PREVIEW: MK Lightning v Nottingham Panthers

This coming Saturday at 7, all the fireworks will be on the ice for a display that supporters won’t want to miss as the Smith Recycling MK Lightning take on Champions Hockey League contenders, the Nottingham Panthers (Planet Ice MK Arena, 7pm Sat 4 Nov).

These two sides met on the Panthers’ home ice – the Motorpoint Arena – last Saturday, so know a little of what to expect from each other.  In a fixture which many expected to be one-sided in the hosts’ favour, the visiting Lightning played an uptempo game from the first puck drop.

Kevin King took first blood for MKL with a power play goal before the hosts wiped out the deficit early in the second period.  Lightning replied by piling on the pressure and it paid off with two goals in quick succession from Alex Forbes and Gui Doucet. Dan Spang pulled a goal back for Nottingham before the second break then Zack Phillips bagged an equaliser to force overtime.  It was heartbreak in the extra period however as a hotly contested high sticks penalty against Denny Kearney gave the hosts a man advantage which they swiftly used to score the winner.

The majority of the MKL supporters at the Nottingham venue seemed delighted to have watched their team put in such a powerful performance and take a point from the contest – and the action continued from Coach Russell’s team on Sunday when they beat league leaders Manchester Storm for the Cheshire side’s second consecutive visit.

Brett Perlini is the Panthers’ danger man in terms of goals scored in the league this season and as witnessed on Saturday, Alexander Mokshantsev can never be discounted.  Yann Sauvé, Mark Derlago and Zack Phillips are all proving useful in terms of setting up goals.

An additional rivalry comes in the form of the Panthers’ Head Coach, Corey Neilson – who is assistant coach at Team GB to Lightning’s Head Coach, Pete Russell.

There’s likely to be a degree of appreciation from Saturday’s visiting fans for Miika Wiikman who spent the last two seasons between the pipes for the Panthers; he received an extremely warm welcome in Nottingham before the National Anthem on Saturday, and another show of appreciation from the whole Motorpoint Arena after the final buzzer.

Lightning should be the fresher of the two sides this Saturday; following a brutal schedule of six games in 10 days, when Saturday arrives Coach Russell’s side will have five ‘rest’ days.  In contrast, Coach Nielsen’s side had the first leg of their CHL last 16 fixture in Zurich against ZSC Lions, with all the travel that European competition involves.  The second leg is next Tuesday in Nottingham – by which time the Panthers will have had to play Guildford Flames this Friday and Lightning 24 hours later.

Ticket sales for this fixture are already brisk with several days still to go before the puck drops and some blocks already on limited availability; we advise supporters of both teams to buy in advance to make absolutely sure of entry on Saturday.  Buy in person at the Planet Ice MK Arena box office, alternatively call 01908 540020 or go online at mk-lightning.co.uk/tickets (away supporters please select either block 7 or 9).

Photo: Tony Sargent

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