Lynx seal League Championship with seconds to go

Aberdeen Lynx won the SNL League Championship in the last ten seconds of their match with Edinburgh Capitals. In the end, a cheeky Ben Edmonds flick into the corner of the net was all it took to separate the sides and award the league title to the Cats.

It was too close to call going into the game. The Lynx had lost their previous two matches, setting up a tense, winner-take-all match with their Edinburgh rivals last night. This game was also close, with very little separating the teams. The Edinburgh Capitals were just as deserving of their spot fighting for the league.

A great advert for the league

It's also a great advert for the league. Going into this game, only 9 points separated the Lynx at the top and the Dundee Tigers, third from bottom. A fiercely competitive Scottish National League that almost every team could win.

Gary Kelly and James Demeo's goals had kept things level with the Capitals, but in the last ten seconds of the match, Ben Edmonds scored the goal that won them the league title. The crowd erupted into a frenzy of cheers and applause, and the players threw their helmets off, hugged and high-fived on the ice. The Capitals' players could only look on, heartbroken.

For the players, it was a moment they would never forget. They had worked so hard for this, trained so long and hard, and now they had achieved their goal. The league title was theirs, and they had earned it through skill and sheer bloody-mindedness.

Lynx celebrate into the night

The celebrations continued into the night, with the players and fans basking in their hard-earned victory's glory. Jack Hutton, injured earlier in the game, had been taken to A&E. The team delivered the League Trophy to him as he waited, so he could enjoy the celebrations too.

So this week, the League Champions will start training for the playoff championship and their Scottish Cup match with Paisley Pirates. This will all take place in one spectacular weekend celebration of Ice Hockey at Murrayfield Ice Arena in April.

Aberdeen Lynx play with pride despite loss

It's been a while since my last visit to see Aberdeen Lynx play at Linx Ice Arena. It was certainly before the pandemic. My friend Susan looks after the media for the club and she invited me to go along to their Pride match against the Kirkcaldy Kestrels on Saturday night.

Ice Hockey clubs all across the UK have been standing with their LGBTQ+ communities, playing under the rainbow flag, and wearing glorious special limited edition shirts. At Aberdeen Lynx, these shirts are on auction until 29 January. You can bid for one of these amazing shirts here and here. Half the profits from the auction will be donated to Four Pillars, a local charity that helps supports the health and well-being of the LGBT+ community. While the other half will go towards youth development at the club. The Lynx are the only club in the SNL to take part this year but hope they are leading the way for others.

Lennox the Lynx judging Chuck the Puck | Photo courtesy of RS Photography / Aberdeen Lynx

A little less chilly than normal

So my 9-year-old assistant and I (my daughter) arrived at the Linx Ice Arena on a cold January night with a bag of sweeties in my pocket. We headed straight for the 'Chuck the Puck' stand, a fun mid-game for spectators where you can win big. In the second-period break, kids throw these pucks onto the ice, and the closest to the centre point wins a prize. The kids love it, and well, so did I.

Maybe it was the cold outside or the warm welcome we received, but we both noticed that it felt a little less chilly than expected as we took our seats inside the arena.

There was a crackle in the air

As the Zamboni cleaned the ice, the growing crowd started to get excited. There was a crackle in the air as the teams finished their warm-up as they knew what was coming next. The fans were up for a big game.

The last time these teams played, it had been a strong win for the Lynx, and the crowd were up for more.

The crowd settled in their seats, the lights in the whole arena turned red and phone torch lights sparkled throughout the stands as the players burst onto the ice to the loudest of cheers. Everyone was ready for the head-to-head. The music blared stadium classics such as Guns N' Roses, Metallica and Queen blasted over the tannoy.

Let's GO!

Face off on what turned out to be a stunning night of hockey | Photo courtesy of RS Photography / Aberdeen Lynx

And the Aberdeen Lynx crowd went wild

The teams took their places. The referees, wearing their black and white striped shirts, gingerly found their spot. Then the whistle blew, the music stopped dead, the first period got underway and the crowd went wild. Aberdeen Lynx immediately looked like a more confident team. Each player a little stronger and more skilled than their Kestrels opponent.

This domination meant that after around 12 minutes, Kestrels found themselves two goals down courtesy of Lynx players Jack Flynn and Jordan Leydon. However, it wasn't long before the Kestrels drew one back and things got more bad-tempered. Gloves and helmets were thrown down and fists went flying - welcome to the other side of ice hockey. All this was to the delight of the crowd, of course.

This type of on-ice fighting is allowed in ice hockey with a strange set of rules around it and everyone seems fit to allow it, even the family-friendly crowds. As soon as any player hits the ice, the refs step in. But anyone taking part knows they'll get at least five minutes in the sin bin, and this too is accepted.

"Is that the naughty step?" asked my assistant. "Yes," I replied, "it very much is."

The first period ended just in time to let the players cool down and the crowd take a well-earned breath.

Four Pillars support and services for the LGBT+ community | Photo courtesy of RS Photography / Aberdeen Lynx

Four Pillars for the LGBT+ community

We went to look at what was on offer at the stalls. I was getting the feeling that a plan was being formed by my assistant, but nothing was said as we walked past each stall to check what was on offer.

The team at Four Pillars were present at their stall, speaking to passers by As recipients of the fundraising from the Lynx pride week, they were reaching out to the Lynx fans to let them know about the services they provide. Four Pillars is a community support group that was started in 2016 by a group of people who saw a need for more support and services for the LGBT+ community in Grampian. Their goal is to help people with their mental, emotional, physical and sexual health, and bring the community together through peer education and one-on-one support.

Non-stop action, everything can change in seconds

Back to our seats ready for the second period. As the whistle blew, the sin bin was stacked thanks to the fallout from the first period. The Lynx were looking strong, and after 5 minutes they had restored their two-goal lead. Ben Edmonds is on target. This was a much calmer period though with both teams trading shots and the keepers standing their ground as the crowd ooh'd and aah'd in pure delight.

Ice hockey is a very high-paced sport. Even when goals aren't being scored, there is always something to grab your attention. A moment a skill, a stunning shot, a group of players smashing into the perspex at the side of the rink. It's non-stop action and everything can change in a only few seconds.

That was for the final period though.

As the whistle blew the plan that had been formed in the first break came back to the fore…"Dad. Can I have some money to get an Aberdeen Lynx scarf?" I delved into my pocket and played my part and Aberdeen Lynx had one more little cat as a firm fan.

Aberdeen Lynx celebrate a stunning goal | Photo courtesy of RS Photography / Aberdeen Lynx

A wonder goal from Aberdeen Lynx's Tom Johnston

As we headed into the final period, things looked treacherous for the Lynx. They were sitting back, awkwardly soaking up pressure from the Kestrels. It didn't take long for the visitors to cash in on that pressure as they reduced the deficit by one. However, two minutes later, a wonder goal from Tom Johnston restored Aberdeen Lynx's two-goal lead.

This wasn't over, though. Not by a long shot.

As the Lynx began to assert their dominance, the Kestrels team got frustrated, punches began to fly. While this was entertaining for the crowd, it felt that on the ice, the home team had lost their concentration. As they began to tire late in the game, the Kestrels found their opportunity and scored two in quick succession.

This was a touch match for both teams | Photo courtesy of RS Photography / Aberdeen Lynx

All square and everything to play for

With all square and everything to play for, it was a challenge that the Lynx felt they were up for. Less than a minute later Garry Kelly scored, quelling the fears of the crowd. It had been an incredibly entertaining match and the Aberdeen team deserved that lead, but things were getting a little sloppy. Kestrels didn't take long to draw level, and just like that, regular time was over.

Overtime is a tense matter in ice hockey – The first to score takes the glory. Lynx came out determined as they always do, to reward the home crowd with a victory. And, as they mounted wave after thrilling wave of attack against the visitors, it seemed certain that reward would come quickly. The Kirkcaldy goaltender blocked, parried and redirected the puck over and over again, but the Lynx knew this was their win.

And then it wasn't.

The defence playing their part in an amazing game | Photo courtesy of RS Photography / Aberdeen Lynx

The whistle blew and the crowd were stunned

Halfway through overtime, the puck broke free towards the Lynx half, and Kirkcaldy Kestrels' Conor Duncan put it away. The whistle blew and the crowd were stunned. This hadn't been on the cards tonight, and yet here we were, politely clapping the teams as they lined up on the ice and shook hands like true sportsmen.

Did this really happen?

And that was it. We had been thoroughly entertained, but still went home with sporting disappointment. That said, the journey home through the dark was filled with conversation about how much fun we had, but still wondering what had gone wrong.

As we arrived home, my assistant pointed out that we had never opened the bag of sweeties. There hadn't been a single lull in the entertainment to think about them.

That's proper Saturday night fun. Next time, and there will be a next time, I'm taking the whole family!

The young team show off their skills | Photo courtesy of RS Photography / Aberdeen Lynx

The next generation is ready to step up

Aberdeen Lynx is very much a community-led organisation. Prices are fair, both for entry to the match and for snacks, drinks and merchandise. Young players get involved in the big matches, often helping out during matches and showing off their skills during breaks. There is a strong feeling that the next generation is ready to step into the skates of their heroes at any given moment.

About Aberdeen Lynx

The Aberdeen Lynx is a Scottish National League ice hockey team. They train and play at the Linx Ice Arena, regularly drawing in over 1000 fans. The team prioritises junior development, fielding teams of all ages and offering a Learn to Play program. Lynx players have gone on to play for their country. The Aberdeen Ice Hockey Club, the organisation behind the team, is a registered charity.

| Photo courtesy of RS Photography / Aberdeen Lynx

Neil Fachie and Lora Fachie embrace, gold medals round their necks and draped in a union jack flag.

Temp Check: Paralympic Gold Medallist Neil Fachie MBE

Neil Fachie was born and grew up in Aberdeen, a city still close to his heart. Despite the challenges he's faced due to a condition that has deteriorated his eyesight, he's become a British sporting icon. He's an extremely determined personality who pushes himself to success, and of course we wanted to find out a little bit more about him.

In this latest Temp Check interview, we talk to Neil Fachie about his early life and education in Aberdeen. We cover his struggles to find his place in the sporting world. Then of course we chat about his success including his most recent gold medal at Tokyo 2020, breaking his own world record along the way. We also covered his family success as his wife Lora also won gold within a few minutes of him.

Settle in. This is one of our favourite Temp check interviews.

It's been a big few days for you, winning yet another gold medal for Team GB, breaking your own world record. But personally…how are you feeling right now?

Two emotions really, firstly relief. The fact that something we’d planned for so long all came together is such a relief. My event is one ride, one opportunity and if one thing goes wrong it can all be for nothing. The race on Saturday was as close to perfect as I think I’ve ever been and that showed in the time we produced. Secondly I just feel pride, no only that Matt and I were able to win that title, but also that I got to share gold medal success with my wife Lora, who also won her event in a world record time.

Neil Fachie's Childhood

I thought we'd start with your disability before we move onto your world beating abilities. You suffer from retinitis pigmentosa (RP), diagnosed at a young age. How did that diagnosis come about and how did it effect your childhood?

I was diagnosed at the age of 4 after running into a washing line pole in my Gran’s back garden on Christmas day. A common symptom of RP is to struggle in low level light and it had just been coming down dark outside. As both my Gran and Mum suffer from the condition, they knew the signs. As its a degenerative condition, it didn’t affect me too much in my early years, but as I got older, school became more of a challenge. I had to sit closer to the front and in the end had enlarged text for my exams. The poor night vision also meant I didn’t socialise with friends in an evening, so it definitely affected my social circle in my teenage years.

Was a career in sports inevitable for Neil Fachie?

I adored sport. I’d fallen in love with athletics and spent much of my time training at what was the Chris Anderson Stadium in Aberdeen. A career in sports never seemed likely though. In fact during my early teens I lost almost every race that I did. I was in it purely for the social side, as well as challenging myself to beat myself. I was constantly striving to improve, but sporting success seemed a long way off.

Neil Fachie facing the camera wearing his dark blue Paralympics GB polo shirt. He is smiling.
Neil Fachie | Photo courtesy of imagecomms / Paralympics GB

Would you say your education in Aberdeen helped or hindered your sporting ambitions? Did your school see your potential?

I didn’t get much in the way of help from my school. We’d often have to enter the Scottish Schools Championships off our own backs, but its the way it was. Studying at the University of Aberdeen did allow me to continue with Aberdeen Athletics Club, the extra time meaning I was essentially training as a full-time athlete. In the final year of my degree I became a member of the British Athletics development squad, things really took off from there.

The First Paralympics

At your first Paralympics in Beijing you were a sprinter, but after that changed to cycling. Tell us about that decision.

Following the Beijing Games I received a phone call from my manager at British Athletics. They told me that they didn’t think I had the potential to make it to London 2012 and were terminating my contract with immediate affect. At that stage my sporting dreams were done.

I desperately wanted to be part of a home Paralympic Games and so I decided to try every sport I could until I found one I might just be good enough at to have a chance of making it to the Games. As a life long fan of cycling, I decided that would be what I tried first. As it turns out, getting kicked off that athletics team was the best thing that ever happened to me. I obviously didn’t see it that way at the time.

Neil Fachie and Matt Rotherham on a tandem bike. Matt in front. The velodrome track curves behind them.
Neil Fachie and his pilot Matt Rotherham | Photo courtesy of imagecomms / Paralympics GB

What can powering on the back of a tandem bike pedalling at breakneck speeds tell us about trust? How important is your relationship with your tandem partner?

We hit speeds of 75 kph around the tight banking of the velodrome and so my life is very much in the hands of my pilot (the sighted rider on the front of the tandem). I very much have to trust in their bike handling skills, as well as trusting that they are also willing to dedicate their time towards achieving Paralympic success.

It takes a great deal of understanding between riders to make a fast tandem. Two great cyclists on a bike doesn’t equal a fast tandem. We have to be in sync, we have to compliment one another and we have to work well together. That relationship can take years to develop, if truth be told we are always learning more about one another.

London 2012 and Glasgow 2014

From a viewers point of view, being part of London 2012 and Glasgow 2014 looks like it would have been amazing. What was your experience of those games.

London 2012 was insane. The noise in the velodrome was like nothing I’ve ever experienced before or since. To win gold there was beyond my wildest dreams. Just taking part in those Games was all I’d ever wanted. For the following two weeks we were rockstars. We had to be accompanied by security when we went to events because everyone knew who we were. In that moment the Paralympic Games became mainstream.

To then follow that up with a home Games in Glasgow was very special. The crowd there were immense and pulling on the Scotland kit there was an extremely proud moment. My victory in the sprint in Glasgow is still my favourite ever win. It was an event we really shouldn’t have won, but somehow we managed to defeat the incredibly strong team from Australia.

I was devastated. As reigning world champion I was ready to race. The thought that I would have to keep going for another year, allowing my opposition time to catch me up, was gutting.
Neil Fachie

The build-up to Tokyo 2020

Let's skip forward to early 2020 as you were training for the Tokyo Olympics, we started to hear about this virus in China…and then in Italy. A worrying time for us all, but how were you feeling about your build-up?

In late January/early February we won gold at the World Championships in Canada and all was looking on track for the Games. We had beaten our opposition by a good margin and I felt extremely confident going into the final phase of training before the Games. Although the virus was starting to spread, I didn’t ever consider things would turn out the way they did.

When the games were eventually postponed, were you relieved, frustrated or a bit of both?

I was devastated. As reigning world champion I was ready to race. The thought that I would have to keep going for another year, allowing my opposition time to catch me up, was gutting. It was at that point that I started to doubt whether I would even continue to the Games.

Do you think, in terms of your performance, you benefitted from that postponement?

After the initial disappointment I started to fall in love with cycling again. As we had to train from home, I’d had to change the way I train. It turns out that this ‘freshening up’ was just what I needed. I thrived during lockdown, and once we were able to get back on track, we went from strength to strength. We used the extra year we had to work on areas of the event we hadn’t had the chance to before. We just kept getting quicker and quicker. There is no way we would’ve gone as fast as we did in Tokyo, had the race taken place in 2020.

Life in Tokyo

You are still in Tokyo right now. Tell us a little about the experience of being part of the mid pandemic olympic village beyond your cycling. What have you been able to get up to?

Regulations were very tight in Japan. We stayed outside of the athlete’s village because the velodrome is based over 100km away. For that reason it didn’t quite feel like the usual Games. Every morning we had to spit into a tube for testing, to ensure we weren’t carrying the coronavirus. Sport is often far from glamorous! The day following my race we headed to a hotel near the airport, ready to fly home. We were told that if we left the hotel, we could be arrested. Fortunately the view from our hotel was stunning, but its not quite how I wanted to see Tokyo.

Neil Fachie and Lora Fachie embrace draped in a red, white and blue union jack flag. Lora is crying and holding a bouque of flowers in her hand.
Neil Fachie and Lora Fachie Celebrate their victories in Tokyo | Photo courtesy of imagecomms / Paralympics GB

Your wife Lora won a gold medal within 15 minutes of you, a truly fantastic family achievement. How did that feel?

The most incredible day. While warming up for my race I watched Lora break the world record in her qualifying ride. I knew the pressure was then on me. Matt and I then won gold, breaking the world record, so the pressure switched back to Lora and her pilot Corrine. In their gold medal ride they won a tough battle against the Irish bike, taking Paralympic gold. I didn’t see Lora for the next 30 minutes or so as I was taken away for my podium and Lora hers. When we finally came together I gave her a huge hug and she said to me, “we did it”. The tears were flowing at that point.

The Future for Neil Fachie

That top spot on the podium must be getting quite familiar, and we're now only three years away from Paris '24. Have you made the decision whether or not you'll aim to compete?

I have every intention of being there. Next summer the Commonwealth Games take place in Birmingham, an event I plan to be part of. In 2023 the cycling world champs take place in Glasgow. This will be the first time all cycling disciplines will come together to create a cycling Games of sort, so I definitely want to be part of that. Then at that stage we are just one year away from Paris. I might be 40 at that stage, but I’d love to be there to try and defend my title.

Thank you so much to the amazing Neil Fachie taking the time to answer our questions despite having an incredibly busy schedule following Tokyo. He's a truly inspirational character. This is a story we can all take motivation from no matter what path we are on.

Find out more

Neil Fachie's book Earn Your Stripes is a great read. You can learn more about it on his website. Neil hosts a podcast The 1% Club with fellow presenter, John Mellis. You can also make a connection with Neil on Twitter where he's very active.

If you enjoyed this Temp Check, why not check out our interview with Aberdeen radio presenter Lauren Mitchell. It's a great follow-up read.