Rink round-up

Tuesday, 7th March 2006
Belfast Giants have claimed the title following a tense weekend of ice hockey in the Elite League competition, the victory coming with a surprise win by Edinburgh over Belfast's title rivals Newcastle Vipers.  The Giants secured the top spot in the table when the Capitals filed a win over the Vipers to make it mathematically impossible for the Northern Irish team to be caught, and Rink Round Up congratulates Belfast on their tremendous achievement.
The road to the title began last Wednesday, when the Vipers strengthened their position and delayed the Belfast party with a win over Cardiff Devils.  Pavel Gomenyuk opened the scoring for the home team within two minutes, and before six minutes were up Matus Petricko had found the net to give the Vipers a two goal lead.  Cardiff got off the mark just before the end of the first period with a goal from Mike Garrow, but early in the second period Michael Tasker put the puck in the net to make it 3-1.  Gerad Adams capitalised on a powerplay just before the halfway point to make it 3-2 going into the third period, where David Longstaff and Jan Krajicek made it 5-2 as regulation time expired, the Vipers taking the points and keeping the pressure on Belfast.
Saturday night's Elite League action also sw the Belfast party delayed when they visited league bottom-placers Basingstoke Bison in what on paper should have been the title-clinching game.  However, Basingstoke didn't want to be the team to hand their rivals the title just as much as they didn't want to be on the bottom of the table, and their 4-1 win over the Giants made sure that the title remained out of Belfast's grasp for the time being, and at the same time they leap-frogged Edinburgh on points, forcing the Caps into the basement slot.  Belfast opened the scoring inside of the first minute through Curtis Huppe but this was the end of the Giants' scoring, with Bison drawing level through Shawn Maltby in the fourth minute before forging a lead in the second period with a marker from Tony Redmond.  With two minutes left on the third period clock, Greg Owen made it 3-1 before Belfast pulled their goalie, a tactic that failed to pay off when Shawn Maltby popped away the empty netter, much to the dismay of Belfast's Theo Fleury, who picked up a game penalty for his remonstrations.
Saturday in Coventry saw the Blaze at home to Cardiff Devils, with Mike Garrow putting the visitors on the scoreboard in the first period only for Neal Martin to equalise before the first interval.  The second period saw Brad Voth picking up a game penalty for charging in a clash with Jeff Hutchins, and Coventry switching netminders, Martin Klempa heading for the bench whilst Dan O'Shea took over between the pipes.  Dan Welch gave Blaze the lead going into the third period, where Nathan Rempel drew the scores level at two apiece and then Jeff Burgoyne put the Devils in the lead, only for Jeff Hutchins to tie the game and take it to overtime, where the extra period couldn't separate the teams, the game ending 3-3 after OT.
Sheffield Steelers were at home to local rivals Nottingham Panthers on Saturday, with Mark Dutiame putting the home team ahead in the first period.  A scoreless second gave way to the third period, where Shaun Sutter put the biscuit in the basket for the Panthers to tie the game, and with no further goals in regulation or overtime, the game ended in a one-one tie.
The return leg of this clash saw Nottingham at home to Sheffield on Sunday, with Blaz Emersic and Brad Patterson giving the Panthers a two goal lead in the first period.  It took until the second period before Sheffield got on the scoreboard, Mike Peron posting a solo effort, before in the third period the Steelers put away three goals to seal the win, Martin Masa netting a brace before Jason Robinson popped home the fourth, the game ending 2-4 to Sheffield.
Cardiff's rubber match on Sunday saw them take to the ice against the Blaze for the second time in two days,  and again Mike Garrow opened the scoring with a goal for the Devils, with Blaze responding to draw level, this time through Joel Poirier.  Mark Richardson put the Devils back in the driving seat towards the end of the second period, only for Poirier to cancel out the lead before the end of the third, forcing another overtime period.  Jeff Burgoyne capitalised in the first minute of overtime to give Cardiff the 3-2 win after OT.
The match that handed the title to Belfast took place in Edinburgh on Sunday, with the Capitals at home to the Newcastle Vipers.  A scoreless first period gave way to the second period, where Matus Petricko put the Vipers in the lead with a short-handed goal, before Edinburgh responded through Neil Stevenson-Moore and then went ahead through Martin Cingel.  Dino Bauba converted a penalty shot before the second interval to give the Caps a 3-1 lead going into the third period.  Cory Morgan posted a solo marker to bring the game back to within one, only for Tony Hand to put home a powerplay goal to restore the two goal lead.  An empty netter from Neil McCann sealed the win for the Caps, taking the points and putting the title out of reach of Newcastle.
by Richard Allan