Rink round-up

Friday, 16th September 2005
Elite League Season 2005-2006 is finally here, and after a raft of pre-season friendly matches the League competition and the Challenge Cup competition have started in earnest.
Belfast Giants have pushed off to an early lead in the League competition, but that's largely down to their not competing in the Challenge Cup this season.  The Giants have notched up two wins from two games, both against league freshers Newcastle Vipers, and with these being the only two league games that have taken place so far, Belfast are topping the table on four points.  The first of the two games took place on Friday 9th September, with the Giants hosting the Vipers at the Odyssey Arena, and Newcastle new boy Andre Payette soon returned to his old ways, dropping the gloves with Shawn Skiehar in the third period, not long after Curtis Huppe had scored the game's only goal, giving Belfast the win. 
The return match in Newcastle two nights later was an equally tight affair, taking an overtime session to split the teams.  Giants defenceman Shane Johnson was forced to sit the game out as a result of a knee injury picked up in the Friday night fixture, leaving Coach Ed Courtenay with a short bench.  Shawn Skiehar made it two dances in two matches when he dropped the gloves with former Giants enforcer Mel Angelstad, and the scoring in the game was opened by Andre Payette with a tip-in from a Jan Krajicek shot.  Todd Kelman tied the game for the Giants four mintues from time, and in the overtime period Curtis Huppe scored his second game-winner of the season, giving the two points to the Giants, with the Vipers picking up a point for the Overtime.
Belfast Giants may be celebrating two wins from two league games, but they won't be celebrating the loss of Curtis Bowen to Elite League rivals Nottingham Panthers. The former Manchester Storm player had been at Nottingham prior to his move to Manchester, but has spent the last four seasons with the Belfast Giants.  Signing with the Panthers again, Bowen declared "Nottingham is where I wanted to play.  The squad looks strong, the optimism is high and everyone I talk to is pumped about the new season.  I am thrilled to be back with the Panthers."  Nottingham Coach Mike Blaisdell welcomes the return of Bowen, saying "Curtis knows what it takes to win, he has lifted trophies with Belfast and of course he knows Nottingham having played there before.  He can play defence or up front adding to our already considerable versatility, that will be good for us and it increases my options."
Nottingham's start to the Challenge Cup has been an uplifting one, not only taking two wins from two matches but also taking two wins over fierce rivals Sheffield Steelers in a home-and-away weekend.  First up was the home leg, at the National Ice Centre, where the Panthers took a 3-1 win with goals from David Clarke, Dan Tessier and Brad Patterson, with Sheffield's only marker coming through Andrew Luciuk.  It was a fiery game, with the first two Panthers goals coming on the powerplay following Steeler Gavin Farrand's 5 minute major penalty for cross-checking from behind.  The following night's return match in Sheffield was no different, with Nottingham losing Calle Carlsson late in the game to a broken nose, and David Clarke making it two from two with his game-winning goal, 0-1 the final score.  Sheffield were dealt a blow when Rod Sarich picked up a head injury which saw him out for the rest of the game, but reports on Monday indicated that he was recovering nicely and is expected to be back in action this coming weekend.
Grand Slammers Coventry Blaze have got off to a shaky start in their opening weekend, first tying on the road at Basingstoke, then losing at home to Cardiff Devils.  The Saturday game against the Bison saw Greg Chambers notch up a brace for the home team, opening the scoring on the penalty kill with a solo effort, and then capitalising on John Wheaton's pass late in the third.  Coventry responded through Tom Watkins (assist Evan Cheverie) and Jeff Hutchins (assist Ashley Tait) to give a 2-2 result, honours even.  Bison Coach Mark Bernard said afterwards, "It was a fair result, the team played hard and it was a really good effort from every player."
Coventry's home opener against the Cardiff Devils on Sunday saw an early marker for the home team, when a defensive zone error handed an opportunity to Mark Lefebvre who put the puck home in the fifth minute. The Devils piled on the pressure and were rewarded with a game tying goal through Gerad Adams at the halfway point, and a Louis Goulet marker in the third took the win for the Cardiff outfit.  The final score was 1-2 to the Devils, and Devils Bench Coach Shannon Hope was very happy with that result. Referring to his new-found role in support of player-coach Ed Patterson, Hope says "It was good fun tonight, I'm settling down getting to know the lines a bit more and what Eddy wants out of the bench, it's working ok."  Hope added, "I think we could have won it 3-1 but we'll take the 2-1 win."
The previous night Cardiff had hosted London Racers in their opening fixture, a match which saw the Devils take a two goal lead by the end of the first period through Vezio Sacratini and Dave Matsos, and in the early moments of the third period Mike Garrow put the game at 3-0 to the home team.  London refused to be beaten, and pushed hard to tie the game with markers from Duncan Dalmao, Paul Berrington and Jeremy Cornish, and the game finished 3-3.
London's first home fixture of the Challenge Cup campaign came on Sunday when they hosted the Basingstoke Bison, and it was the visitors who got on the scoreboard first through Shawn Maltby only for Nathan Rempel to find the net and tie the game at one apiece.  Jerry Galway put the Bison ahead again at the start of the third, and this time it was Jeremy Cornish who answered, netting the equaliser and then the game-winner, the Racers taking the match 3-2.
Edinburgh Capitals are yet to start their campaign, so instead they have been concentrating on making more signings, picking up forward Patric Lochi. Caps Coach Tony Hand is pleased with the signing, saying "It is great to be playing with Paddy again.  He has made himself available at just the right time for us with our first games rapidly approaching.  Paddy's ability speaks for itself, given his stats, and he will be a valuable asset to the squad."
Back-up netminder Ryan Ford will be returning to Edinburgh again this season, and local player Matthew Rich has also been contracted to the Capitals.
by Richard Allan