Giants save the best to last

Giants move “Against all odds” to the Final Four Weekend

 As the saying goes, ‘it’s not over until it’s over!’ And the Giants are saving their best to the last. Spoken from the lips of retiring player Robby Sandrock who thanked the fans for their support during the years he has played in Belfast. “A number of us are retiring and our plan is to win the last four games: the Giants have to go out as champions!”

Robby Sandrock

                       Giants Robby Sandrock Praise Giants organization top to bottom

A very big ask, yet against all odds they are on the way to achieving that promise. It started on Friday night in the Odyssey Arena in front of a packed out crowd, many singing the refrain “This is our house” and the Stena Line Belfast Giants proved it with a 1-0 victory over rivals the Cardiff Devils.

 The first leg of the playoff quarterfinal was a great team effort completed with Ray Sawada netting the only goal. It was obvious that it was going to be a physical game as huge hits were dished out by both sides’ enforcers to the delight of the Belfast fans.

Cardiff’s Ben Bowns and the Giants’ Carsen Chubak had other entertaining ideas too and put on a display of master class goal tending. Belfast came to the ice with total domination in mind but was disappointed to go into the first period intermission with only a one-goal advantage.

sawada-stingrays-450x235 Giants Ray Sawada leads the Giants charge

Among the Giants’ 14 shots on target, Ray Sawada picked up on a fine pass from Evan Cheverie to break the deadlock late in the opening period. The Giants continued to push for the remainder of the period but Ben Bowns was outstanding having to face 14 shots to Chubak’s 1.

 The second period was a more measured attack by both teams as by then Cardiff hunkered down into the encounter, turned the game around and matched the Giants’ initial performance.

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Carsen Chubak deserved his shutout as his play was outstanding

The Devils had a strong powerplay attack but Carsen Chubak and his defense stood up to the mounting pressure to deny them time and time again. Things got heated in the final period with Kevin Westgarth pulling off a huge hit on Cardiff’s Trevor Hendrikx.

GIANTS MCOOPER1Friends even though they GM for opposite squads

Both teams entertained the packed Odyssey Arena with some of the best hockey seen all season in the ‘home of the Giants’. Coach Steve Thornton called a time- out hoping to inspire his squad to take more than a one-goal lead to Cardiff for the second leg however Cardiff’s defense just stiffened. So was it going to be another victory in Wales that would see the Giants in the Final Four Weekend in Nottingham?

 Well Sunday in Cardiff was definitely a sell out in the Big Blue Tent (BBT) with Todd Kelman’s troops looking for pay back after the narrow defeat in Belfast

 The BBT atmosphere was electrifying from the moment the puck dropped, and the home crowd soon erupted as the Devils slipped the puck past Chubak in the Giants’ net.

Sadly for Cardiff the celebrations were halted as the goal was waived off. This was the Giants’ wake up call to advise them to take the game to the Devils.

 

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Peacock opens the Giants scoring

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Cody Brookwell scored the second goal

The Giants took a 2-0 lead in the opening 15 minutes of play through Craig Peacock and Cody Brookwell before Joey Haddad bought the Devils back into the game at 2-1 to the Giants.

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Giants Captain Adam Keefe nets another goal

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Nathan Robinson adds to the Giants goal tally

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Mark Garside nets another for good measure

During the second period, the Giants upped the pressure scoring through captain Adam Keefe, Nathan Roberson and Mark Garside before Brent Walton netted for the Devils to keep the hopes alive for the ‘Red Army’.

 The Final Period saw the Giants extend the lead only after the Devils courageously soldiered on with Andrew Hotham scoring with 13 minutes on the clock in the final period to bring the aggregate score to 6-3.

 The BBT sensed a glimmer of opportunity and defining chants of ‘Let’s Go Devils’ belted out from the crowd.  With five minutes left in play, Ben Bowns was pulled from play to create the extra skater for Cardiff but Mike Kompon extinguished the Devils’ dreams by scoring an empty net goal to secure the game away from the Devils’ grasp.

Mike Kompon Shoots

Kompon always finds his way on to the score sheet

Mark Garside finished off the Giants’ onslaught with another empty net goal to take the Giants through to the final four of the 2014-15 Elite League Play Offs.

Mark Garside

Mark Garside scores two in one night

The line-up for the Elite League playoff finals weekend at the National Ice Centre in Nottingham has been confirmed.

League champions Sheffield Steelers will face Hull Stingrays in the first semi-final on Saturday (4th April) at 1pm. Belfast Giants will then take on Coventry Blaze in the day’s second semi-final (5pm).

The third v fourth-placed game takes place on Sunday (12noon), with the Grand Final facing-off at 4pm. Sheffield booked their place in finals weekend with a 6-5 aggregate victory over Fife Flyers, while Coventry defeated Nottingham Panthers 5-4 over two legs.

Hull Stingrays secured a dramatic overtime victory over Braehead Clan to go through 5-4 on aggregate and Belfast were 8-3 winners over Cardiff Devils.

Can the Giants secure the last remaining trophy on offer this season? Well they are on a roll winning their last three in a row and building a momentum that is for certain.

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Steve Thornton can maybe take this thought with him. The number of players retiring from ice hockey means that the Belfast Giants all want to save their best to last. One huge last push to go out as winners aiming to be able savour, for the rest of the their lives being Playoff Champions of the Elite League 2014/5 is the dream.

Written by Wayne Hardman

 

 

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