It’s been a busy week both on and off the ice for the Chelmsford Chieftains. It begun with the announcement of a new league structure and ended with an important home 8-4 victory over the Bristol Pitbulls. The chance of the league title had almost disappeared as they lined up against the tough and hard working Pitbulls from the south-west of the country. But with the exciting end-of-season play-off finals weekend in Bracknell only a month away, Chieftains coach Joe Wilson was looking for his team to build momentum into that weekend as the hunger for silverware is evident throughout the squad. Chieftains were without Brad Moore and Gary Brown, both present but only to see the team’s physio as they struggle to get fit for the end of season Play-off Finals Weekend. Before the face-off the ‘Hockey Family came together to observe a minutes silence for ex-Chieftain Andrej Sporina. The Slovakian who iced at Riverside in the 2006/07 season sadly passed away in the week at just 38 years of age. Then it was time for the action to get underway and Chieftains took the game to the Pitbulls looking for a fast start. But with only 5:47 on the clock Olly Shone latched on to a loose puck and he directed the puck to Steve Osman who beat Sonny Phillips in the Chieftains net at close range. 1-0 to the visitors against the run of play. Chieftains continued where they left off before the goal and pressured the Pitbulls defence. At 9:16 they were level when Cameron Bartlett’s fierce slapshot flashed past Andrew Leckie in the Pitbull’s net low into the bottom corner. At 17:53 the Chieftains took the lead when Swedish forward David Millner shot through a crowded Pitbull’s defensive zone beat Leckie once again, the unsighted Pitbull netminder unable to react. With just 35 seconds of the period remaining Chieftains defenceman Rob Veares picked up a two minute penalty for tripping. But the Chieftains penalty held firm until the buzzer to end the first period sounded and the Chieftains went into the first break with a 2-1 lead. The second period began with the Pitbull’s looking for the equalising goal and they laid siege on the Chieftains net. But Cameron Bartlett intercepted a wayward pass and broke away with twin brother Grant, leaving the chasing Pitbulls in their wake. A perfectly timed pass from Cameron to Grant leaving Leckie with no chance. A shot-handed goal and a two goal cushion for the Chieftains. Four minutes later and it was the Chieftains first powerplay chance of the evening, Michael Hargreaves penalised for holding Millner’s stick. With an extra man Chieftains piled on the pressure passing the puck around the zone looking for the chance of a clear shot on net. One of those passes was intercepted by the fast skating Osman the scorer of the first goal. He skated the length of the rink and went one-on-one with Phillips who was beaten for the second time of the night. That short-handed goal rattled the Chieftains who seemed to lose their momentum and a further lapse of concentration and a equalising goal from Jamie Newton made the score 3-3. Just twenty seconds later it just went from bad to worse when the Pitbulls scored the go ahead goal, Osman completing his hat-trick. It was time for coach Joe Wilson and his team to regroup and prove their worth. Just 43 seconds after the re-start it was level at 4-4, once again it was the Bartlett’s linking up causing the visiting defence all kinds of problems. This time Grant was the provider and Cameron the finisher. Two minutes before the period ended it was 5-4 when Grant Bartlett went from coast to coast after he ambushed a Pitbull’s raid on the Chieftains net. He sold Leckie a dummy and as the keeper reacted he slid the puck into the gapping net. The period ended with Chieftains holding on to what was a slender lead. As the puck dropped on the final period both teams were in with a chance of victory. It was becoming a real battle between the Chieftains offence and the Pitbull’s defence. Chieftains normally free scoring attack finding the tough and resilient defence of the visitors difficult to break down. Just after the 50 minute mark Chieftains were handed another powerplay chance when Janne Virtanen was adjudged to have tripped James Ayling. Chieftains needed that two-goal cushion and this was to golden opportunity for that to happen. A minute into the man advantage and a great move involving Tom Wilson, Ross Brears and TJ Fillery was finished in style by the latter who was lurking on the back post. At 6-4 the Chieftains still had work to do as it had been proved earlier a two-goal margin could soon be eaten away. But two goals within a minute at the 55 minute mark by the Bartlett twins secured the hard earned win. Cameron with the first and Grant with the assist and visa versa for the eight and final goal of the night. A great night for family Bartlett with both boys completing hat-tricks. An 8-4 victory, not a great team performance but they showed true character to come back from the verge of defeat. It’s not been easy this season having to train and play in a neutral rink but with only one final league game left to play the team have done themselves proud. A top four finish, a place in the play-off finals weekend in April and most of all the battle for the Chieftains survival has been won as they await their return home to Riverside next season. And with next season in mind the league has just announced plans to restructure the league for 2019/20. Chieftains will be moving back into Division One South alongside Solent Devils, Oxford City Stars, Slough Jets, Bracknell Hornets and Romford Raiders 2 from Division 2. They will renewing rivalry with Streatham, Milton Keynes Thunder and Invicta Dynamos in what should be a very competitive season of exciting hockey. But back to this season and with the unscheduled Cardiff game not looking as if it is going to materialise it looks as if the “Home’ game against fourth place Oxford City Stars on Saturday April 6th (5.30pm Face-off) will be the Chieftains Farewell to the Valley. After that Chieftains fans will be all heading to Bracknell over the weekend of 20/21st April where the NIHL Finals weekend takes place.
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