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Left Panther: Starting to Grind out Results

5 December 18 words: Ally Porter
illustrations: Adam Poole

After a disappointing run of results in October, November was a better month for the Nottingham Panthers.

It all started with the final Challenge Cup group game at home against a short benched Manchester Storm. Panthers needed a win to top the group and, after a tight first period, took the lead at 26.59 through Tyler VanKleef’s first goal for the club. The game remained close throughout, but with goals from Justin Kovacs and Robert Farmer to secure the win.

League action followed, as Panthers came up against the Cardiff Devils. Previous games between the two had been close, and this was no different. The first period ended all square, a Stephen Dixon powerplay goal for Devils cancelling out Alexandre Bolduc’s opener for Panthers.

Panthers retook the lead early in the 2nd period, Tyler Biggs firing past Bowns just 91 seconds into the period. Panthers did a great job keeping Devils forwards at bay, as they comfortably outshot the visitors 16-4 in the middle period, and deservedly went into the final break ahead. Just over three minutes into the final period and Devils showed how dangerous they can be as Josh Batch slotted home an equaliser.

Given the recent run of results, you could be forgiven for thinking it was going to happen again, but Panthers were having none of it. A mere fifteen seconds later and they were back in front, Justin Kovacs scoring from close in, and knocking the steam out of the Devils. The rest of the period was similar to the 2nd, with Panthers outshooting Devils 3-1, but unable to find another way past Bowns. It didn’t matter though, as Kovacs goal proved to be the winner and bagged Panthers two valuable points.

Next up was another home game, this time against new league leaders Belfast Giants.... and it wasn’t pretty! Panthers were just not at the races, and a lacklustre performance saw them deservedly beaten by a Giants team who have been going from strength to strength. This 4-0 win was their 6th in a row, and their streak has now reached nine league wins in a row, cementing their place as league leaders.

What made the 4-0 defeat even more embarrassing for Panthers, was that it was the annual charity Teddy Bear Toss. Thousands of fans had brought a soft toy with them, ready to throw on the ice when Panthers scored a goal. With around ten minutes to go, and Panthers looking unlikely to score, the call came for the bears to be thrown onto the ice, and a chorus of boos followed. Panthers never looked like scoring, particularly in a third period in which they were completely shut down, only mustering four shots on target.

The Panthers put the disappointing result behind them the following day, starting a run that would see them pick up nine points out of the next ten. Goals from Betteridge, Rissling, Pither and Guptill saw Panthers come from behind to pick up a 4-1 win in Guildford.

The following weekend saw two very close games, the first of which was a game against the Devils in Cardiff. Both teams played well and it almost felt unfair that someone had to lose, but it was Panthers who had the misfortune. Dylan Olsen scored twice in regulation, sandwiching goals from new Devils signing Sam Duggan, and Joey Haddad, to take the game into overtime, and ensuring Panthers would take a point home. Half way through the extra five minutes Joey Martin was able to put the puck past Garnett, to give Devils the extra point.

The next night, Panthers were back at home against Fife Flyers, a team who had put seven past them just a few weeks before. Thankfully Panthers were much more solid in defence than that night, and it was a close game. The first period ended goalless, but a powerplay goal early in the 2nd gave Fife the lead. Alex Guptill got the equaliser as the 14th minute approached, and the period ended all square. Another powerplay goal for Flyers saw them regain the lead, but they held that for just four and a half minutes, as Alexandre Bolduc netted another equaliser. It remained level for the rest of the period, and when five mins of 3 on 3 overtime couldn’t separate them, it went to penalties, with Panthers able to beat Owen in the Flyers goal twice, whilst at the other end Garnett held firm and stopped everything Fife had.

November’s fixtures ended with a double against Milton Keynes Lightning. Panthers travelled to Milton Keynes November 24th, skating away with 3-1 victory, building the momentum, and then on the Wednesday they played the same opposition at home. Goals from Pither, Guptill and a brace from Lachowicz, combined with a man of the match performance from keeper Garnett, gave Panthers the victory, and their 3rd consecutive win.

As well as an upturn in form, November has seen some changes to the line-up.  Jacob Doty and Tyler VanKleef have moved on, the former signing for the Allen Americans in the ECHL. To strengthen the forward lines, Panthers have brought in ex Edinburgh Capital Marek Tvrdon, who scored at a point per game in his time in the league last season, and Dylan Richard, who joins from HK Nitra, where he had 10points in 24 games. Also joining the team is 23 year old netminder Patrick Munson, who will share duties with Michael Garnett. This move has seen Sam Gospel join Telford Tigers on a two-way deal, ensuring he gets valuable ice time to keep him sharp for when Panthers need him.

December is a busy month, with fourteen  games in 31 days, and so it’s a real chance for Panthers to build on a solid, if unspectacular, November and try to stake a claim for one of the top spots in the league. The momentum is starting to grow, can they keep it going through a hectic period? It’s been a convincing start with Impressive wins against Guilford Flames, Glasgow Clan and, just last night, a 6 - 1 victory over Manchester Storm in leg one of the Challenge Cup Quarter Final; time will tel. 

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