The Aspray Chester Deeside Dragons wanted a challenge, and with a pre-season weekend against the National League’s Bristol Honda Pitbulls, they certainly got one.
Last season, the Dragons didn’t get a chance to have a preseason, and this year, Head Coach Mike Clancy wanted to best prepare his team for a season in a league where every team improved in the summer. Bristol were kind enough to give the Dragons two games, and though the Dragons knew going into the games that it was going to be a hard weekend, they fought until the end of both games.
The Dragons were missing some key faces this weekend, including Petr Valusiak, Chris Jones, new signing Oliver Howells, and James Shaw was only available for the Sunday game.
Making their Dragons debuts this weekend were Cade King, Brodie Jesson, Dalton Thompson, Oliver Booth and Jace Gledhill, and we welcomed back James Shaw after a three year stint in Nottingham. On Saturday, Brodie was named Dragons MVP, and on Sunday, it was King’s turn. Booth and Gledhill both got to play a period of hockey each, after some strong play from starting goalie Matt Croyle, and they both had good debuts, making some good saves against a well-drilled Bristol team.
The Bristol Pitbulls play in the NIHL’s National Division, the next league up from the Dragons. They had three strong imports on their team, as well as Bayley Harewood, who is on a two way contract with the Cardiff Devils. In goal on Saturday was Matthew Smital, in his third season in the National League, and on Sunday the Dragons faced Ben Norton, a GB U20s goalie who is also on a 2 way contract with the Cardiff Devils.
The Dragons started off a little clumsy, allowing a goal on the opening faceoff, and then a second one 15 seconds later. It was a shaky first period, with the Pitbulls showcasing extreme speed and skill, and though Matt Croyle made some good saves, by the end of the first period, it was 7-0 Pitbulls thanks to a goal with 1.5 seconds remaining in the period and 20-7 Pitbulls in shots.
Things settled down in the second period, the Dragons got to play their game a little, and we saw some good movement on the power play, after allowing 2 shorthanded goals in the first period. The Pitbulls added only three more goals, and the shots in this period were even at 12-12.
In the third period, Croyle was replaced by Oliver Booth, making his senior men’s debut. He would end up making 22 of 26 saves, a fantastic debut for the 16 year old goalie. The Dragons broke the shutout in this period, with a power play goal from Alex Parry, assisted by Andy McKinney.
The final score was 14-1, but spirits were high in the Dragons locker room, and there was plenty to like about their play, as well as lots of teachable moments to take from the game.
The Dragons were back in the Den, with a much stronger start than Saturday. They tested the Pitbulls goalie early, though they didn’t break through, and unfortunately a 4-0 first period with a minute remaining turned into a 6-0 deficit, with Matt Croyle facing 26 shots in 20 minutes.
The Dragons broke through in the second period, with power play goals from Parry and McKinney. The power play was strong all weekend, and will surely be dangerous against NIHL1 teams this season. Bristol didn’t let up though, and it was 10-2 at the end of the second period.
Croyle was replaced in the third by Jace Gledhill, also making his senior men’s debut. He faced 12 shots, and also made some great saves.
The final score was 14-2, but again there was a lot to like from many players. The penalty kill was especially strong on Sunday, as all 14 goals were scored at even strength.
Overall, it was a hard weekend for the whole team, but everyone enjoyed the games, and there was a lot of experience gained by all the players, especially the youngsters. After Sunday’s game, Head Coach Mike Clancy said “Jamie [Bristol Pitbulls Head Coach] drills a great group down there, he’s got a very well structured team and they play with a pace that we all saw tonight. A really rewarding weekend for the Dragons.”
Next weekend, the real fun begins! The Dragons have an away game at Billingham against the Stars on Saturday September 16th, before coming back to the Den for the regular season home opener on the 17th, also against the Stars. Doors open at 4.30, the puck drops at 5.15, and tickets are available online now!