Wildcats nearly put out the Flames
SWINDON nearly crashed Guildford's EPL-winning party but had to settle for a point after a thrilling night of hockey at the Spectrum.
Wildcats lost on penalty shots against a side that had wrapped up the league title the previous night, the visitors having led 4-3 with just over three minutes of regular time left.
A late Rick Plant equaliser and excellent penalty shots from David Savage and Curtis Huppe ensured Guildford were able to celebrate their league triumph in style.
It was a result that left Swindon forward Sam Bullas with mixed emotions.
"I don't think there's many teams who come to Guildford, go 3-1 down and bring it back to 4-3," he said.
"Guildford have won the league, so one point is fantastic but we could really have done with the two, and I think we probably should have taken the two, we just got a bit unlucky at the end.
"I think we battled really well and as a team we should keep our heads up after that. After being 3-1 down I think we played really well."
Swindon - who handed a debut to 16-year-old Okanagan Hockey School forward Michael Stratford - clearly had designs on upsetting the Flames early on, with the recalled Czech Tomas Fojtik hitting the iron minutes in.
Visiting skipper Aaron Nell then silenced the Spectrum crowd when he dragged the puck beautifully past his man and finished top-shelf past netminder Mark Lee (5.53).
The Flames took just over four minutes to reply as ex-Swindon forward Jozef Kohut spun away to create space in front of the net and his modest shot beat Dean Skinns (10.01).
Wildcats gained a powerplay at the start of the second period but both Guildford's Nathan Rempel and Huppe had chances before the latter put his short-handed side in front (25.13).
Jonas Hoog was denied a short-handed equaliser in reply shortly after by new netminder James Hadfield, another former Swindon player, and moments later Kohut superbly beat Skinns one-on-one to collect a powerplay goal (29.23).
With minutes left of period two, Neil Liddiard was handed a game penalty for resisting an official following a low-key bout of fisticuffs with Henri Sandvik, and 10 seconds before time was up, Nell struck home his second goal on the powerplay to bring it back to 3-2.
With Guildford player-coach Paul Dixon binned, Matias Perkkio slammed home from close range at 42.56 and Swindon went back in front with exactly 48 minutes played.
Tomas Fojtik found himself frustrated several times in trying to beat Hadfield, but eventually the puck popped out and Hoog had a simple tap-in on the angle.
Wildcats killed penalties on Paul Swindlehurst and Fojtik - which overlapped for a minute - and then Swindlehurst was called again for hooking.
The visitors defended frantically and Skinns was inspired in net, and although the penalty was killed once more, Flames finally broke through soon after as Rick Plant found the back of the net in somewhat fortunate fashion (56.57).
Both teams had chances in overtime, Swindon most notably when Sandvik nearly deflected in from Shane Moore, but ultimately the game came down to penalty shots.
Skinns saved from David Longstaff but after Nell fired high and wide, Savage blasted low into the net.
Hoog then shot tamely at Hadfield and Huppe won the game for the hosts when he sent a lightning wristshot low to Skinns' right.
Swindon head coach Ryan Aldridge was disappointed not to have snatched two points but was determined to take the positives out of the display.
"I think that was our biggest plus for a long time," he said.
"Guildford wanted to win tonight in front of their home crowd after winning the league. They were up for the game, there's no doubt about it.
"I've got to be happy with the way the boys played. That's the best we've played and the best morale has been for a while.
"We've been off the ball for a couple of weeks and now we know how we've got to play."