|Posted on August 6, 2013 at 5:25 AM|
The Swarm closed out their 2013 regular season with a pair of strong wins over cross-town rivals the West Auckland Admirals. With the race for the Grand Final going down to the wire, the six points on the table would be critical for the Swarm's hopes of making it to a sixth appearance in the Final.
While the Admirals have had a tough season, with only one win to their name coming into the weekend, it was never going to be a case of taking victory for granted, as the Auckland derby has always been one of the strongest rivalries in the NZIHL. While the Admirals are mathematically eliminated from the Final, the chance to play spoiler to the Swarm's hopes could be a great motivator, and one the Swarm would do their best to discourage.
The first period saw a lot of end to end action, with both sides coming out strongly. While the Swarm had plenty of chances, putting 20 shots on goal in the first 20 minutes, it was the Admirals who would convert first, as Frazer Ellis got them on the board with a well-placed shot past goalie Michael Hopkinson.
The Admirals were able to defend this lead for the remainder of the period, with the Swarm initially unable to solve Admirals goalie Anders Jesperson, who was standing tall in his crease against some very good scoring chances.
The Admirals held their lead for just over five minutes of the second period before Jordan Challis tied the score for the Swarm, taking a great pass from Alex Polozov and sending the puck past Jesperson.
While the momentum appeared to be swinging more heavily in the Swarm's favour, the Admirals weren't letting go that easily, and bounced back strongly, as Florian Meier scored from the point to regain their lead over the Swarm. Some nervous moments for the Swarm fans in the crowd followed, but the equaliser came about eight minutes later, on a shot from Brandon Contratto. Not letting up the pressure at all, the Swarm added a third goal, Mickey Rhodes adding to his tally with three minutes remaining.
A one goal lead going into the third period meant it could still have been anyone's game, but the Swarm didn't slacken the pressure they were putting on a tiring Admirals side. Penalty trouble in the second and third periods for the Admirals took its toll on the home side, and gave the Swarm plenty of chances, as they racked up an impressive 25 shots on goal in the third period alone.
The visotors added a further three goals in the final twenty minutes to solidify their lead. A beauty of an unassisted goal from Contratto in the first minute of the period appeared to deflate the Admirals' hopes of a comeback, and Challis added his second of the evening a few minutes later, following that up with an assist on a powerplay goal from Josh Hay, as the Swarm closed the game out 6-2.
A good night for the Swarm forwards saw several mark multipoint nights -- Josh Hay and Keegan Harnett with 2 points each, and Jordan Challis, Brandon Contratto and Alex Polozov each picking up 3.
The Swarm were not going to leave the job half done, and came back on Sunday for their final game with equal focus and determination, obviously not taking their opponent for granted.
A slightly better result in the first period began to look like the inverse of the previous day's results, with the Swarm first on the board but only able to score a single goal in the opening frame. Ian Wannamaker scored on the powerplay, tapping in a perfect shot after a great setup and passing plays from KC Ball and Evan Mackintosh.
The game opened up more in the second period, with the Swarm taking over completely, and notching six unanswered goals.
Brandon Contratto scored to give the Swarm a two goal lead about seven minutes into the period, followed by Mickey Rhodes, and then a second goal for Contratto, on a highlight reel backhander from just in front of the net.
With the four goal lead looking solid, the younger players on the Swarm got some extra ice time, and turned this well to their advantage, with Scott Randell picking up his third goal of the season, and Olly Hay his first NZIHL point on the assist.
As if a five goal lead was not daunting enough, the Swarm added insult to injury by picking up two short-handed goals in short order, with Richard Idoine firing a blistering shot from the far circle, and Contratto rounding out his hattrick thirty seconds later as the Swarm spent most of their shorthanded time in the Admirals' zone.
The third period saw the offensive output continue, with Rhodes scoring his second on the powerplay, and Mackintosh picking up a powerplay tally of his own.
Keegan Harnett finished a strong weekend's performance with a goal of his own to bring the Swarm to ten unanswered goals, but the game would not go entirely the Swarm's way, as the Admirals were finally able to get some reward for their efforts, with captain Robert Chamberlain scoring to break Hopkinson's shutout bid with 9.34 remaining on the clock.
The 10-1 score held for another five minutes before Challis picked up his third goal for the weekend, going hard to the net and scoring on Greg Davis, who had switched netminding duties with Jesperson midway through the second period.
Contratto scored his fourth of the night in the final minutes of the game, and was followed by a goal from Josh Hay with just 23s remaining to give the Swarm 13 goals, the highest total scored by any NZIHL side in one game this season.
One last offensive rush by the Admirals saw Chamberlain dragged down on a partial breakaway with just 6s remaining, and he was assessed a penalty shot. With a neat dangle, Chamberlain put that past Hopkinson to give the Admirals their second goal, but the night was unequivocably the Swarm's, with a solid final score of 13-2.
Unsurprisingly, several players had impressive multipoint nights on Sunday as well, with special mention going to KC Ball and Jordan Challis, who each picked up 4 points, Brandon Contratto who had 5, and Evan Mackintosh who had a 6 point night!
Both games at Avondale were streamed on NZIHL.tv, and the archived copies can be viewed at any time, so if you couldn't make it to the game - or just want to relive it! - head over there to check them out.
The points gained on the weekend leave the Swarm with 30 points on the NZIHL leaderboard, but they will be awaiting results of the games in Dunedin and Christchurch next weekend to establish if this will be sufficient to make the Final. If both the Thunder and the Red Devils take 5 or 6 of the 6 possible points, they would go through, while 4 points or fewer for either or both teams would see the Swarm make the Final.