Stena Line Belfast Giants fall four points off pace
In a Friday night encounter against the revived Cardiff squad the Stena Line Belfast Giants returned to the top of the league and conference standings, overtaking Nottingham and Sheffield respectively following their third win in four starts against Devils this season.
The visitor’s new import Jesse Gimblett, who flew directly to Belfast from North America to make his debut, wasted no time in showing his worth by firing the visitors ahead after only a few minutes on the game clock during a Cardiff powerplay.
Belfast regrouped and eventually found their rhythm through Andrew Fournier who equalized followed by Jeff Mason with less than a minute played in the opening period putting them 2-1 ahead.
No further scoring took place in the middle stanza however the action became more than a little heated with the end result of three players being binned on roughing calls. No sooner had the referee’s whistle ceased blowing than a fresh batch were dispatched to the sin bin.
Belfast’s energetic defenseman Jeff Mason, all five foot eight of him was ejected from the game on a match penalty for checking to the head of the Devil’s Chris Blight.
Blight was traveling at speed as he crossed the Giants blue line with his head down. It was a textbook shoulder check however the differing height of the two players meant Mason’s shoulder ended up against Blight’s jaw. Not a malicious hit, and rather a harsh call by the referee.
Belfast’s Mark Garside scored the all-important third goal to give the Giants a 3-1 lead. The visitor could not find a way back into the game and when goaltender Phil Osaer was pulled late for the extra attacker it only resulted in Scott Champagne finding the empty net to seal the points for Doug Christiansen’s charges.
The Panthers retook the lead in the championship race on Saturday night so the encounter with the Giants in the Lace City on Sunday was the visitor’s opportunity to regain first place.
The big top of the table clash at the NIC saw a comprehensive Nottingham win, moving Corey Neilson’s side now four points clear at the top, although Giants have a game in hand.
The Panthers are really on form now yet after the opening period it looked to be going the way of the Giants after a short-handed goal by Adam Keefe put Belfast on top.
That situation changed dramatically in the second period as the Panthers hit four without reply taking the game by the scruff of the neck. Bruce Graham then David Ling edged the side ahead.
The momentum went just one way and Panthers in effect killed off the Giants with two shorthanded goals in a row. Eric Werner scored the first then Brandon Benedict netted the Panther’s fourth of the night midway through the period.
There was no way back for the Giants in the third period as the Panthers express train ran riot adding two more goals from first Jason Beckett and finally Matthew Myers. This brought to an end a great night for the Lace City squad bringing closure to one very miserable night for Doug Christiansen’s outfit.
After the encounter the Panther’s Coach, Corey Neilson, praised his players as “fantastic” after a four-point weekend. There was certainly a host of players eligible for man of the match. They all played to the best of their ability
Giants had Craig Peacock on the ice playing a full shift for Belfast showing his quest to keep the Giants on top. Andrew Fournier made his return to the team.
Still no Robby Sandrock in the lineup but hopefully he might see ice time during the Coventry Blaze game this Friday night. The festive period is crunch time for the Giants with so many top-flight games in which to compete. The run of injuries and Mason’s suspension do not help the Giants cause.
Written by Wayne Hardman who wishes all a Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year