So, here we are with the last Ice Chips before Christmas, with most of us looking forward to our festive break – not so the players of the Rapid Solicitors Elite Ice Hockey League – who are in action pretty much all the way through the holiday period, with games every day other than Christmas Day itself and the 28th of December.
Great for the fans however, nothing better than a bit of sport over the Christmas/New Year period and the Elite League will be giving everyone plenty of that for sure.
Going into this weekend it’s still looking rosy for Nottingham as they have skated to a now four-point lead at the top of the regular season standings. It has not all been plain sailing as we will come to later but four points is four points, with Belfast leading the chase with a game in hand. Sheffield Cardiff and Coventry will still all consider themselves in with a chance of continuing the chase and with so many unpredictable results already this season and the league only now about to hit the halfway point there are certain to be many twists and turns in the weeks and months ahead.
The Gardiner and Erhardt Conferences are even tighter with every single team still in the running in both competitions with currently Braehead and Belfast in the respective pole positions and the Challenge Cup quarter finals have now begun – details of that to come.
We start last Wednesday when Nottingham entertained Edinburgh and incredibly suffered the same fate as rivals Sheffield had done only four days earlier as Capitals provided yet another ‘shock of the season’ contender by shrugging off a David Ling goal for Panthers in the 2nd minute to play a composed road game throughout and wait for the chances that came their way, scoring once in both the second and third periods to win 2-1.
Goal heroes were Peter Holecko and Curtis Leinweber, while goaltender Tomas Hiadlovsky made 41 saves to frustrate Panthers.
Moving on to Friday and Belfast v Cardiff at the Odyssey Arena. An early goal by debutant Jesse Gimblett saw Devils lead but by the end of period one Giants were ahead and they stayed that way to win 4-1, despite losing defenceman Jeff Mason on a match penalty and a resulting three game ban.
Four games on Saturday starting with Cardiff back at home against Braehead. No end to the woes for Jordan Krestanovich’s side as injury saw them only able to muster eleven skaters. Nothing less than 100% from the players able to ice but no surprise that Devils were able to pick them off and with skipper Stuart Macrae and Chris Blight both scoring twice it was a comfortable 5-1 win in the end for the home side.
Coventry v Fife at the Skydome was an entertaining clash with nine goals. Blaze won 6-3 in the end, extending Flyers losing run on the road to ten but it was only 4-3 in the 46th minute and took insurance goals from Mike Bayrack, who completed a hat trick in his first game back after missing fourteen through injury and skipper Shea Guthrie putting perhaps an unfair reflection on the final result.
Hull took on Nottingham at home and kept the usually free-scoring Panthers in check for a lot of the game but there was to be no major hangover for Panthers after the Edinburgh shock as they took the points 3-1 with the game winner coming from Kelsey Wilson on his debut in the 36th minute.
To round off Saturday we had Sheffield entertaining Dundee with Ryan Finnerty’s men not having an easy night of it at all. Steelers were only leading 2-1 going in to the final minutes and victory was only ensured when Rod Sarich hit the empty net with one second of regulation remaining.
Sunday should have seen Dundee and Sheffield at it again but as the Steelers team bus reached Gretna Green it decided enough was enough and ground to a halt. Attempts were made for alternative transport but it would have meant a very late face-off and the decision was made to try again at a later date
Edinburgh built on their win in Nottingham by beating Scottish rivals Braehead by 5-3. Clan managed twelve skaters for this one but were without starting goaltender Garrett Zemlak. Deputy Michael Will put up a solid display but Capitals were always ahead and although Clan brought the score back to 4-3 when Jade Galbraith scored in the 56th minute there was not enough time left and Capitals player/coach Richard Hartmann fired in his second of the game with 6 seconds remaining into the empty net to ice both points.
Cardiff had their third game in three night as they made the long trip to Kirkcaldy to take on Fife and again played a pretty resolute road game but had not enough left in the tank to prevent Flyers from winning their fifth straight home game, this one by 4-2 and capped off with an empty net strike by Steven McAlpine with 63 seconds remaining.
The big game of the week was undoubtedly Nottingham v Belfast at the NIC and produced Nottingham’s best display of the season as they hammered Giants by 6-1. Adam Keefe had in fact scored the only goal of the opening period to see Giants ahead but there was simply no stopping Panthers in periods two and three which they won 4-0 and 2-0 respectively to grab both points in league and conference. Six different goal scorers for Panthers with the game winner coming from David Ling in the 27th minute.
Finally in this round up of games it was Monday night hockey as the Challenge Cup quarter finals began with the 1st leg tie between Hull and Belfast. Still no doubt smarting from their heavy loss in Nottingham the previous night Giants tightened things up at the back end and secured a 3-1 lead to take back home with them. Giants were actually leading 3-0 until Tom Squires broke Stephen Murphy’s shutout hopes in the third period but there is no doubt that Giants are firm favourites to make the semi-finals now.