For the first time the u18 Rob Laidler Memorial Plate was held as a weekend event, hosted at Swindon Ice Rink in late April. The top four sides from D1 North and D1 South met in quarter finals on the Saturday before semi finals on Sunday morning and medal games on Sunday afternoon.
Top seed in the south and ‘home’ team Okanagan opened up against Bradford Bulldogs, coming out comfortable 9-1 winners. Guildford won out 8-3 over Nottingham in the second game before North league winners Sheffield overwhelmed defending Plate holders Chelmsford 12-0. In the final game of the day, Bracknell were 7-1 victors over Coventry to round off the quarter final action.
Sunday morning saw the semi finals with OHA taking on Bracknell. Arguably the game of the weekend, the match went all the way to OT and penalty shots – the Academy needing a goal 1:18 from the end of regulation to take the game to overtime. A scoreless extra session was followed by penalty shots, where Kyle Smith and Jordan Kelsall were successful for OHA versus Sean Norris’ lone strike for Bracknell.
Sheffield had less stressful path through their semifinal against Guildford, winning out 5-1 to set up the final that everyone wanted to see.
First on Sunday afternoon the bronze medal game where Bracknell shook off their semi final disappointment to defeat rivals Guildford 4-1 on the back off Matthew Smital’s 38 saves.
So the Rob Laidler Plate Final between the winners of the North and South divisions, neither side tasting defeat yet this season. The game didn’t disappoint either.
OHA opened first through Pablo Zaballa before Sheffield levelled just before the first interval with Jack Brain’s goal. Oliver Simms was on target for the Steelhawks on 19 minutes to edge the Sheffield club ahead.
Kyle Smith fired home on the powerplay for OHA before the half hour and it was a tied game at 2-2 with one period to play. Mac Howlett appeared to give OHA the upper hand with his goal at 36.01 but Sheffield replied within a minute through Cole Shudra and it was level once again.
Up stepped Smith for Okanagan with his second of the game and sixth of the weekend with five minutes to play and OHA were ahead again. Steelhawks pulled their goalie in the last minute but OHA skipper Ben Nethersell found the open net for the insurance goal three seconds from time and the Rob Laidler Plate went to Okanagan Hockey Academy.
The JLMC were delighted with the weekend and how the games were played and the help and support from Swindon Ice Rink and OHA and the event looks set to return to the Link Centre in 2017.
Matches from the weekend were filmed and streamed live by 247.tv and these games are still available to watch on demand via the website www.247.tv/live
Photos: Nicky Pearce