Deeside Dragons pulled off the greatest of escapes as they secured their survival in the most thrilling and dramatic of fashions.
The Dragons headed into their final game of the regular season at Blackburn Hawks on Saturday knowing they had to win to keep their hopes of staying in the Moralee Conference alive.
And, thanks to a hat-trick from player-coach Scott Mckenzie, two goals from captain James Parsons (2), and further strikes from Alex Parry and Filip Supa, they did just that.
The 8-6 success at the play-off bound Hawks hauled the Dragons hauled off the bottom of NIHL North One and ensured they took their place in the following night’s relegation-promotion decider.
McKenzie’s men made the return trip to Blackburn to take on Laidler Conference runners-up Widnes Wild.
And what a match it proved to be.
Jordan Bannon (2) and Supa put the higher-division Dragons in front on three separate occasions.
But each time big rivals Wild, who had lost the previous two years’ relegation-promotion showdowns, battled back to restore parity.
With so much at stake tempers started to flare and both sides were involved in an ugly melee at the end of the second period.
The bad feeling carried over into the third and Widnes dangerman and former Flintshire Freeze forward Bobby Caunce was thrown out of the game for headbutting.
But neither side could net again and with the score locked at 3-3 a five-minute overtime period was required.
Overtime is played with just three skaters from each team instead of the usual five with no imports allowed.
And, after Wild lost Stuart Brittle to a penalty in the 63rd minute, the Dragons struck the golden goal winner.
Mckenzie, playing against the club he left last summer, was the creator, setting up Parsons to make it 4-3 and spark scenes of unbridled joy on and off the ice.
Mckenzie, who finishes as the Moralee Conference’s top scorer with 53 points, told British Ice Hockey: “The guys feel like they’ve won a trophy. They’re really, really happy.
“Both teams didn’t want to lose and credit to them for the way they kept coming back. They made it really difficult for us.
“I’m just grateful we got the win and I’m delighted that it was James Parsons who got the goal. He’s a natural leader and he’s been an outstanding player in this league this year.
“Our fans were absolutely amazing, too. We never question our support. They’re absolutely brilliant and we really appreciate it. Everything we do is for them.”
Parsons, speaking to British Ice Hockey, added: “It’s definitely special to get the winner. It’s the sort of thing you think about when you’re younger.
“The reaction at the end from the fans was amazing, too. There were a lot here over the weekend so we’ve got to say thank you to them.
“Without them there’s no team, so it’s great to do this for them.”