By Danny Buckland
Hampstead delivered their Christmas presents early, confirming their position at the top of the Premier tree with a 13-3 triumph over 2nd placed Hillcroft.
The win sees them two points clear of their south London rivals with the next games not scheduled till 6 January.
It was a classic Hampstead performance as they rolled out a 21-man roster that could barely squeeze onto the sideline at the Westway stadium.
Brian Potter scored a hat-trick against his old club and Cam Joyce, who got 51 goals and 34 assists in his final college season, scored four, including the opening two that branded a high standard on the game.
Hampstead were also able to suit up goalie Mike Nugent, drafted from Mercer College to the Denver Outlaws this season, to fill in for Brian Vandenbossche between the pipes.
The Men in Black got off to a flier in the 2nd minute with a Joyce thunderbolt on an extra man shift and they then exerted huge pressure on Hillcroft with co-ordinated rides that are normally absent in the early part of Hampstead games as their personnel gets familiar.
But Hillcroft were equal to it and their D-unit exhibited great patience and stick skills to evade traps and eventually work the ball clear and settle into some crisp attacking.
The home defence, lead by All-American and, briefly, Boston Cannons D-man Jed Raymond, were there to seal off Hillcroft’s patient probing and it wasn’t until the sixth minute that they had a chance to strike when Eoin Dunne spotted a chink of daylight and guided a pass to Jonny Harry whose shot was well saved by Nugent.
Possession was balancing about equal and chances had to be chiselled out of two granite-like defences. Toby Cleaver-Ross saved well from the ever dangerous Will Pickett before Joyce swept in on an angle to fire in a low-shot for 2-0.
The Croft continued to challenge and Rhod Stanford found Harry who blistered in a scorcher past Nugent for 2-1 and they closed the Quarter level when Stanford muscled his way through cover to slot home neatly with just 30 seconds to go.
It was shaping up into a game that would be decided by a last-minute clincher. But Joyce started to corrode that promise when he rounded from X and fired in from a tight angle just two minutes into Q2.
Cleaver-Ross was getting more of the heat now and he saved brilliantly from Pickett but the clear, for once, stuttered and Hampstead pounced with Carbone scoring close in from a Joyce feed. Johnny Moore and Pickett were starting to pull strings to release their potent front three and Carbone scored another on the crease which was rapidly followed a strike from Pickett to make it 6-2.
Hillcroft had done little wrong but the home team was clinical and their Q2 shut-out was crucial.
The visitors pressed hard in the 3rd quarter and managed to hustle Hampstead out of their stride but still needed two stand-out saves from T C-R to keep them in with a sniff; one off the helmet that bounced almost back to half-way.
But, despite good possession, they were now chasing the game and Hampstead could enjoy some space. Joyce scored and then fed Potter who handled well under pressure to fire off a low shot and Hampstead were 8-2 up going into Q4.
The game was studded with sizzling transition as well as big collisions as Hillcroft refused to concede an inch of turf in a compelling game.
Raymond punctuated one of his many lightning breaks from D with a goal and Potter was his elusive, magical self as he scored twice; once with his back to goal from a James Devine feed and another where he managed to find room in the crowd to free his hands in a Hillcroft telephone booth zone.
Another Pickett goal and one from Wilson Gearhart, separated by Hillcroft’s lone strike in three quarters from Thom Patton, completed the scoring.
Hampstead’s dazzling play merited their side of the scoreline but the gap was cruel on Hillcroft who, on another day, would have kept it much closer for longer.
Hampstead will struggle to line-up with such a potent force again this season and Hillcroft were without the considerable presence of captain Tom Loake, out with a groin injury for three months, and attacker Matt Tanner which slightly restricted their options.
“They were certainly strong but we’re disappointed not to stay with them for more than just the first quarter,” said Loake, who watched the game on crutches.
“They were strong across the field and their Denver Outlaws goalie was probably the pick of the bunch. We have a tough start after Christmas, so we need to hit the ground running after the winter break.”
The victory means that Hampstead has won two of its toughest league fixtures – having beaten Spencer in Week 4 – which puts them firmly in command of the Premiership’s destiny.
But Spencer are targeting their visit to the Westway on 6 February and Hillcroft will be confident they are still in the hunt, particularly as the leaders have to visit the fortress of Tooting on the final day of the season.
The Big Three of Hampstead, Hillcroft and Spencer are still favourites to be contending the crown but Blues are calmly restoring their power and have surged into fourth slot.
Cambridge, who won 7-6 in Cardiff last week, and Welwyn, who drew 7-7 at Reading, along with Bristol will be delighted by their mid-table positions, while Hitchin and Cardiff will regroup over Christmas and hope to find form in the New Year.
Q Scores: 2-2 / 6-2 / 8-2 / 13-3
Hampstead: Cam Joyce 4, Brian Potter 3, Mike Carbone 2, Will Pickett 2, Jed Raymond, Wilson Gearhart
Hillcroft: Thom Gilbrook, Jonny Harry, Rhod Stanford