Hockey goalies don’t just make the saves. They are the bedrock of every team -n the guys the players taps the pads of before the puck drops, the guys they go to at the sound of every single buzzer.
To lose a netminder as consistently hot and influential as Kevin Regan through injury was always going to impact on the team. To lose him AND his back-up is a rare double whammy - one Fife Flyers encountered this weekend.
The warm, appreciative applause for stand-in Greg Blais as he left the ice at the end of a frustrating 5-3 defeat on home ice to Nottingham Panthers was thoroughly deserved, and in contrast to the groans of frustration which seeped out of the stands throughout the night. Consider this a match that could have been won, probably even should have been ...
Flyers struck first, and struck well with Bobby Chaumont’s one-time shot off a Scott Fleming pass at 3:18 giving him his 100th EIHL encounter.
Panthers’ response was instant pressure which yielded the leveller through Robert Lachowicz at 5:57.
Danny Stewart teed up Allan Anderson in the eighth minute, but he couldn’t finish, and Panthers pounced within seconds as Lachowicz netted again.
A sweeping goal followed for 3-1 through Robert Farmer at 16:14, leaving Flyers with the challenge of somehow seizing back the momentum.
They survived a scare as a fourth goal was netted and chalked off early in the second, and for all they had their chances, they didn’t click with any great slickness. Too many passes lacked precision, and promising opportunities stuttered with one move too many; hence the frustrations of the crowd.
There were moments when players came together too, none more so than on the half hour when Tommy Muir stepped in and paired off with the taller, bigger Chris Lawrence; a fight to defend his line mates and also one to try to spark a reaction.
Flyers had chances on the powerplay in the second, including 60 seconds on five on three, but they didn’t make them count.
One moment summed up the grizzliness of the night. Short-handed, Panthers saw netminder Craig Kowalksi’s stick fly high into the air and land behind the net - a perfect set up for the PP team to exploit. Flyers couldn’t keep the puck, Panthers broke, and Max Parent went one on one with Blais.
The keeper deserved huge credit for making the save, but, the breakaway perhaps summed up the component missing from Fife’s play.
And yet 3-1 down and with less than 60 seconds left of the second period, Danny Stewart hauled them right back into contention as he tracked Jordan Fulton’s rink length skate, saw his shot come off the netminder and simply leathered the puck home. It had ‘goal’ written all over it even before he finished his backswing...
I’m guessing the key message during the break was do not lose a goal early in the third. Fife coughed up in just 13 seconds. You could feel the wave of dismay rolling down from the back of the stands as Schmidt’s slapshot was flicked home via Parent.
A one-goal game suddenly saw Fife needing three for the win - and three became four as Charles Landry made it 5-2 as he was denied at the back post, scuttled round the back of the net and poked the puck home at the opposite post before anyone reacted.
Chris Auger kept Fife hanging in there with a powerplay at 52:10, but they needed a spell of concerted pressure to really crack this game open, and Panthers didn’t afford them that chance.
When a 55th minute powerplay went past without a score - huge pressure but no goal - the points were certainly going south.
Flyers pulled Blais with 1:22 remaining, called a time out, but time ran out on them.