Welcome to the history files as we continue to chronicle the history of the Elite Ice Hockey League. In this latest edition, number six, we go back to the 2008-09 season. Coventry Blaze had won the title for the previous two seasons, the first time a team had done that, but could they make more history and make it a three-peat? Find out below…
Ever since they joined the Elite League in 2003-04 as one of its founding members, the Blaze had been the most successful. However in 2008-09, the Blaze suffered a rarity: that is a blank season with nothing to show in the Sky Dome’s trophy cabinet. Under former Cardiff Devils and Belfast Giants winger Dave Matsos, Sheffield Steelers captured their second Elite League crown despite not having a player in the top ten points scorers. The Steelers were miserly in defence with former Blaze netminder Jody Lehman conceding less than two goals a game and an incredible save percentage of 93.6%. Whilst in offence, Steelers had consistent scoring through the team and that helped them win the title by an astonishing eleven points.
The Challenge Cup saw both the Steelers, Devils and Panthers all fail to qualify for the semi-finals. The biggest surprise in the group stages was in Group B where the Basingstoke Bison topped it ahead of the Blaze. But that was about as good as it got for the Hampshire side as they were crushed 11-3 in their two legged semi-final with the Manchester Phoenix. Their opponents in the Final would be the Belfast Giants, who had topped Group A with an impeccable record, Giants seeing off the Blaze 5-2 on aggregate after a 1-1 draw in the opening Sky Dome leg. Into the Final itself, Phoenix held sway after their home leg with a 4-3 win but the Giants took the spoils and the silverware with a 3-1 win back in Northern Ireland.
Onto the play-offs, and the final four would see the Steelers, Devils, Blaze and Panthers all advance forwards. Steelers would face the Devils, and a Midlands derby in the other semi-final. The depth of the Steelers scoring managed to shine through as they had five different scorers as they saw off the Welsh side 5-2 in their encounter. But who would they face in the Final? The answer was the Panthers, as they comprehensively saw off their Midlands rivals with a comprehensive 6-2 win. But there was no way they would deny the Steelers a double, as goals from defenceman Steve Munn and centre Ryan Finnerty saw the South Yorkshire side shut out their fiercest rivals 2-0.
As the EIHL’s representative in the Continental Cup, Coventry did incredibly well indeed. The Blaze led the group ahead of hosts Bolzano going into a winner takes all encounter on the final day, but were denied a place in the Super Final in the cruellest way possible. A Blaze goal was controversially washed out with the score goalless at that time, and the Italians took advantage of this lucky escape to then go on and score the only goal of the game afterwards. Absolute heartbreak.
Who would come out on top in 2009-10? Join us shortly to find out.