Shropshire Star

Tom Watkins: My Telford Tigers back at the level we need to be

Telford Tigers have rediscovered their standards according to head coach Tom Watkins.


After a dreadful season in 2022/23, the Tigers are looking to challenge towards the top of the NIHL National League again and regain the title they last won in the 2021/22 campaign.

And after defeating Solway Sharks 5-2 at Telford Ice Rink on Sunday night, Watkins hailed his players for ‘playing on the level we need them to’.

He said: “I think that was another solid performance, a character win with a short bench.

“Again we played with a lot of control, a lot of discipline, managed the puck well and defensively were solid.

“Two very good performances this weekend with five or six players out of the line-up, which is very pleasing. We are showing that consistency night after night.

“Special teams were again very good, four power play goals and a solid penalty kill.

“Everyone is playing on the level we need them to and playing hard for each other.”

Tigers were back on home ice after a close defeat in Peterborough the previous evening, but were short-benched with import forward Jesse Sutton suspended and Jonathan Weaver, Nick Oliver, Danny Rose and Connor Lee unavailable.

Tigers made a bright start to the game and it was no surprise that the home side took the lead.

Great work by Sam Watkins to win the puck behind the Solway goal paid dividends when Watkins found the unmarked Fin Howells, who shot through Solway netminder Calum Hepburn.

Hepburn then committed a tripping penalty in stopping Howells breaking in on goal, giving Telford a power play.

Scott McKenzie established possession at the side of the Solway goal and passed across for Vladimir Luka to smash a first-time shot low past Hepburn from the centre of the right circle. With five minutes of the period left, Solway’s Keiran Hair was called for tripping, giving Tigers another power play.

Within a minute, the lead was increased to three goals with an identical set-up to the second goal.

McKenzie found Luka in the same spot as before and he dispatched the puck past Hepburn.

Late in the period, Solway got on the scoreboard with a low shot from Craig Peacock beating Brad Day.

Solway opened the second period well and dominated much of the first five minutes, with Telford unable to clear the puck from their defensive zone. The pressure finally paid off when John Dunbar forced the puck past Day.

With Tigers under pressure they upped their game and were helped by Solway’s constant visits to the penalty box. Peacock caught Luka in the head with an elbow and was lucky to only receive a two-minute minor penalty.

Tigers had been lethal on the power play so far and restored a two-goal lead with the extra attacker. After peppering the Solway goal with shots, the puck broke to Luka in the slot, allowing the Czech import forward to smash the puck past Hepburn for his third power play goal of the night.

A penalty called at the end of the second period on Struan Tonar for interference would prove costly for the visitors as Tigers would score their fifth early in the third period.

Howells took possession of a Rhodes Mitchell-King pass and broke into the Solway defensive zone unopposed and shot low past Hepburn. The goal was Tigers’ fourth power play goal of the game.

For the remainder of the contest, Telford maintained possession well and saw off all that Solway could throw at them, sealing a hard-fought two points, with Lucas Price named man of the match.