IT IS still very early days yet, but Bracknell Bees are shaping up as if they could be serious challengers for league and cup honours this season, writes Dave Wright.

They moved up to third place in the NIHL Division One South table following two more victories last weekend – 6-1 at home to Streatham and 5-1 away to Cardiff Fire.

With five wins from six league fixtures, they sit just one point behind new leaders Swindon Wildcats and level on points with second-placed Peterborough Phantoms, who are unbeaten in five matches.

Whilst hot-shots Frankie Bakrlik and Shaun Thompson have been grabbing the headlines recently for their goal-scoring exploits, it was 23-year-old George Norcliffe who stole the show on Saturday with a man-of-the-match performance.

The 6ft 2in Guildford-born forward scored twice in the space of four minutes as Bees comfortably overcome his former club Streatham in the first ever league meeting between the two clubs.

Bees got off to a flying start by taking the lead through Jan Bendik with a little over two minutes on the clock with Josh Martin and Steven Osman providing the assists.

The advantage was doubled in the 10th minute when a swift counter-attack started by net-minder Alex Mettham and carried on by Jared Lane was finished off by an unstoppable shot from Bakrlik.

The hosts continued to have the better of the proceedings, but things started to hot up with some hefty challenges going in along with the first of four scuffles among the players.

Streatham’s hopes of muscling their way back into contention ended in the second period as Bees blasted home three goals while conceding one themselves.

Tom Avery made it 3-0 on 21:39 from a chance set up by Callum Best and Norcliffe.

In the 36th minute, Norcliffe netted a superb fourth as he cut in from the right before hammering the puck past Matt Colclough.

The visitors pulled one back through Ryan Webb on 37:50, but there was an immediate response from the Bees as Norcliffe quickly restored his side’s four-goal advantage and, like his first, Danny Ingoldsby and Bendik provided the assists for him.

Best completed the scoring in the 52nd minute with a shot that went in off a Streatham stick.

By this time, Bees had lost captain Matt Foord, who was accidentally struck in his face by the puck, causing a gash close to his eye which was later stitched by the Streatham physio.

There was a total of four fights in this game, but they were tame affairs compared to a bad-tempered clash in Cardiff on Sunday.

This was the Welsh club’s eighth successive league defeat and it appears they are looking to stop their rivals from playing any way they can.

Midway through the second period, they had David Manning given a match ban for a spearing offence and all hell broke loose in the 54th minute with some ugly scenes on the ice.

It led to Cardiff players Sam Bryant and Elis Sheppard being ejected from the game with Bees’ Martin also being told to take an early shower.

In all, Cardiff finished up with an astonishing 103 penalty minutes, while Bees totalled 50, of which Martin contributed 24 and Spearing 18.

On a night when Bees were forced to borrow shirts from Cardiff, they took an 18th-minute lead through Osman before man-of-the-match Thompson (21st and 41st minutes) and Bakrlik (46th and 57th) each bagged a brace to complete the hard-fought win in Wales.

Bracknell had 54 attempts at goal, while their goalie, Danny Milton, faced 23 from Cardiff, only being beaten by Michael Stratford late in the game.