On the brink of missing the Emirates Hockey League play-offs, the Al Ain Vipers pulled off a gritty 5-4 win over the Abu Dhabi Storms.
Vipers leave it late but reach EHL play-offs
ABU DHABI // The day will be one that the Al Ain Vipers remember for a long time. On the brink of missing the Emirates Hockey League play-offs, they pulled off a gritty 5-4 win on Friday over the Abu Dhabi Storms.
They then watched as Al Ain Theebs eliminated Abu Dhabi Scorpions 9-3 in the second match, allowing the Vipers to finish fourth and secure passage to the semi-final play-offs against the Dubai Mighty Camels. The best-of-three series starts from tomorrow.
"The team came with a plan," said Dennis LeBlanc, the Vipers coach. "They were patient; they didn't give too many penalties."
The game was tied at 3-3 after two periods. Juhani Ijjaz, Matti Fagerstrom and Saeed Al Nuaimi scored for the Storms; Kevin Emore, John Oddy and Janne Lathosen had goals for the Vipers.
The Al Ain club regained the lead in the opening minute of the final period through Lathosen. Emore fired them to a two-goal lead.
Al Nuaimi pulled one back with just over two minutes left, but that was as close they got in an enthralling match on the final day of the regular season at the Abu Dhabi Ice Rink at Zayed Sports City.
"I think it's a reflection of the teams overall, extremely competitive," LeBlanc said. "Anybody could win on any given day. It was a real good game and anyone would agree, a 5-4 score, that's a great hockey game. Enough goals, not too many, good defence, good saves, some great goals, and that's what hockey is all about.
"For this season, by far this is the best game."
Emore, who with Michael Jabri-Pickett, the goalkeeper, had a fine game, said it was a team effort. "It was one of our best efforts. A good feeling, too, that we made it to the play-offs," the American said. "Everyone put up their best effort … This is how you play hockey."
Yuri Faikov, the Storms coach, was disappointed to watch his team miss an opportunity to finish first in the EHL's regular season.
"We didn't play well tactically," he said. "We didn't fight and didn't work on ice. Just everyone before the game was thinking it was an easy game. Still, we are in the play-offs and we will now work harder to retain the EHL title."
Fagerstrom conceded that his team did not work enough.
"We didn't play our game," said the Finn. "It was a mental thing. They had their backs against the wall. This was their only chance to get into the play-offs, and they did everything and succeeded."
Some of the players from the Dubai Mighty Camels were present at the game to see them finish first in the EHL regular season, thanks to the Vipers' win over the Storms .
"It means a lot because it gives the home-ice advantage throughout the play-offs," said Ron Murphy, the Camels captain.
"We got a bit lucky with the Vipers winning. … It seems when they want to play well they play well by raising their game.
"It is going to be an interesting play-offs. I think the Storms were a bit nervous and relied on their better players like Fagerstrom, Ijjaz and Kellin Carson too much. Their local players need to step up a bit."