Welcome to the fourth edition in our series of looking back at previous Elite League seasons. This time we transport ourselves back into the 2006-07 season, season number four for the EIHL.
The previous season had seen the domestic honours be shared around three different clubs, but who would come out as top dogs this time out? The league itself had a change, and a positive one too as the number of member clubs expanded from eight to ten. Joining the league were the Hull Stingrays who made the jump from the English Premier League which itself was the newer second tier hockey level after the implosion of the BNL a couple of seasons ago, and after a two year absence: the Manchester Phoenix. This gave the teams a 54 game regular season with each team playing the others three times both home and away.
Could Belfast retain their title? Well they came close with a second placed finish but the eventual winners proved to be the Coventry Blaze. It was Coventry’s second title in just three seasons and they were quickly becoming one of the league’s powerhouses despite only joining the top level four years previous. It was bitter sweet for the Giants who looked nailed on to win back-to-back titles but the Blaze hauled them in and eventually took the title by four points. Cardiff and Sheffield had better seasons, being not as far off the pace whilst the newcomers suffered differing fortunes. Manchester finished a more than creditable sixth but Hull finished ninth, level on points with Edinburgh, but one more regulation win would see the East Yorkshire side avoid the wooden spoon.
In the Challenge Cup, the semi-finals saw the established names of Coventry and Sheffield take on the newbies of Manchester and Hull. The results went with the form book as both the Blaze and the Steelers won 6-3 on aggregate. The first leg of the final was played in the Sky Dome on Valentine’s Day, and it ended up with the Blaze holding a slender 4-3 advantage. We had to wait six weeks before the second leg could be played, and with such a small deficit to overcome then you might have backed Sheffield to do it. However, the Blaze scorched to a 5-1 triumph in the House of Steel to wrap up their second trophy of the season.
Was it to be a second Grand Slam for the Blaze? Well, no as they were beaten in the semi-final stage by a much improved Cardiff side. Cardiff took that one 3-2 and would face the Panthers in the Final. Panthers had taken out both the Steelers and the Giants in their route to the Final, but could they finish the job off? They made the perfect start with GB internationalist David Clarke giving them the lead in the first minute, a lead that they managed to hold onto until the early stages of the third and final period. Devils defenceman Tyson Teplitsky with a bullet of a shot to tie the game up. Both teams had chances after that to win it but it ended up going to penalties and only one attempt proved successful thanks to Panthers’ Trevor Gallant whilst at the other end netminder Rasti Rovnianek denied the Devils shooters. It was a first trophy for new head coach Mike Ellis.
Into Europe, and the Continental Cup. Both Belfast and Newcastle decided no dice when it came to playing in the tournament so the flag bearers ended up being the Panthers as the next ranked team in the previous league season standings. Alas, it proved to be a less than successful tournament for them. They failed to win a single game or point in their group which was based in the French city of Rouen. The hosts beat them 6-2 in the opener but results improved a little bit in their two remaining games as they conceded one less goal each time. A 5-2 loss in game two to EC Red Bull Salzburg, then in their final match a 4-2 loss to Danes SønderjyskE.