IIHL Development Division Playoffs – Semi-Finals – Storm v Whalers

The second semi-final took place immediately after the Dublin Wolves had booked their place in the final. The Kilkenny City Storm was set to take on the Whalers with the winner facing the Wolves the next night. The majority of the crowd stuck around for the second game with the players from the first semi-final enjoying the game up in the bar. Blades Bar & Restaurant was open late especially for the playoffs and maybe the Dundalk Ice Dome should really think about keeping it open late more often as it adds atmosphere to games.

Kilkenny had a full compliment of players with Rebekah Burke in net for them. Burke must surely be one of the few players in the league not to have missed a game at all this season. In front of her in defence were either the pairings of Robert Sachi and David Fitzpatrick or Jamie Cummins and Paul Cummins. They had a solid first line consisting of Roman Grobarcik, Richard Bolotniks and Scott Latimer. A rather excellent first line full of speed, great passing ability and some excellent shooters and were definitely going to give the Whalers a run for their money. They were backed up by Craig Fay, Harry Maharaj and Gary Knox with Vladimir Nizjolko and Mick Cummins providing additional wingers.

The Whalers on the other hand had the bare minimum of players with Riley Gatensby playing in goal. The Whalers then ran with 2 lines as they only had 10 players to choose from. On defence, Paul Parish and Gary Harvey played together while Nathan Boal and Niall McEvoy were the other pairing. The lines then consisted of Wayne Hopkins, James Gatensby and Graeme Bell with the second line consisting of David Dunne, Neil Black and Mark Dunne. In the 2 games that these teams played against each other during the regular season, the Storm ran out easy winners 11-2 on both occasions. Therefore the Storm had the mental advantage going into this.

The game started off at a frantic pace and was end to end as both teams went toe-to-toe. The Storm had much better puck control and when they got into the Whalers zone, they set things up much better and passed around well. However, the Whalers broke up the majority of the Storm’s attack along the boards and countered. However, Kilkenny’s strong defence put a stop to most of these counter attacks and kept the Whalers to only 3 shots on goal in the first period. At the other end, Kilkenny had 13 shots on goal in the first period but Riley Gatensby stopped them all and gave his team every chance possible. It worked too as the Whalers scored the only goal in the 1st period as Mark Dunne finished off a feed from Niall McEvoy on a powerplay. They went into the intermission with the Whalers leading 1-0.

The 2nd period started just as the 1st finished with Kilkenny taking charge and pounding the Whalers net with shots. They just couldn’t seem to find a way past Riley Gatensby. Again, it was the Whalers who scored first to take a 2 goal lead. Niall McEvoy got a short handed goal after he broke out along the wing and took on the Kilkenny defence. However, Kilkenny were quick to answer back with a magnificent goal from Richard Bolotniks. Bolotniks ripped a wrist shot from the hash marks that Gatensby could do nothing about. They then tied the game with a slap shot from the point from Robert Sachi. The Storm then rolled from there and took a 2 goal lead with 2 goals before the break. Vladimir Nizjolko scored followed by Paul Cummins getting his first of the night.

The teams started the 3rd period with Kilkenny leading 4-2 in what was a thrilling encounter. However, the Whalers were the not going to give up and came out with all guns blazing. Up stepped James Gatensby who put the puck in the back of the net to make it 3-2. James Gatensby is the Whalers best player and has been one of the most enjoyable players to watch throughout the entire season in the IIHL Development Division. His work ethic is unmatched and he provides some highlight reel entertainment. The Storm players were quick to answer with a second goal from Paul Cummins which gave them back their 2 goal lead. They then added another 5 minutes later from Scott Latimer with Richard Bolotniks getting his second of the night. The game finished 7-3 and truly was a great game. The Storm outshot the Whalers 33-10 and had it not been for Riley Gatensby, they may have scored more.

As a result of having won the game, the Kilkenny City Storm was due to play the Dublin Wolves in the Final on Sunday. However, unfortunately that was not to be. I arrived at the Final on Sunday slightly late and had missed the warm-up but I was present for the opening face-off. To my surprise, the Dublin Wolves were playing the Whalers and not the Storm. I had no idea what was going on until I later found out having enquired off several people and players what had happened. I found out that Kilkenny had played an ineligible player in their game against the Whalers. Therefore the result had to be overturned in favour of the Whalers and they would now take on the Dublin Wolves in the final. Kilkenny City Storm would now take part in the 3rd/4th Place Playoff against the DkIT Ravens.

This was rather unfortunate for everyone involved and in particular the Storm. They made a genuine mistake in playing the particular individual but rules are rules and they need to be followed. Although, not a single person I spoke to had a bad word to say about Kilkenny. Nobody even tried to say or hint that Kilkenny had cheated or that they tried to cheat. In fact, sympathy was with them as it was a genuine mistake and they are one of the most honest teams in either the IIHL or IIHL Development Division. Credit must also be given to the Storm as despite being terribly upset they did not seek to blame anyone else and accepted responsibility and took it on the chin.

It is rather unfortunate that things had to happen this way and some would say that the playoffs were slightly tainted because of the whole situation. However, I would disagree and say that if anything, everyone got an insight into what sportsmanship truly is. All of the teams present felt for the Storm and wished things were different. I found it rather touching that players and managers on the other teams offered opinions on maybe how things could be sorted with Kilkenny still in the final. However, things had to go down the way they did and everyone knew it. In particular, the Storm really showed their true colours. Nobody can say that they are not an honest bunch of individuals and a team everyone aspires to be like. How many teams and individuals would have rallied against the decision and blamed everyone but the Sun, Moon and Stars. I applaud the Kilkenny City Storm for how they accepted responsibility and for how they took it on the chin and I applaud the Kilkenny City Storm for their entire past season as they are a credit to both Ice and Inline Hockey in Ireland.

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