Play-Off Finals Weekend - match reports

Monday, 11th April 2005

April 9th and 10th 2005 saw the Play-Off Finals competition hotly contested, with four teams going into the weekend looking to lift the silverware. The first semi-final on Saturday was between the Coventry Blaze and the Sheffield Steelers, with Jayme Platt back from injury to take his place between the Sheffield pipes, looking down the ice at Jody Lehman in the Coventry net. The first period proved a tense affair, with end to end hockey presided over by referee Nigel Boniface. Boniface chose to allow the game to flow, calling no penalties on either team throughout the game despite numerous protests from both sets of fans. The game remained deadlocked until halfway through the second period, when the sterling work of Coventry's Carlson - Calder - Payette line paid off with a goal for Dan Carlson. Going into the third period both teams were piling on the pressure, but it was Coventry who made an advance with a goal from Tom Watkins to put them 2-0 up. Jody Lehman continued to perform heroics in the Coventry net to keep Sheffield at bay, and when Paul Heavey did the expected and pulled Jayme Platt from the Sheffield net with less than two minutes remaining the Blaze pounced, Joel Poirier putting the puck into the empty net to take the game 3-0 and secure Coventry a place in the final.

Referee Moray Hanson was the man in charge for the second semi-final, contested between the Cardiff Devils and the Nottingham Panthers. Hanson laid down the law from the start, showing he wasn't going to allow any infraction to get by him, calling Ivan Marek and Vezio Sacratini on minor penalties less than two minutes into the game. Nathan Rempel was the first to break the stalemate late in the first period with a goal for the Devils, the puck sneaking past stand-in netminder Ladislav Kudrna, but the Panthers responded less than a minute later through NHLer Steve McKenna, slamming the puck past Jason Cugnet in the Cardiff goal. A scoreless second period saw an intense game with plenty of pressure from the depleted Nottingham team, with Cardiff seemingly on the back foot despite the brilliant efforts of John Craighead in corralling his team. But early in the third Nick Boynton found the net with a screamer of a shot that Cugnet couldn't respond to, and the Panthers were ahead. Kudrna pulled off a truly inspired performace in the Nottingham net and kept the Devils out until, like the Steelers before them, the netminder was pulled for the extra attacker. Nottingham battled hard to prevent the equaliser, and when the puck bobbled out into neutral ice it was down to Konstantin Kalmikov to skate like the wind and pop the puck into the empty net to take the game 3-1 for the Panthers.

Sunday's action saw the now traditional Under 19s contest between England and Scotland, and this year's contest was a tightly played game with plenty of up and coming players keen to demonstrate their skills in front of the Nottingham crowd. England's Mark Richardson proved to be the star of the game, finding the net three times in England's 4-3 win over Scotland. Scott McKenzie of Scotland picked up his team's MVP award with a strong performance, but it was England who stole the limelight with the winning goal coming with only twenty two seconds left on the clock.

The Bronze Medal game between Cardiff Devils and Sheffield Steelers was an entertaining if not bemusing match. Both teams clearly didn't want to play a serious competitive game, rather sensibly deciding that it wasn't worth risking injuries now that both teams had been eliminated from the competition. Instead, fans were treated to the spectacle of an Exhibition game between the two teams, with Nigel Boniface again finding no use for his whistle in terms of the penalty count, at least until he retired from the game through injury and was replaced by referee Hicks. Davey Lawrence was in the Sheffield net, giving Jayme Platt a rest, and Mike Brabon was in the net for the Devils, but Jason Cugnet wasn't interested in taking a rest himself - the Devils goalie dressed as an outskater and iced for the game as a forward, nearly finding his way onto the scoresheet on several occassions. Russ Romaniuk and Rob Davison put the Cardiff team two goals to the good before replies from Gerad Adams and Ron Shudra tied the game. Jeff Christian found the net twice to give the Steelers a 4-2 win and the Sheffield team accepted their bronze medals to the delight of their fans.

Dion Darling summed up the approach of both teams to the game: "The last thing the guys wanted to do is play a game like this. They would have been better off having a beer drinking contest - it would have been more entertaining!"

The Final itself was a thrilling affair from before the puck had even dropped. A superb introductory performance by a troupe of junior ice dancers from the National Ice Centre went down exceptionally well with the assembled crowd, who were fired up and ready to watch as the Coventry Blaze took on the Nottingham Panthers. Referee Moray Hanson was given the honour of calling the final, and again he showed that he would take no nonsense right from the get-go. A scoreless first period was crammed with end to end action, with all the passion and commitment that the fans wanted. Inside the first minute of the second period, the Elite League's Player Of The Year Neal Martin put the Blaze ahead with a perfectly placed shot, only for Nick Boynton to respond less than a minute later. The game drove up and down the ice, with Kudrna and Lehman both matching each other in the two nets. Regulation time ended with the game tied at one apiece, so overtime was called for, and inside of two minutes of overtime the Coventry captain Ashley Tait found the net to take the win 2-1, Coventry lifting their third piece of silverware for the season.

Coventry coach and Elite League Coach Of The Year Paul Thompson was ecstatic with his team: "When you are on a roll things do bounce for you, but you still need the quality to take those opportunities. They can be proud of what they have done on Sunday."

During the weekend, the Edinburgh Capitals confirmed their intentions to ice in the Elite League in the 2005-2006 season, joining Newcastle Vipers as newcomers to the league.

by Richard Allan