Rhys Thomas, Rosie Loyd, Henry Durand, Vinay Patel, Jack Perceval, and Alex Ismail
University of Nottingham secured a historic win in the opening fixture of Varsity 2023 in a tense contest with Nottingham Trent University. The Green and Gold were second best for most of the game but turned it on when it mattered most to overturn a 1-0 deficit and record a 2-1 win in the final five minutes of the match. The Impact Sport team reports from the suites of the Motorpoint Arena.
With the roars of both the Uni of and Trent fans echoing through the sold-out Motorpoint Arena, Varsity Ice Hockey kicked off the 2023 programme. An end-to-end start demonstrated just how much both teams wanted to put on a show for the 5,000 plus spectators.
After a mistake at the back for UoN, keeper Thornton was forced to pull off a nimble save to deny an early Trent lead. Minutes later, green and gold number 14 Johnson was put into the sinbin for interference. Two minutes later, on his return to the rink he was straight away 1-on-1 with Trent’s keeper who stood firm to deny the advance.
Straight down the other end, Thornton was called into action for yet another huge save to prevent a free-flowing Trent attack. After a strong UoN resurgence, Trent launched a rapid counterattack which was saved yet again by the UoN’s shot stopper. With Trent zipping the puck around nicely, the game mellowed briefly until the Green and Gold won possession back and forced a smart save from the NTU keeper.
Another Trent attack followed, as did another save from the star man Thornton
After a strong passage of play for UoN, Trent took over possession and a snapshot from close is well saved. Another Trent attack followed, as did another save from the star man Thornton. An effort from distance from the pink team whizzed over the top, and seconds later Trent put another excellent chance from close wide.
UoN were struggling to get a hold in the game so far, and throughout the first period it was all Trent. The first scuffle of the night broke out by the NTU goal – though both sets of players represent the same club (Nottingham Mavericks), this is still an intense Varsity rivalry.
With five to go in the first third, UoN were trying to hold on, but Trent broke the deadlock to take a deserved lead. A sloppy pass needlessly gifted possession to NTU, and after an excellent save the rebound was put away clinically by number 38, Marks Kanins.
UoN responded well when play resumed, but Trent found themselves in on goal. But Notts were able to clear as the match began to get heated! A UoN player was sent flying into the wall after a strong NTU challenge, then after some pressure from the Green and Gold a melee erupted around the goalmouth and was promptly broken up by the officials.
The first third ends with Trent 1-0 to the good, and in all honesty UoN are lucky to only trail by the solitary goal
By now, strong challenges from both sides were crashing in, and Trent give away a penalty and consequently go a player down. Despite their inferior number, a mazy run almost led to a second NTU goal after beating a trio of sliding UoN players, but yet again the man mountain in goal was on hand to save his side. With that, the first third ends with Trent 1-0 to the good, and in all honesty UoN are lucky to only trail by the solitary goal.
During the interval, the crowd were treated to some exciting entertainment. Two under 10’s ice hockey delighted the crowd, who cheered the youngsters on as loudly as they did the main event. Alongside the action on the rink, UoN and NTU Dance society routines went down extremely well with the crowd. To the surprise of Henry, they were performing on a stage to the side of the arena – was he wrong for expecting the dancers to be on the ice?
Illogical thoughts aside, the teams re-emerged, Trent leading the way with UoN not far behind, a representation of the action we’d just seen. Both sides were met with a fair share of boos and cheers, and as the second face off is contested chants of U-O-N are greeted with a cacophony of jeers from the Trent section.
Soon after the resumption, Trent #75 Peters gave away a penalty, meaning the team in pink were to be down to five for the next two minutes. This presented a real chance for UoN to push for a way back into the game. Despite this, the next big chance fell to Trent, but another 1-on-1 was missed by #94 Barlas.
As Trent returned to full strength, they continued to assert their dominance. This dominance was also reflected in the stands, with the Trent crowd bellowing out a lovely chant referring to the fact that they ‘would rather be a poly than a [certain expletive]’. Unfortunately, things got worse for the UoN side when Harry Harrison (so good they almost named him twice) was sent to the sin bin for interference.
As UoN continued to trail their rivals, they struggled to get a foot hold in a third that continued to be dominated by a Trent side, which looked much sharper and coordinated. However, me must take nothing away from UoN keeper Thornron, who was once again magnificent in the period.
A difference in quality was noticeable in the final third for both sides, with Trent oozing confidence and able to travel with the puck for longer, whereas UoN found it difficult to get in a rhythm
The closest UoN came to scoring at this point was Marples’ effort on goal which forced a reflex save from the Trent keeper. A difference in quality was noticeable in the final third for both sides, with Trent oozing confidence and able to travel with the puck for longer, whereas UoN found it difficult to get in a rhythm. The last action of the period saw a shot dragged wide by UoN in what was a relatively dull quarter for the Green and Gold.
Entering the final third, morale was not high. UoN had just twenty minutes to find a goal, and the only green and gold success witnessed so far was that of UoN’s Sports Officer in the interval’s shootout. Still great, of course, but not quite the goal UoN were looking for.
Trent came out of the blocks aggressively, and with UoN feeling the pressure, the match was beginning to look like it was slipping away. Both sides continued to force strikes on target, but each goalkeeper was too quick to ruthlessly block them away. With one player off for ‘striking’ UoN were momentarily weakened. Back to full strength after a few minutes, UoN continued their comeback campaign.
As we entered the final half of the third, a loose puck went flying towards the Trent bench. Luckily no one was hurt, but did we just seen a metaphor of the danger that lied ahead for this plucky Trent team as they aim to defend their lead? A period of UoN pressure saw a shot from Mead fly harmlessly into the side netting.
The Trent fans continued to urge their team on, and all rose in a chant in ‘stand up if you hate UON’. At that point, it felt like a Trent home atmosphere at Motorpoint, UoN supporters falling quiet, seemingly resigned to an opening night Varsity loss.
Hello, hello, here we go! Clive Tyldesley’s famous words in Istanbul were now apt in Nottingham as suddenly, out of nothing, we had a grandstand finale on our hands as a sublime solo slalom from Shaw ends with a tidy finish to send the UoN end berserk! It was an absolute wonder-goal from the Notts player, cutting in from the left-hand side to beat two defenders and fly the puck into the net. With just under five minutes to go, UoN had salvaged the goal they so desperately needed, one which looked like it may never come!
The game now had a new breath of life, as chants of UoN echoed around the arena from a resurgent green and gold crowd. À la Messi against Iran in 2014, it was a case of give possession to Shaw and pray. Every time the UoN player got the puck there was huge anticipation around the arena. After a couple more forays forward for both sides, the game entered an intense final 120 seconds.
There was an eruption of noise from the UoN end as the puck slid gloriously slowly into the Trent goal!
And then, with less than two minutes to go, as graceful as the pre-match skating performance, Shaw found himself edge seamlessly past the Trent defence and played a dangerous pass across goal. Time slowed to almost a standstill as every single person inside the arena craned their necks to see where the puck would emerge. Suddenly, there was an eruption of noise from the UoN end as the puck slid gloriously slowly into the Trent goal! Shaw had done it again and it was BEDLAM in the green and gold section! What an incredible turnaround!
GOAAAALLLLLL SHAW HAS DONE IT AGAIN WITH A MINUTE AND A HALF TO GO!!!!!— Impact Sport (@ImpactSport) February 6, 2023
A once jubilant Trent crowd were dead on their feet, stunned into silence as UoN supporters shook the seating in wild celebration, fans still jumping about as the game resumed with little over 90 seconds to play.
After a short injury stoppage, the match resumed with 42 seconds remaining, UoN down to five after a tripping penalty. Trent threw everything at the remaining seconds, subbing their keeping off for an outfielder in a desperate attempt for an equaliser. Each UoN tackle and pass was greeted with a huge cheer as they battled to maintain the lead in a game they had chased since the first period.
For Trent, it wasn’t enough, and as the final buzzer sounded, the UoN team stormed the ice, throwing their helmets and sticks high into the sky in joy. They soaked in the loyal UoN support, fist pumping alongside some questionable dance moves. The teams shook hands amicably, their clubhood evident.
Reflecting on what was a magnificent Varsity match, we can say for certain it will go down as one of the most memorable all-time Notts Varsity clashes. We hope you enjoyed that as much as we did! University of Nottingham take a 1-0 lead in Varsity 2023, with plenty of action left to follow as they bid for a tenth consecutive title.
Rhys Thomas, Rosie Loyd, Henry Durand, Vinay Patel, Jack Perceval, and Alex Ismail
Featured image courtesy of @uonsport. Permission given to Impact to use. No changes were made to this image.
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