Welcome to our look back at the previous Elite League seasons as we chronicle the previous years ahead of the 2018-19 season. This time we look back at 2004-05.
The Elite League, despite the disputes, was back for a second season in 2004. Sheffield Steelers had won the first one thanks to an amazing winning run that saw them finish as champions by a convincing margin at the end. Could they make it back to back titles?
There was one noticeable absentee from that inaugural season, the Manchester Phoenix had failed to agree terms with their landlords for ice time at the, as it was then known, Manchester Evening News (MEN) Arena so the Elite League started with just seven member clubs. To fill a few gaps in the fixture list, there was a Crossover Cup which saw the EIHL sides take part in games against teams in the lesser BNL. This didn’t count towards the Grand Slam though. With the NHL in lockout, a number of EIHL clubs bolstered their rosters with NHL players: remarkably Belfast, Cardiff and Sheffield didn’t feel the need to do so for their own reasons.
The Challenge Cup saw the top two from each qualifying group make the semi-finals. These final four saw the finalists of last season’s Challenge Cup be joined by Cardiff again and the impressive Blaze. Coventry edged past the Panthers 5-4 on aggregate in their semi-final; a 2-1 first leg win in the Sky Dome proving decisive as the teams shared a 3-3 tie in the NIC. In the other semi-final, it was a repeat of the semi-final of last season but this time it was the Devils who proved victorious. After a 2-2 draw in Sheffield, Devils won the second 3-1 in Cardiff to book their place in the two-legged Final. Alas that was good as it got for them as Coventry crushed them 6-1 in the first leg at the Sky Dome. Just for good measure, they won the second leg too – winning that by the odd goal in nine to record a 11-5 aggregate triumph.
Like the initial season, the top six made the group stages for the end of season play-offs with the top two in each qualifying for finals weekend. Because of the odd number of teams in the league, Basingstoke were the unfortunate ones to miss out completely. In Group A, Coventry and Nottingham prevailed whilst Cardiff and Sheffield qualified from Group B. In the first semi-final, the Blaze shutout the Steelers 3-0 whilst the Panthers made their second successive play-off final after seeing off the Devils 3-1. Defenceman Neal Martin gave the Blaze the lead but Nick Boynton (one of three NHL players Panthers iced during the lockout) levelled almost immediately. The game ultimately went to overtime, and it was former Panthers winger Ashley Tait who had the last laugh on the team that didn’t want him with a winner 115 seconds before the end of the extra period. Grand Slam for the Blaze, the first in Elite League history.
The Panthers represented the league in the Continental Cup, and entered in the second round stage. They were desperately unlucky not to progress, finishing level on points with the Milan Vipers. However, the Vipers progressed to the next stage on goal difference: having a difference of +11 to Paul Adey’s Panthers +3. If only they had beaten the Vipers in matchday one…
Join us next time as we go back to 2005-06, a season where the title ended up in different hands once more but whose?