Historically, success is the true measure of leadership.
As Tennyson illustrates in “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” the same cannot be said of loyal followers and team members. The fearless charge of the six hundred earned them a badge of honour – a name – for their unwavering bravery in the face of attack.
The charge offered by the men’s Light Blue ice hockey team on Saturday night in Oxford was of this calibre and consequence.
The Light Blues began the ice hockey season with only two returning players, no goaltender, a dismal 12-1 loss to Oxford, and not a single victory in Michaelmas. Keenly aware of the mountainous task ahead, Cambridge ran an especially intensive training camp in Switzerland in January and then stormed unbeaten through Lent with four straight wins. This included the largest margins of victory in recent memory against Cardiff in back-to-back games and the first win over the mighty London in five years. The men in Light Blue arrived in Oxford as reigning Varsity champions and fielding league leaders in goals, assists, and points. The Cambridge of Michaelmas had manifestly been superseded by a stronger, fitter, more explosive unit.
Conversely, though Tennyson’s roaring guns and Valley of Death are too strong for Oxford, the Dark Blues were introduced at Varsity as undisputed league champions with impressive depth and firepower. Cambridge had no delusions about their opponent and knew that their most arduous charge indeed lay ahead.
Thus, the Light Blues donned their new red away jerseys in which they had never lost, fastened their fighting straps, and charged onto the ice.
As expected, Oxford came out forcibly and it took them just over a minute to open the scoring, much to the excitement of the hometown crowd. The more than 150 Cambridge supporters would not be outdone, however, and their cries instantly boosted the spirits of the Light Blues. Two minutes later, Cambridge assistant captain Ben McDonald knifed a near impossible pass over two lines that found the tape of British University Ice Hockey Association (BUIHA) leading scorer Eric Kroshus’s stick, who walked in and easily beat the terrified Dark Blues goalie to tie the contest at one.
Both sides battled hard and bodies flew around and through one another. Early on in the opening period, Oxford got another goal before the referee conspicuously took over the game. Questionable penalties on both sides ran rampant, but it was the Oxford side that capitalized with two power play goals in less than two minutes.
With the score at 4 – 1, the Cambridge captain called timeout to rally his troops and avoid the game slipping out of hand. The message was one of encouragement, a calming of nerves, and a call to get back to basics. And with that, the charge continued.
Cambridge pressed harder, but Oxford’s intensity showed no signs of waning. Chances were had at both ends, but goaltender Mike Kang obliterated any Oxford attacks. The only exceptional point was a 10-minute misconduct penalty to an Oxford player for a hit to the head, which brought the first period to a close with Oxford ahead 4 – 1.
The intermission offered Cambridge another chance to refocus and prepare to bring a lion’s effort to the following 20 minutes.
Sure enough, Cambridge came out blazing in the second frame. More penalty trouble held them back initially, but while on the penalty kill, Kroshus stole the puck and raced up the ice, faking the Oxford defenseman before sliding the puck through his legs and stepping around him. He waltzed in on the Dark Blues goaltender and deked him out of his pants to bring the Light Blues within two. Even the Oxford players admitted after the game that Kroshus’s goal was one of the nicest they had seen all season.
Oxford rebounded quickly, scoring on yet another power play and adding another at even strength. Cambridge answered back a minute later with a bullet shot by Kroshus from the top of the circle to complete the hat trick and bring the score to 6 – 3 Oxford.
Finally, the Light Blues got a power play marker of their own with a two-player advantage as once again Kroshus ripped through the Oxford defense and left the goaltender in dismay.
A late penalty right before the end of the period led to the final Dark Blue marker, upping the tally to 7 – 4 as the teams retired to their dressing rooms having scored evenly in the period.
Oxford increased their score to 8 a minute in before French Canadian Dave Brassard wired a rocket from the slot into the Oxford net for the second Light Blue power play goal of the game.
Despite a valiant showing and tremendous fan support in the third period, the three full Dark Blue lines stretched the light two Cambridge lines and Oxford managed to tally four unanswered goals.
With time slipping away in the game and Oxford boasting a sizeable lead, the Cambridge fans electrified the arena, spurring on their beloved Light Blues and calling for one last charge.
On cue, the men in Light Blue launched a final attack and Julien Gagnon sniped two goals in quick succession off excellent feeds from line-mate Kroshus.
One final marker for Oxford near the end of the game would round off the scoring. The final score was Cambridge Light Blues 7, Oxford Dark Blues 13.
The nearly 50 minutes in penalties (compared to 8 in Cambridge’s match the week before) favoured Oxford’s power play, but full credit goes to the Dark Blues who demonstrated why they emerged as league champions. They were also formidable hosts before and after the match.
Excellent performances were had by Player of the Match Eric Kroshus with four goals and three assists and goaltender Mike Kang who made a host of stellar saves throughout the match.
In sum, the “wild charge” the Cambridge Light Brigade made again and again will not soon be forgotten, nor will the glory of their near-perfect season finale fade despite Saturday’s result. They were honoured by the faithful Cambridge fans and for that, the Light Blues are immensely grateful.