The players may well be feeling the effects of the first weekend of the 2020/21, but for ice hockey fans, the return of the game was one that was hugely welcomed.
While supporters weren’t physically able to visit the rinks, a combined viewing figure of just under 3,000 watched as Swindon Wildcats, Milton Keynes Lightning and Sheffield Steeldogs took to the ice for the first competitive action since March.
With teams made up of returning heroes and Elite League players, online viewers saw 20 goals and for many, just seeing some action was welcomed.
Swindon and MK contested the first game on Saturday at the Link Centre in a breathless 14-goal affair, which Wildcats won 8-6 and outshooting Lewis Clifford’s side 46-38.
— English Ice Hockey (@EIHA_Official) November 14, 2020
Matthew Myers opened the scoring for Swindon, with MK levelling through Bobby Chamberlain shorthanded before Toms Rutkis restored the home side’s lead.
Tomasz Malasinski made it 3-1 on the powerplay early in the second and although Russell Cowley pulled another back for Lightning, Aaron Nell, Swindon’s player-coach reopened the two-goal lead.
Two goals in the space of 35 seconds from Chamberlain to complete his hat-trick drew MK level as the game began to get more and more interesting.
Ben Davies netted for Swindon to put them ahead again from Josh Batch’s assist early in the third, but Lightning got themselves 6-5 in front as Hallden Barnes-Garner and Ross Venus struck.
Wildcats managed to turn it around again as Rutkis netted twice to complete his hat-trick, either side of Malasinski’s second of the game to complete the 8-6 scoreline and an opening night victory for Nell and his team.
On Sunday, Wildcats didn’t have long to recover when they travelled to Sheffield to take on the Steeldogs and the 5-1 result against them perhaps suggests the legs were still catching up after Saturday.
An unassisted James Spurr put the Steeldogs in front just over two minutes into the second period, which Alex Graham added to shortly after on the powerplay.
Myers got his second of the weekend, pulling one back for the Wildcats, but their joy was short-lived as Ben Lake netted a couple of minutes later from Ben Morgan’s assist to restore the two-goal gulf.
Steeldogs pulled further ahead in the third period as Graham picked up his second of the night, with Tim Smith completing the scoring with Sheffield’s fifth to complete a successful weekend for the NIHL.