Panthers lose to Coventry after bench brawl
ALEX Penner could be facing a lengthy ban after the Nottingham Panthers hard man was involved in a second-period bench-clearing brawl against Coventry Blaze at the Skydome.
More than 220 minutes in penalties were handed out, split evenly between the teams, after a mass fight was sparked when Brad Cruikshank attacked Panthers goalie Craig Kowalski as the Blaze winger was being led off the ice with a match penalty for making obscene gestures.
Penner, who was serving a double-minor penalty at the time after clattering Coventry goalie Brett Jaeger, raced out of the penalty box to serve his own brand of justice.
Panthers defenceman Guy Lepine was also given a match penalty, harshly it seemed, for excessive roughness, with Cruikshank getting a second match penalty and Blaze goaltender Brett Jaeger getting likewise, for skating down the ice to join in the fun.
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Panthers bench coach David Graham also got a match penalty for failing to control his players after they jumped the boards when Kowalski was set upon.
Unfortunately, Kowlaski damaged his groin while trying to defend himself and didn’t play again when the players returned to the ice. Along with the banned Penner, the American goalie will also miss Sunday’s game with improving Hull at the NIC (4pm).
A few more players from both sides can count themselves lucky they didn’t see time in the penalty box. And one poor player – Coventry’s Rob Farmer – must have wished he’d missed the flare-up, as he was beaten up three times!
But the only statistic that should concern Panthers is the scoreline – they went down 2-1 after their forwards and power-play again misfired.
And on a night when Sheffield crashed 7-2 at lowly Hull and leaders Belfast lost 5-4 after over-time in Edinburgh, it was certainly a chance lost.
It was only the second time this season Panthers have lost on the road and the first time in four starts this term that Coventry have beaten their rivals, who have been Blaze’s jinx team for the past two years.
Panthers really have got to get their power-play working again and if necessary try some fresh faces on the special team, because Jonathan Zion and Jade Galbraith, in particular, are not moving the puck quickly and incisively enough.
It was a huge win for Coventry but their coach Paul Thompson, clearly trying to deflect blame for the unsavoury melee said afterwards: “Our goalie [Jaeger] went down hurt in the warm-up, Panthers saw that and had a game plan to get in his face and unsettle him at every opportunity.
“They made contact with him three or four times, the goalie interference rule was not used and the referee (Tom Darnell) did not give him any protection.
“It was so obvious what they were trying to do and then Shanker (Cruikshank) saw the red mist and the whole thing kicked off.”
InThompson failed to mention that Panthers goalies came under pressure too, but with Darnell trying to the run the line as well, following the withdrawal of one of the linesmen, Chris Beck, at the end of the first period, it was an uphill task for the young ref trying to control two very feisty teams.
The lack of passing play from both sides on a difficult surface was made even worse by the lack of line markings on the ice but, though the purist might disagree, it was a welcome change to see a return to good old-fashioned, blood and guts hockey.
Panthers came out the stronger and should have gone in front in the third minute when Marc Levers was denied one-on-one by Jaeger.
That miss was to prove costly as Sean Selmser gave Blaze the lead two minutes later, reacting first to a rebound off Kowalski.
Things got increasingly tetchy as the period wore on, but both sides failed to get their power-plays to click as the defences ruled the roost
The penalties continued to flow in the second period and when Cruikshank got his marching orders, he obviously wanted to take someone with him and succeeded, big style.
After a delay of around 30 minutes, giving time for both teams to cool down, the two back-up goalies to prepare themselves and for Darnell to sort out the penalties, it didn’t take long for it to kick off again.
David Clarke appeared to stumble over Blaze back-up Tom Murdy and was immediately set upon by Brad Zanon, who got a game misconduct for laying into the Panthers forward.
Try as they might, Panthers couldn’t find that power-play zip to manufacture an equaliser and they were indebted to back-up goalie Dan Green for beating out a shot from Luke Fulghum, who had broken clear.
Four minutes into the final period, Coventry made it 2-0 when Dan Carlson got the final touch to deflect the puck past the unsighted Green.
Seven minutes from time, Panthers at last got a power-play to click, Clarke scoring from the left wing to start a late revival.
But when Matthew Myers took a penalty in the last minute, it all became very desperate and Blaze managed to hang on.
Report for Panthers game v Hull in Monday’s Post.
COVENTRY 2, PANTHERS 1
(1-0, 0-0, 1-1)
Clarke 1+0; Neilson, Zion 0+1
Shots on goal: Blaze 35 – 14 on Kawolski, 21 on Green, Panthers 26 – 13 on Jaeger, 13 on Murdy (12/9, 2-10/4/6, 11/7)
Penalty minutes: Blaze 131, Panthers 132 (16/14, 111/112, 4/6)
Panthers man of the match: Dan Green
Referee: Tom Darnell
Other results: Hull 7, Sheffield 2; Edinburgh 5, Belfast 4 (after overtime); Dundee 5, Newcastle 4, (after penalty shootout).