NTU's ice hockey players celebrate their win

NTU are kings of the ice after late Varsity win over UoN

Nottingham Trent University regained their ice hockey crown in the classic showpiece event of Varsity with a stunning comeback 5-2 win, reports Will Hugall.

Though trailing 1-0 at the end of the first period and 2-1 after the second, NTU stormed back with an imperious final 20 minutes and clinched a title that hasn’t been theirs since 2017.

Everything clicked in the closing stages, and it was even sweeter a victory given how the University of Nottingham could’ve opened a 7-3 series lead with victory.

Instead, NTU got themselves fully back into the series at 6-4 and will now hope that this win can spark a similar comeback across the multiple events that span week two.

With history detailing that the ice hockey has always been tightly contested – with seven wins for each uni since its inception in 2005 – another close contest was expected three years since UoN took the 2019 title by a scoreline of 9-6.

That contest was the highest-scoring game Varsity has ever seen, and it was immediately clear that this match would follow a different pattern.

Both teams executed excellent defence in the opening minutes, with the familiarity between players who are usually teammates with the Nottingham Mavericks seemingly playing into the proceedings.

NTU goaltender James Guest, with his long locks kept underneath a protective helmet, was responsible for three solid stops as UoN took the initiative to attack following this tentative spell.

The green and gold were being led in attack by assistant captains Ruskin Springer-Hughes and James Shaw, while Ben Marples and Leo Cheng also provided a threat in rotation.

Guest was busier than his UoN counterpart Luke Thornton in the first period, certainly, but when Thornton copped a puck to the face from Oliver Hooper’s shot, the visitors knew that they were in for a game.

Unfortunately for NTU, this was soon followed by the match’s opening goal.

With a quick move forward, UoN carved open the home defence and found Marples to stick the puck in the narrow gap between Guest’s left leg and the post to put UoN ahead 1-0.

The goal was scored at just the right time with NTU only having one minute to try for an equaliser, and despite a courageous flurry, the hosts couldn’t respond before the buzzer.

An entertaining display from the Nottingham Lions under-10s impressed the crowd during the interval, and with some words of advice in the ears of both teams, it was soon back to the action.

NTU and UoN clash in ice hockey
NTU are frustrated on this occasion by Luke Thornton, but the goaltender couldn’t keep them out for much longer.

NTU did come out stronger, but it was far from easy if they wanted to get back into the contest.

UoN maintained their high standards at both ends of the rink, testing Guest with shots from Shaw and Cheng while down to four outfield players while also drawing NTU’s Aleksander Kozachuck into a two-minute penalty for a late defensive tackle.

The adversity drew something out of Trent, however, and Michael Berehowskyj forced a goal-line stand with a smart shot at Thornton before fellow replacements George Gell and John Revell also tested the goalie.

This pressure finally culminated in an equaliser in about the 35th minute, as immediately after Guest had denied Springer-Hughes with a crucial stop, Zach Yokoyama drove in and fired past Thornton.

No sooner had NTU been level, however, than they were back behind.

Visiting captain James Cox took aim from distance on the left, and with Guest parrying to his left, the puck was collected by UoN and worked to Shaw, who slapped an easy finish in to make it 2-1.

NTU's Zach Yokoyama celebrates in front of the NTU end.
NTU’s Swiss-born right wing Zach Yokoyama celebrates in front of the NTU end.

NTU were taken aback by the rapid-fire goal and went into their shell until the second interval, but could take heart from having the greater number of shots in the second period.

The impressively noisy crowd were treated to a shoot-off from both unis’ sports officers Zoe Clifton and AJ Gooden during the break – which Zoe and the Trent Tiger won 1-0 – as well as a fantastic display from the two cheer squads, which went down a storm.

After this extended interval, the task was obvious for NTU; score goals or go home empty-handed.

A serene performance in all departments is what would be required, and with a superb defensive tackle to deny UoN’s Elliot Hunt, as well as a great save from Guest to keep out Marshall, the first part of that was achieved.

Focus turned to attack, and soon, Trent got their rewards for patient play all evening.

It was Toby Ryter with the equaliser, coming after an icing penalty for UoN and a quick face-off at the visiting end that resulted in a blink-and-you-miss-it finish.

NTU weren’t content with just drawing level, however.

The players in pink went on the charge, and just a couple of minutes later, Ryter got another chance, slapping the puck with laser accuracy at goal.

His shot gave Thornton no chance to save and Trent took their first lead of the night.

Tensions flared at this stage and a close-range effort from Trent saw players from both teams pile in, with a punch seemingly thrown by a UoN player only for Gell to be given a penalty for dragging a player away by his shirt.

The game was still very much in the balance going into the final five minutes, but Yokoyama, NTU’s creative spark of the night, was brimming with confidence.

Working a patient move forward, Yokoyama finally got his chance in front of goal and crashed a finish past Thornton to secure a crucial 4-2 lead.

UoN had no choice but to chase the game with just two minutes left, and by sacrificing Thornton for an extra outfield skater, left their goal completely unattended.

When NTU got in the way of a shot, Bryan Lim chipped a shot from his own half over the last defender.

Despite the desperate attempts to stop the puck, it skidded all the way just over the line to make it 5-2 and put the icing on the top of the victory.

Trent saw out the remaining time, and when the final buzzer finally went, ecstatic celebrations ensued.

NTU had their first victory for five years, therefore, and reduced the series deficit to 6-4 in what could be a crucial momentum-changer.

Regardless of the impact it has on the final score, though, this will be one of the most memorable nights of Varsity 2022, with an excellent time had by a big crowd at the Motorpoint.

All images courtesy of Shing Hei Yip – other than Tweet 1 and Tweet 3. Full album of images to follow.

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