The Giants’ Playoff Weekend Round Up
It might seem strange that the Stena Line Belfast Giants were in the final four weekend and the Nottingham Panthers not present. In response to this unfamiliar situation Nottingham’s media quoted that “injuries were undoubtedly the biggest issue”.
Corey Neilson Panther Head Coach
The Giants had their fair share of injuries as well as a revolving door of imports. Another reason quoted was ”losing more than their fair share of games against the so called lesser teams in the Gardiner Division”. In turn, that could also be said of the Giants.
No doubt playing in the Continental Cup showed what the Giants were capable of, as did competing in the Champion’s League for the Panthers. Both teams seemed to falter after their return.
The Belfast Giants broke even after six games returning from Continental duties, which possibly hindered both teams’ chances of maintaining winning runs for silverware for their club’s trophy cabinet.
Both teams suffered from playing abroad but as well enhanced the image of the Elite League’s and the Club representation for being there, and competing as well as they both did. In fairness to both Nottingham and Belfast the Elite League has stepped up a grade or two, as have most other teams in the league.
Back to the ‘Final Four Weekend’ action, the first semi-final saw Hull Stingrays versus Sheffield Steelers. Sheffield came out over- aggressive however Hull managed to weather the storm.
Roy in action for Sheffield
Winning expectations were high for the Sheffield Steelers who were expected by many to be easy victors. However, someone forgot to tell the Stingrays.
It took until the second period for the first puck to cross the goal line, legally. Surprisingly enough it was Hull’s Eric Galbraith that lit the goal light followed by Sheffield equalizing by Darrel Hay on a power play.
Colton Fretter put the Steelers ahead 2-1 and that almost looked like that but ‘never say die’ Hull Stingray’s player coach Omar Pacha rallied his squad to tie the score in the third period through Cory Tanaka.
Bobby’s Team did exceptional well surprising all the media pundits
The game clock ticked down with neither team finding the back of the net. That is not until the officials blew their penalty whistle with 31 seconds left on the clock thus allowing the Steelers the extra man who scored through Mathew Roy on the power-play with four seconds left to play.
Sheffield’s Mathew Roy just keeps scoring in most gameas shown here against the Giants
An excellent game ‘decided by the officials’ – a thought on many people’s minds.
The second semi-final saw the Belfast Giants coming to the ice very strongly, taking the game to Coventry. They managed to get the first few shots of the game in on Coventry goalie Brian Stewart before the Blaze mounted an attack of their own.
Jeff Mason maintained the pressure by jumping on a loose back- pass, rounded the back of Coventry’s net and fired the puck on the fly beating Stewart in excellent fashion for the opening goal.
The Blaze did not drop their heads and resumed play with renewed passion, scoring on a long shot that the officials had to review on the video replay footage. They found that Justin DaCosta had scored thus leveling the contest at 1-1. This remained the score at the end of the first period of play.
Ray Sawadain action against Coventry Blaze
Belfast soon got their heads in front again in the middle period. Again Jeff Mason was the playmaker spark plugging a shot from Coventry’s blue line, which Ray Sawada redirected in the back post making it 2-1 Belfast.
The period remained open and very tactical with end-to-end action being the state of play. Brian Stewart in the Blaze goal made some outstanding saves yet as the period closed the Giants still led 2-1 hoping their momentum would take them through to the final against the old enemy Sheffield Steelers.
The third period saw Jereme Tendler net Coventry’s equalizer at 2-2 but neither team could find the telling pass to make the winning shot. Both goalies, in tip-top form played their hearts outs. They saved certain sure goals from both teams’ top scorers.
Fans from the final four weekend’s teams were present and loud in their enthusiasm. It made for an electric atmosphere.
It all came down to a ‘four on four’ overtime period for ten minutes to try and find a finalist. Those ten minutes came and went and still without a finalist in sight.
It finally came down to the Giants’ worse case scenario – the overtime shoot out. The only scorer was Coventry’s Ben Arnt who scored, thus putting the Coventry Blaze in the final against Sheffield on Sunday and leaving the Giants’ contest for third place set against Hull Stingrays.
So after a long season the Stena Line Belfast Giants’ hopes of a third Playoff Championship were ended by the Coventry Blaze. Although the Giants led twice in the game and dominated the shot count however they found the going tough against Brian Stewart in the Blaze net.
In the shootout Belfast’s Carsen Chubak saved the opening two penalty shots, only to see the third trickle in from Ben Arnt – with the Giants unable to find a way past the impressive Stewart as the Blaze advanced to Sunday’s final against the Sheffield Steelers.
In the post-game interview with Director of Belfast Giants’ Hockey Operations Steve Thornton he stated, “In close games like this one against Coventry it’s hard to pick out the good things. We simply didn’t finish. It has been the story all season. We had our chances in the first period to put the game away and we didn’t take them.
Coventry played well defensively putting five men behind the puck. It was difficult to have odd man rushes against the Blaze”.
Stena Line Belfast Giants Captain Adam Keefe added, ”I didn’t feel I had a good game. I would have liked to finish more check and get more into the game with more scoring opportunities” concluded a subdued Keefe.
In the third place final the Giants skated out winners in a goal feast 8-6 over Hull Stingrays. Belfast illustrated to their fans that they could finish and score. A brace of goals by Captain Adam Keefe, Nathan Robinson and Darryl Lloyd were followed up by singles from Mark McCutcheon and Colin Shields.
Stephen Murphy started in goal for the Giants and was replaced by Andrew Dickson after the first period. Dickerson actual got an assist on one of the Giants’ goals. Mark McCutcheon also played the full game as well as Kevin Westgarth who played a regular shift.
Next up was the Elite League final, won against all odds by the Coventry Blaze. They played disciplined, old fashioned hockey and destroyed the pundits’ favorites the Sheffield Steelers 4-2.
Coventry scored first from Steve Goertzen to take a 1-0 lead in the first period. Playing controlled, thoughtful hockey they extended that lead to 2-0 through Jereme Tender and looked like sure winner even then.
The next nail in the wagon wheel was from Ross Venus on a Blaze breakaway making the score line 3-0. Was this to be the dream result hoped for by everyone outside of Sheffield? Well the last score from Coventry came again in the second period from Ashley Tait, which meant an almost impossible task for even the Steelers to come back from in just one period.
Yet Elite League player of the year Mathew Roy set about that impossible task by scoring into an empty net after unsporting like action which saw the Steelers kick Coventry goalie Brain Stewart’s stick away thus allowing Roy to score.
Once again Roy tried to lift the Steelers’ spirit by scoring once again but the winners of this years Elite League Playoffs had to be Coventry Blaze, and indeed it was as they held on to win 4-2 most deservedly.
Post- game comments from Gerald Adams Head Coach of the Sheffield Steelers included, “I thought we gave up three really soft goals during the first two periods. They played defense well and hit us on the counter attack extremely well. They had their chances and buried them. We had our chances and didn’t execute”.
And post championship game comments from Coventry Blaze’s coach Chuck Weber: “These players will be successful in what ever they might do in life. They all bought into the system I coach and executed it extremely well hence we arrived at the championship Elite Final confident we could both compete and win the trophy.
For us to score four goals, which doesn’t happen too often means we were doing the right things, had good sticks and our players were rewarded for that.We have been preaching that all season. My job is to close out hockey games as a coach. It doesn’t always work out the way you want and mistakes are made. That is what I coach out; it is those errors or mistakes.
Regarding the goalie stick incident, I wish Stewart had stayed in his net and have one of the players bring his stick back to him. It didn’t happen that way so maybe next time he would do it differently. Unfortunately we didn’t get a puck deep to effect that plan. Mistakes happen and it is how you manage those mistakes that count.
Since I’ve been here I have met a lot of great people and knowledgeable fans and it’s been a pleasure to work with them. I’m so happy for the sponsors, fans, players and management alike”. Conclued Weber
The Coventry Blaze are Elite League Playoff winners defeating Sheffield Steelers 4-2 in the final. What a great weekend of play for this exciting, increasingly popular game of ice hockey!
Saturday 04 April 2015
Play-Offs Semi Finals @ NIC Nottingham
Sheffield Steelers 3 Hull Stingrays 2
Belfast Giants 2 Coventry Blaze 3 (after PS)
Sunday 05 April 2015
Play-Offs 3/4th place @ NIC Nottingham
Belfast Giants 8 Hull Stingrays 6
Play-Offs Final @ NIC Nottingham
Sheffield Steelers 2 v Coventry Blaze 4