On February 16, 1997 the Bracknell Bees travelled to Manchester as part of the inaugural British Ice Hockey Superleague season. Mancunian Matters report on the action as the original Manchester Storm demonstrate why they could attract record crowds to the NYNEX Arena.
Manchester Storm 6:5 Bracknell Bees
A sixty four second scoring spree in the final period secured a valuable two points for Manchester Storm who came from behind to defeat the Bracknell Bees at the NYNEX Arena.
Billed as the biggest North versus South clash since Oasis versus Blur, with 34 goals in their previous four meetings this fixture was always destined to be a blockbuster and boy, did it deliver.
The Bees started the game brightly, enjoying considerable puck time, but it was Storm who came closest to breaking the deadlock when jersey retiree Brad Rubachuk hit the post from close range.
A few minutes later, Storm d-man Jeff Sebastian picked up the puck on the Storm blue line and drove deep into the Bees zone before laying the puck to Rubachuk. Mark Bernard got down to make the save but couldn’t stop the on-rushing Nick Poole, who fired the rebound high into the net to give Manchester the lead.
Storm doubled their advantage almost immediately when Eric Calder found Rubachuk behind the Bees goal and the Canadian made no mistake in picking out Poole for his second tap-in of the game.
However, whilst dominant offensively, the home side continued to look vulnerable at the back and Mike Ellis pulled one back for the Bees with just under nine minutes to go in the period after Storm goaltender John Finnie could only block Shayne McCosh’s long range effort.
The period ended on a feisty note with Rubachuk, Dale Junkin and Brian Pellerin involved in a brawl in the Bracknell zone. Junkin and Rubachuk – adding to his impressive 132 penalty minutes for the season– sat for two; Pellerin, as the third man in, was ejected from the game.
ACTION MAN: Forward Brad Rubachuk picked up two assists and two penalty mintues in a stellar first period (@Mcr_Storm)
The Berkshire side emerged from the break the stronger of the two teams and drew level inside the opening three minutes when Mark Ellis picked out Dean Richards in acres of space in the Storm zone. With the defencemen backing away, Richards had all the time in the world to choose his spot against a helpless Finnie.
Mike Morin and Jeff Lindsay both went close for Storm as the home side ramped up the pressure, but it was the Bees who took the lead against the run of play through Peter Romeo, the forward ghosting into the Storm zone unmarked to dispatch the simplest of finishes.
Shorthanded following goaltender Bernard’s penalty for slashing at Chad Penney, the Bees extended their advantage through Wayde Bucsis who, after picking off a loose pass and locating Junkin in the Storm zone, skated in to pick up the rebound and send Bracknell into the break 4:2 to the good.
Storm continued to look defensively frail after the restart with Finnie immediately called into action to tip Romeo’s long range effort onto the roof of the net.
However, the Bees would come to rue this missed chance as moments later Nick Poole popped up in the Bracknell crease to complete his hattrick, tapping in Brad Zavisha’s inch perfect pass to halve the deficit with just over two minutes gone.
HATTRICK HERO: Nick Poole scored three near identical goals against the Bees (@Mcr_Storm)
Both goaltenders were kept busy for the next 16 minutes as the sides played wide open hockey before Storm eventually forced an equaliser through Hilton Ruggles with 1:51 remaining on the clock.
Unwilling to settle for overtime, Manchester went on the offensive from the face-off and were rewarded with another goal 39 seconds later. Switching the puck from left to right across the neutral zone, Chris Woodcroft located Penney on Bracknell’s blue line who squared the puck for Morin to stroke past a sprawling Bernard.
Star man Zavisha added Storm’s sixth goal to put the icing on the cake, pouncing on a loose puck after the Bracknell defence failed to clear Poole’s shot.
Jeff Johnstone grabbed a consolation goal for the Bees with 12 seconds remaining, but it was too little too late as Storm clung on to take two huge points in the battle for sixth place.
Full highlights: Manchester Storm vs Bracknell Bees
The Bracknell Bees would eventually pip Manchester Storm to sixth place by a single point at the end of 1996-97 season. Both sides qualified for the playoffs and finished bottom of their respective groups, failing to progress to the semi-finals.
Header image @BerksBeyond