Saturday night the inaugural IIHL Development Division Playoffs kicked off in Dundalk Ice Dome with the 1st place team in the regular season, Dublin Wolves, facing off against the 4th place team, DkIT Ravens. Face-off was at 9:00 p.m. and the game attracted a big crowd as the teams competing in the second game were present to watch the action. In the regular season, the Wolves easily disposed of the Ravens 11-1 and then 5-0 so they could be forgiven if they were confident of a win. However, the Ravens have shown in the past that they are robust and enjoy a challenge.
For this game the Wolves were missing several key players and had what appears to be an excellent number of players for the IIHL Development Division on their bench. They were playing with 4 defensemen and 9 forwards with Bill Arsenault in net for them. So they were missing some key players but their first line of Roman Bnocko, Aly-Khan Lalani and Ross Killen was hardly weak. These 3 players have been some of the Wolves most consistent performers all season and would find a place on some IIHL teams. They were followed up by a line of David Freeman, Chris Darragh and Sean McGill. McGill who is a regular defenseman for the Wolves was deputising up front for them. The 3rd line in support was composed of Brian McCann, Richard Phillipe and Alvise Calamai. In defence, they had either the pairings of Beni McAllister and David Clark or Robbie Byrne and Peter Ting.
The Ravens weren’t short benched and had all their key players present. In net was one of the few players who hasn’t missed a game all season for them, Micéal O’Neill. The first forward line consisted of Stephen Hayes, Michael Rogan and Andrew Guest and was going to be their best chance of scoring. They were backed up by Stephen Boylan, Blaine Rennicks and it appeared that regular defenseman Mark McDonnell took up the final spot on that line. The 3rd line consisted of Alan McCahey, Barry O’Connor and Andrew O’Connor. On defence, they were rotating 5 players since Mark McDonnell had gone up front. Robert Flanagan, Jason Monahan, Paul Hughes, Niall Kerley and Paddy Jarratt were those 5 players.
The game got underway at a fairly fast pace with the Ravens taking a rather surprising dominance in the first 2 minutes. However, the Wolves then started to move their legs and found the back of the net after only 3 minutes. David Freeman found the back of the net to his and his teammates delight. They then started to move very nicely with the first line dominating the play. In particular, Roman Bnocko and Ross Killen were combining very well and carried the puck easily into the Ravens zone. They seemed to carry the puck deep into the corners and set up from their. The tactic was working too as they found themselves up 2-0 after 7:43 with Bnocko getting the goal and Peter Ting getting the assist. They were up by 3 just a minute into the 2nd period when Bnocko got his second after he and Killen combined.
The Ravens were struggling and had it not been for some excellent goaltending from Micéal O’Neill they would have been down by more. They just lacked the experience of their opponents and were caught out of position on many occasions. The numerous penalties they took didn’t help their cause either. They had 8 minutes in penalties alone and this was tiring their most important players. This tiredness could be best seen in the 2nd period as they Wolves went on a scoring spree with 5 unanswered goals. Both Lalani and Bnocko picked up 2 each while Chris Darragh finished off a pass from Sean McGill with a nice spin-o-rama move. With his back to goal, he spun to his left with the puck and slot home just inside the post.
Despite being down 7-0 with only 20 minutes to go, the Ravens came out with all guns blazing. Stephen Hayes pulled a goal back for them after some hard battling along the boards in the Wolves zone. The action was then slightly more even as the Wolves were rolling all 3 lines and most of the action was around the neutral zone. Apart from when the Wolves’ line of Bnocko, Lalani and Killen were on the ice, then it was all in the Ravens zone with O’Neill doing his best to give his team hope. Unfortunately for him though, Bnocko did manage a shorthanded goal with 6 minutes to go. Credit has to be given to the Ravens though as they continued to battle away. They were rewarded for this with only 4 minutes to go as Andrew Guest made a cross-ice pass through the slot from along the boards to Mark McDonnell who was positioned at the back post. McDonnell coolly put the puck into the net to the sheer delight of his teammates and the crowd.
The game finished 8-2 and the Wolves dominated the play with Roman Bnocko getting 4 goals, Ross Killen getting 4 assists with Aly-Khan Lalani getting 2 goals and 1 assist. They also outshot their opponents 29-7; they probably would have scored more had it not been for Micéal O’Neill and some solid goaltending. The Ravens played hard and can keep their heads up and be proud as they ran the best team in the league very close for the 1st period and beat them in the 3rd period. The one thing that they need to be better at is their discipline. They had 22 minutes in penalties to the Wolves 4 and this is why the score wasn’t closer than 8-2.
The Dublin Wolves move onto the final on Sunday at 9:30 p.m. against either the Kilkenny City Storm or the Whalers. While the DkIT Ravens look forward to the 3rd/4th Place Playoff against either of those 2 teams.