Epic London Encounter Brings Successive Wins for Oxford

On Saturday, 26 November 2011, the Men’s Blues Ice Hockey Club faced-off against rivals London Dragons in a British University Ice Hockey Association (BUIHA) division clash.  The London Dragons, composed of students from all major London-based universities, have always been a tough and physical match-up for the Blues.  The Men’s Blues were forced to earn their victory over the Dragons, overcoming a three-goal deficit and clinching the lead in the dying moments of the game. The Oxford squad looked flat in the first period of Saturday night’s matchup at Oxford Ice Rink, with the Dragons producing all of the period’s scoring chances, capitalising twice on odd-man rushes after neutral zone turnovers. But for Oxford goaltender Ryan  Berg’s (USA) outstanding kick-saves, a Blues comeback would have seemed unrealistic by the end of the first.

The start of the second period was not much more promising for the Blues, as within the first minute of play, London scored on a beautiful breakaway shot that sent the water-bottle on top of Berg’s net flying.  An opportune power-play goal by Adrian Haight (Canada) off a rebound put Oxford on the scoreboard, but the Dragons responded with another of their own to make the game 4-1. This, however, did not discourage the Blues. Instead of retreating, they refocused their efforts and played their trademark style of unrelenting hits and scrappy goals. The Blues’ strength in numbers paid off halfway through the match, as the grinders began to wear down the two-line London squad. Haight put away a second rebound goal, and Jon Morrison (Canada) then showed great strength and skill, out-muscling two London defenders in order to regain control of his first attempt on the rebound, and consequently burying it at the second time of asking. The second intermission was a welcome break for London’s players, many of whom were on the wrong end of  6’7” Dave Lewis’ (UK) demolishing hits.

The third period delivered what some are already calling the most exciting twenty minutes of regular season hockey played in England. The game’s physical intensity certainly increased, as did the scoring. David Damberger (Canada) tied the game at 4-4 early in the period, but London took the lead again soon after. Oxford’s next two goals were successively met with a London response, until a tip by Damberger tied the game for the last time with just over four minutes left.

Tensions ran high as more than once gloves dropped and both teams poured blood and sweat onto the ice, hoping to prove themselves the best team in the BUIHA. This fired up the home crowd of more than a hundred fans, helping the Blues summon the energy to grind out the game until the end. A penalty on a cheap hit from behind gave Oxford the power play with three minutes left. Excellent puck movement and traffic in front of the London net created the perfect setup for Christian Shepherd (UK) to rip a low shot from the blueline, which after deflecting off Danberger’s skate, snuck past the Dragons’ goalie, giving Oxford an 8-7 lead for the first time in the game, with only 80 seconds remaining. This late lead proved to be decisive, as London’s empty-net efforts and a flurry of shots were unable to overcome Oxford’s defence. Particularly crucial were some great end-of-game saves from Berg, including a 180-degree spin-around save against a shot right at the goalmouth.

Adrian Haight secured his second hattrick in as many games, while Damberger’s disciplined positioning and hard work earned him a hattrick as well.  The game’s MVP award went to goaltender Ryan Berg, while the venerable Oxford tradition of the Juggernaut Jacket, given to the player evincing the most grit and tenacity for his team, was awarded to David Lewis, who had delivered punishing hits all game. Oxford captain Gino Bruni (Canada), who had scored a goal of his own, perfectly summarised the Blues’ hockey philosophy in a post-game interview, remarking: “Oxford hockey: it wasn’t pretty but we get the job done against a great rival.”

During 0th week of Hilary Term, the Blues will commence their annual tour of Eastern Europe, playing two to three games before resuming league play during the term.