown put UoN up 4-0 as the green and gold dominated the first two periods, with goaltender Jon Betts making several outstanding saves to keep Trent out.
NTU battled back into the game with three goals in the final period but, with a fracas in the final seconds, UoN held out to clinch a third straight Varsity Ice Hockey victory.
Both sides came out swinging and attacking from the off though neither could capitalise on power play opportunities. Trent had the edge in the early going but Betts proved to be a brick wall in the goal, stopping a whopping 21 shots in the first period.
Betts carried Uni of to finish the second period up 4-0 with a hat-trick of blocks
UoN waited until deep in the first period to make their mark. The first goal came when Alex Stewart reacted quickest to a rebound after Luke Watson tested the Trent goalie initially.
And the green and gold did not wait long to score again. Within a minute Bradshaw sent a laser shot into the corner of the net on a breakaway, before Christy Johnson-Brown sent the puck home to take a commanding 3-0 lead into the second period.
UoN broke through again with Bradshaw’s second goal of the night, as the forward poked it through the Trent netminder’s five-hole. By contrast, Betts carried Uni of to finish the second period up 4-0 with a hat-trick of blocks.
But Trent came out fighting in the third. A rare lapse in concentration from Betts allowed NTU to finally pull one back, before a converted penalty shot gave Trent hope of a turnaround.
With seconds to go, the tension boiled over. Beer cups, helmets and punches were sent flying when a scrap broke out by the benches, much to the delight of the packed 7,000-strong arena
The raucous pink crowd were ignited again when some defensive hesitation from UoN let Trent in to reduce the arrears to 4-3. With eight minutes left in the game, the green and gold were clinging on as NTU peppered Betts with more pucks.
And, with seconds to go, the tension boiled over. Beer cups, helmets and punches were sent flying when a scrap broke out by the benches, much to the delight of the packed 7,000-strong arena.
Confusion ensued as the UoN players thought the final buzzer sounded, only for the referees to pull play back for an icing call with seven seconds on the clock.
But the green and gold held on to repeat last year’s scoreline and extend UoN’s Varsity Series lead to 6-1.
After the game, Bradshaw told Impact: “It was amazing. It was a whole team effort. Everyone wanted it and worked as a team – there were no superstars out there. We won as a solid unit.”
The MVP also clarified what exactly happened in the hectic final seconds of the game.
He said: “I iced the puck and the refs called it off, and then they didn’t. The clock kept going to zero and we were like “Ahh we won!” but, apparently, they called icing with seconds left and there was a fight. It was crazy.”
Goalie Betts also spoke about his relief that UoN halted Trent’s comeback just in time.
“There were plays that maybe should have been called, but when you’re tired and trying to catch your breath, things like that get to you a little bit more,” he said.
“Also you’ve got to let them think they’ve got a chance… Otherwise, you won’t make a game of it!”
But last year’s Varsity MVP was quick to praise the players in front of him.
He added: “There are more things to the game than saves. The team played great in front of me. Once I make the save, they take away the rebound and there’s no goal there, so it was the whole team. A great, collective effort.”
Additional reporting by Ben Harrison
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Images: dgtl Concepts photographer Jonny Karling