Thursday, 16 March 2017

Durham Dragons - Prague Barrel Tournament 2017

The Durham Dragons travelled to Prague at the start of March to represent the U.K. in the “Prague Barrel” tournament in the Czech Republic.
The tournament was made up of teams from Norway, Germany, Oman, Slovakia and Belarus as well as the Dragons. There were also four sides from Russia and two from Canada.
The Durham team travelled with a shortened squad, taking just eleven skaters and two Goalies. Amongst those absent were Player/Coach and last seasons top scorer Brett Kirby, former Whitley Warriors junior player John Shreeve and smooth skating Canadian defenceman Brad Armitage.
With so many absentees a t the welcome meal on the Thursday night, it was left to Dragons Captain, Chris Hall to make the Draw on behalf of his team and duly pulled “Group B” out of the hat which would pit the Dragons up against HC Zubr of Belarus and Rossa of Russia.
Friday saw the Dragons take to the ice early, for a 9am start against the Belarusians, who boasted a former KHL player in their line up. The Dragons initially struggled to get to grips with the no checking rules in place for the tournament and that allowed Zubr to jump out to a two goal lead early in the period with their former pro player doing most of the damage.
As the period wore on the Dragons came more into the game and were rewarded when Ian Greenwood sent a rebound home past the stranded netminder to pull the Dragons back to within one goal at the end of the first. The second period saw the Dragons paying more attention to the Belarusian danger man but seemingly to no avail, as he helped himself to a further two assists, having walked round the Dragons defence to set up his team mates from point blank range.
The third period looked to be going the same way when he completed his hat trick before adding a fourth to make the score 6-1 in favour of the Eastern Europeans.
The Dragons dug deep however and backed up by Sam Elsom, who made some fine saves in the Durham net, came back into the game and started to look more dangerous. 
The Dragons got their breakthrough when Michael Park fired an unstoppable shot through the five hole of the Zubr goalie, followed a minute later by former Billingham Star James Udell, who showed some fine stick handling to walk round the Belarusian defence and fire home to make it 6-3.
The Dragons continued to press hard against a tiring Zubr side but time ultimately proved to be against them as the clock wound down to hand them a 6-3 loss in the opener.
With only a few hours to recover the Dragons were then back in action just after lunch as they took on the Russian side “Rossa” who had also lost their first game to HC Zubr earlier in the day.
The winner of the game would advance to the middle group on the following day and be guaranteed at least an 8th place finish. The Dragons got off to a dream start when Michael Park grabbed his second of the tournament, making no mistake in finishing his breakaway chance.
A few minutes later the Dragons looked to have gone 2-0 up when former Durham Wasp, Mark Foster, fired home a slap shot only to have it ruled out seconds later by the referee.
The Russians took advantage of the Dragons despair shortly afterwards by finishing a breakaway of their own, before grabbing the lead when a rebound came back off the post and onto a Russian stick to allow them to fire past Davies in the Durham net.
The period ended 2-1 in favour of the Russians but the Dragons were far from finished in the game. The Dragons came roaring out of the blocks in the second period and had numerous chances on the Russian net only to be denied by some excellent saves by the Rossa goaltender.
The Russians also went full out, making the game an end to end affair but they could not find a way past Davies in the Dragons net, meaning the period finished as it started, 2-1 to the Russian side.
The third period saw both teams beginning to tire, but the stick work from the Russian side continued to gave momentum, much to the ire of the Dragons. Undeterred by some of the dirty play that was seemingly taking place all over the ice the Dragons pressed on grabbing an equaliser through Ian Greenwood half way through the period.
In a mirror image of the first game it was James Udell who the potted the Dragons third goal, giving them a slim 3-2 lead going into the last few minutes. With all to play for, the Russian side threw everything they could at the Durham defence with only some desperate shot blocking standing in the way of them and an equaliser that would send Durham into the bottom group.
Luck would not favour the Dragons though, as with only two minutes left on the clock, they had a man in the penalty box, and also lost their goaltender when Craig Davies made a desperate diving save to his right and stopped a hard shot with his head.
Davies was knocked unconscious on the play and was helped off the ice by the on site medical team. Sam Elsom stepped in for the final minute with no chance to warm up and despite making several key saves Rossa got a lucky rebound which allowed them to scrape a draw.
This pushed the Dragons into the bottom group on goal difference meaning an early morning meeting with the Freiburg Eagles of Germany the following day. Despite the early face off and the fact that the Germans boasted two former French pro league players in their line up, the Dragons sensed blood in the water and went after the German side from the opening puck drop.
Less than a few minutes in and Ian Greenwood gave the Dragons the lead with a nifty backhand shot after dancing through the Freiburg defence. James Udell then popped up to grab a quick brace to give the Dragons a commanding 3-0 lead at the end of the first period.
Former Durham Wasp and current Durham Dragons Captain, Chris Hall, got in on the act early in the second period, firing home a powerful slap shot from the point.
The Wasps connection was on display again shortly afterwards when Mark Foster fired a laser like shot into the top corner before adding a second after walking through the defence and lifting the puck over the stranded goalie.
The period ended with defensemen David Hirst displaying his famous silky hands before firing home to give the Dragons a 7-0 lead going into the final frame.
With the points in the bag the Dragons eased off a little in the third but still had time for long serving defenseman Darren Webb to fire home through traffic to make it 8-0. James Udell then completed the scoring as well as bagging his own hat trick to put the Dragons 9-0 up.
The defence held firm for the final few minutes, rewarding Davies with his first shut out of the season in the Dragons net. That result put the Dragons up to 10th place ahead of the German side and Les Goalois of Canada, meaning they would now face the Golden Boys Kosice from Slovakia in the 9th/10th place play off.
The Solvakian outfit boasted several ex pro’s in their line up too, and were rolling four full lines compared to the Dragons two so, on paper it looked to be a tough challenge for the English team.
As the puck dropped however the Dragons upped their work rate and matched the Slovakians all over the ice in the opening frame. The Dragons were unlucky not to take the lead early in the period when they had several excellent chances only to be denied by some excellent goaltending.
The Slovakians were becoming visibly frustrated that they could not find a way past the plucky Brits but eventually got their noses in front on the powerplay late in the period. A hard shot from the point made its way through traffic and was deflected into the roof of the net giving Davies no chance in the Durham goal.
The second period began with the Slovakians grabbing a quick goal to give them a two goal lead and it looked like the floodgates may open as they continued to press the Dragons net. However, once again the Dragons showed pure grit and determination and managed to peg them back. Not for the first time, it was Udell doing the damage, firing a shot through the five hole of the Golden Boys netminder to bring Durham Back into the game.
The numbers game started to come more into play as a tiring Dragons team succumbed to the constant fresh legs coming off the Slovak bench and shipped  two goals late in the period to finish the second 4-1 down.
The Dragons looked dead on their feet to start the third period and when the fifth Slovak goal went in, it looked like the British boys were down and out. But the Dragons once again dug deep and the dangerous Ian Greenwood slotted home to keep his side within touching distance.
The Slovaks made it 6-2 shortly after, but once again the Dragons would not go away, with Greenwood leading a short handed break, up the ice and potting his second of the game.
With time winding down the Slovaks added a slightly suspicious looking seventh goal when the net was clearly off its moorings. However, despite the score line the Dragons could still hold their heads high, having given the Slovaks a tougher game than they anticipated.
The Dragons took home the tenth place trophy, but made a number of friends in the process and hopefully gave a good account of British hockey.

2nd - 5th March
The Dragons, are the last remaining Hockey team from Durham, still going since the closure of the Riverside rink in 1996.
The Dragons have enjoyed similar success to that of their more illustrious neighbours, winning tournaments around the country and having the reputation of a very capable team to be reckoned with. They are a  hockey team, who can adjust their style to match and beat any opponents.
Unfortunately things changed after the closure of the rink. Players drifted away or retired, but a core of the team remained united. The Dragons have battled on for some 15 years now training at Sunderland, Billingham, Whitley Bay and the Newcastle Arena, but all the time they have maintained their "Durham" identity and passion.
Over the last few years there have been promises and plans of a new ice rink in Durham, but they have come and gone. However, the Dragons have still been able to attract players.
In the last few years Durham have achieved great results in both friendly games and tournaments, and gained the respect of their opponents for the way they  approach the game, as well as their conduct both on and off the ice. 
"We're the only team to survive from Durham and we're going to make sure we're a good enough team to pull on the blue and gold shirts, step back on that ice and give a performance that is worthy of the Durham name" Darren Webb  Team Manager said.

There are a couple of personnel changes to the side that won the Summer Plate in August.
Brett Kirby will sit out this season, while Latvian forward Serge Kvasys opted not to re-sign for this year.
The Dragons can still boast an import within their ranks though, as Canadian born Brad Armitage, has arrived from the Newcastle Coyotes, to bolster their blue line.
Aside from Armitage, the Dragons have several names that many Warriors fans will be familiar with.
Mark Foster and Chris Hall both iced for their bitter rivals the Durham Wasps, while John Shreeve saw some action in the Maroon and Gold during the 2003-04 season.
There are also several ex junior players from Whitley, Durham, Sunderland and Billingham. Gareth Beddoes, Brett Kirby, Ian Greenwood, Lee Smith, Steve Goldsmith, Michael Park, Michael Anderson, Ian Watson and Craig Davies, while  James Udell has seen action with the Newcastle ENL Vipers, Isle of Wight Raiders and Billingham Bombers.
The Barrel tournament will certainly prove to be valuable for the experience gained ahead of the Dragons Summer Cup campaign, and one of the players who featured in the Prague, Craig Davies shared his thoughts on which teams he believes his side should look out for in the months ahead.
"Whitley and Cleveland will probably be battling for the league title. I think Whitley possibly have the edge right now but it depends on whether Paul Windridge and Pattison sign for Cleveland or not. However, they already have James McCabe, Garry Dowd and Anthony Price, who were all prominent players for the stars at one time" he said. 
"They could make it very interesting. I would say the remaining two playoff spots will be between us, Kingston and Grimsby. Kingston have been strong for a good few years now, but have lost one or two players since last year and have just lost their Dumfries trophy this past weekend. You still can't rule them out though as Gowan Beddoes, the brother of our Gareth Beddoes, and Chris Hogarth, who played for the Kingston Jets and Newcastle ENL Vipers, are still arguably the top two forwards in the league." he added.  "Grimsby are joining for the first time this year, but tournament play has shown them to be strong. Plus playing their home games on their tiny rink gives them a real advantage. They have lost to Cleveland home and away already but beat Solihull at the weekend. So as long as they stay disciplined they will prove to be a threat." he continued.
"Blackburn and Solihull don't tend to travel well but are capable of a few surprise results along the way, especially on their rinks, but I think Widnes  might struggle this year as they've lost their best players to the NIHL Wild during the off season." he said.
Davies though recognises their are pros and cons to wearing the blue and yellow of a Durham team.
"Billingham and Whitley have junior development programmes in place, not to mention several players who once turned our for their senior sides, but Durham no longer can compete with that as we have no 'league' team that players can drop down from!" he said.
"Still the Dragons were the last team to play out of the Riverside rink before it shut and are the only ones carrying the Durham name these days. We don't pretend to be the Wasps but we  do try to keep some of the sentiment and legacy alive where we can." he concluded.
The Dragons are back in action this coming Sunday night [March 19] as they travel to Sheffield to take on the Blazers at ice Sheffield.

Sunday 19th March 2017
8:15pm At Sheffield

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