Vanya Antonov said he has complete faith league-leading Streatham will finish the season as champions — even as they prepare to do so without him.
Streatham confirmed top scorer Antonov will play his final match this Sunday at third-placed Chelmsford Chieftains before he moves abroad for a non-hockey opportunity.
Danny Ingoldsby scored a hat-trick and Antonov picked up four assists in Streatham’s 12-0 rout of Cardiff Fire last who struggled to cope with a bench short seven men due to injuries and player commitments.
Assistant captain Rupe Quiney, Ben Paynter and Ziggy Beesley scored twice each for the RedHawks who also benefitted from goals by Scott Bailey, Brandon Miles and Conner Smith.
Antonov, who leads the NIHL South 1 league with 56 goals, said: “It’s a double-edged sword. It’s quite exciting what the future holds but it’s surreal knowing this might be the last ice hockey game I ever play.
“The team we have is great. We have an abundance of talent and our offence is scoring all over the three lines.
“I have no doubt the boys will bring back the silverware.”
Fans and players alike believe this could be the April Streatham finally end their decades-long championship drought.
A pre-season league shake-up saw several of the RedHawks’ closest rivals promoted to the newly-created National Division, now the second-highest branch of British ice hockey below the Elite Ice Hockey League (EIHL).
The 20-1 RedHawks have a four-point buffer on second-placed Solent Devils at the top of the table and are five clear of the Chieftains, who meet bottom-of-the-league Milton Keynes Thunder on Saturday.
RedHawks’ player-coach Adam Carr acknowledged his team will have big skates to fill following Antonov’s departure.
But he was bolstered by the effort he saw from the whole squad and especially man-of-the-match Ingoldsby.
Carr said: “That’s why we’re top of the league.
“We have a really good group of people who all play for each other. That’s what we’ve built. That’s what we will continue to do.
“With the likes of Danny and other guys who have been stepping up all season I’m confident we’re going to win some trophies this year.”
But Carr isn’t underestimating Streatham’s next opponent.
He said: “I think Chelmsford are the toughest team we’ve played. They’re a good skating team, they’ve got the most depth in the league alongside us and they’re well-organised.”
Ingoldsby was also looking forward to facing the Chieftains and admitted it was tough to play an unevenly-matched game.
He said: “It’s never nice putting away that many goals against a team. They were working their hardest with a short bench and obviously giving everything they could.”
Ingoldsby’s tripping penalty in the 56th minute put Fire on the power play for the third time but Cardiff struggled to stay in the attacking zone.
Just over a minute after Ingoldsby entered the box, his teammate Ben Paynter found the puck near the left face-off circle and flicked it past Ben Scanlan for a shorthanded goal to put the RedHawks up 11-0.
Beesley scored the game’s final goal less than two minutes later.
Ingoldsby expected a tighter score-line next week.
He said: “Everyone’s got to be firing on all cylinders and contributing.
“It could be down to the last five minutes that could either win or lose it for us.”