COACH Andy Brown praised the efforts of his short-benched Bradford Bulldogs team after they returned to action following the festive break with a 6-3 defeat at Coventry Blaze.
Missing several players through injury and illness, the Bulldogs almost matched the hosts blow for blow through the first two periods before seeing the game slip away from them in the third.
“It was always going to be a tough ask going into the game, given the bodies we had missing,” said head coach Brown.
“But each and every one of our players put in 100 per cent and for a while we were able to keep ourselves in with a shout. But I think tiredness told in the end and they were just able to pull away in that last 20 and close the game out.”
It was a frantic start to proceedings at the Skydome Arena, with three goals coming in the opening six minutes.
Blaze were first on the board with just 56 seconds on the clock when Daniel Mulcahy found a way past Philip Pearson, although it wasn’t long before the scored were level as Alex Mitchell hit a reply 34 seconds later.
Coventry enjoyed the greater possession in the first, peppering Pearson’s goal with 24 shots, but they were only 3-1 ahead at the break, Arthur Steven Brookes getting the go-ahead goal on the power play at 5.06 with Connor Mellett making it 3-1 at 17.59.
But the Bulldogs made sure they stayed in the game and pulled to within one again through Josh Stockton at 26.22, only for Coventry to quickly restore their two-goal cushion through Harrison Sumner 59 seconds later.
The Bulldogs were then presented with a way back into the game when finding themselves on a lengthy 5-on-3 power play just after the halfway mark.
Even though they couldn’t make that count, they did find the net on the short one-man advantage that followed, Abigail Culshaw making it 4-3 at 34.40 and with it all to play for going into the final 20.
The next goal would prove crucial and, unfortunately, it went the way of the hosts early in the third when Sumner made it 5-3 with his second of the night at 41.13.
Pearson turned away 17 shots in the third but couldn’t prevent Blaze scoring an insurance marker through Lewis Smith at 52.56.
The Bulldogs will hope to have bodies back for what will be another tough outing on Saturday when they head east on the M62 to take on an unbeaten Hull Jets.
Under-18s back to winning ways in style
On Sunday, Bulldogs’ Under-18s were back in action, snapping an eight-game losing streak with a comprehensive 11-1 win over visitors Whitley.
Captain Damarni James led the way with a six-point game – including four goals – while there were two goals apiece for Rhys Edwards and Matthew Cross. Jack Wooding, Lucas Vince and Tom Mardell also got on the scoresheet.
James opened the scoring at 3.15 before Edwards doubled the lead just over three minutes later. The visitors halved the deficit through an 11th-minute strike from Matthew Betham but the hosts went into the first break two ahead after James bagged his second of the night at 15.33.
That was how it remained until the halfway point, after which the Bulldogs pulled clear with four goals inside nine minutes.
Jack Wooding made it 4-1 at 31.21 before Mardell increased the lead with a shorthanded strike 77 seconds later.
Two more from James – his fourth goal coming with just four seconds of the period remaining – left Whitley with a mountain to climb at 7-1 adrift.
The Bulldogs – superior in numbers – continued to be dominant all over the ice and threw 25 shots on Callum Tebbutt’s net in the third.
But the net didn’t bulge again until the 50th minute, defenceman Cross making it 8-1 before Lucas Vince pounced on the power play at 52.16.
Another power play marker – this time from Cross – soon followed before Edwards fired home his second of the game from distance to complete the rout at 59.01.