HAVING clinched the Under-12 North league title the previous weekend, Bradford Bulldogs ensured they finished the regular season campaign with their unbeaten record intact – but it was a close-run thing.
Leeds Junior Knights proved a tougher nut to crack second time around, this time playing host at Elland Road Ice Arena a week after they had lost out 8-0 to the Bulldogs in Bradford.
In the end, there was only one goal to separate the two teams, captain Will Durgan striking the deciding blow with 44.42 on the clock.
In a tight, keenly-contested game, it was Bulldogs’ Nathan Mitchell who had broken the deadlock at 10.30, the visitors doubling their lead through Billy Simpson just over five minutes later.
But the hosts came roaring back, halving the deficit through Harry Marshall at 29.33 before levelling the game just 12 seconds into the third period through Zach Taylor.
Mitchell doubled his tally and restored the Bulldogs’ lead at 34.05 but again the Knights charged back to make it all-square again when Evan Bradon found a way past Jacob Mardell with 37.00 on the clock.
That was how it looked like remaining until Durgan pounced in his final shift of the game to ensure a 13th win of the campaign, taking the Bulldogs into this weekend’s eagerly-anticipated Nationals at Ice Sheffield on a winning note.
The Under-14s go into their final weekend of the regular season knowing they need to win both games in order to reach their own age-group Nationals event in Ice Sheffield on May 21-22.
A Saturday evening trip to Manchester Storm – where four points are on the line – is followed by a visit from second-placed Sheffield 24 hours later.
Saturday saw a visit from unbeaten leaders Nottingham to Little Horton Lane and despite a great start by the hosts, the East Midlands team showed just why they have been head and shoulders above everyone else with a 10-7 victory.
The Bulldogs got off to a dream start when captain Daragh Spawforth and Danny Harrison had them 2-0 ahead with just 65 seconds on the clock.
But the visitors went in at the first break 3-2 ahead through goals from Alex Rushby, Dylan Hughes and Ewan Woodward.
A second strike from Woodward at 18.11 made it 4-2 only for Spawforth to make it a one-goal game again less than two minutes later.
Only 47 seconds had passed, however, when Nottingham made it 5-3 through Leland Stevens, their advantage stretched to three when Alex Rushby struck on the breakaway with a shorthanded effort at 23.10, his hat-trick marker two minutes later putting his side firmly in control at 7-3.
Harrison finished off a neat play to close the gap at 26.37 and although the hosts went on to score three more goals in the final 15 minutes the visitors had an answer every time.
Will Durgan gave the hosts hope when he fired home from distance to make it 7-5 with just under seven minutes remaining, but Rushby continued to be a thorn in the hosts’ side when he scored his fourth at 38.22.
Frank O’Sullivan got on the board to make it 8-6 at 40.06 but, just 33 seconds later, it was cancelled out, Rushby again the scorer before Alfie Langridge struck to make it 10-6 at 41.02.
O’Sullivan doubled his tally with a power play strike at 42.51 but there was to be no way back for the Bulldogs.