It’s time for our journey into the Elite Ice Hockey League’s history files. We now head back into the 2009-10 season which was the seventh season of the EIHL, and equally episode seven of this series of articles. The Steelers had the best of the 2008-09 campaign, could they enjoy an equally good season in 09-10? Time to find out…
The new 2009-10 season started with a couple of shocks before the first puck was dropped in earnest. As the previous season drew to a close, Basingstoke Bison advised that they would not be featuring due to financial reasons and would drop into the EPL for the foreseeable. This left the league at nine clubs but then there was another withdrawal on 1 May when Manchester Phoenix followed Basingstoke into the EPL for the same reason. Luckily for the EIHL, the rumours at Edinburgh and Newcastle didn’t ring true so we had an eight team EIHL in 2009-10.
The title race was a close run affair and was decided in dramatic fashion. As the season entered its final weekend, it was either going to go to either Belfast or Coventry although the latter had a chance to win it when they faced sixth-placed Edinburgh in Murrayfield. If they failed to win, it would set up a winner takes all encounter. Blaze looked in a rush to seal their fourth EIHL title when they took an early two goal advantage but the Capitals fought back to lead 3-2 with a minute left to play. Yet the talismanic legend that was Adam Calder drew the Blaze on parity and then only went on, in true Adam Calder style, to complete yet another hat-trick and set the champagne corks flying for Paul Thompson’s team.
Now in the second season of the Neilson era, albeit still the Oromocto native was combining playing and coaching in equal measure, the Panthers were improving and only finished six points behind the Blaze in the league standings. They did take the second trophy on offer, the Challenge Cup however. That was secured with a tense 8-7 aggregate win in the Final over Cardiff, but Neilson was starting to put the building blocks in place. It was a domestic season to forget for the reigning champions as they tumbled into a fifth place in the league standings and failed to challenge in the cups.
The play-offs saw Cardiff, Coventry, Nottingham and Belfast all make the final four weekend with comfortable win in their respective quarter-finals. Blaze couldn’t add to their league win as they succumbed to a heavy defeat to the Devils whilst there was also no second trophy of the season for the Panthers either as a penalty shot win saw the Giants advance to the Final after the teams had drawn 1-1 after overtime. The Giants would take the Play-Off trophy back to Northern Ireland, and again it took a penalty shot win to do so. Devils and Giants had shared four goals in regular and overtime play, but in the subsequent shootout Evan Cheverie beat Stevie Lyle with the only successful shot to give the Giants the glory.
Into Europe, and the Steelers improved on the EIHL’s performance the season before when a shootout win over Bolzano in another winner takes all encounter saw them progress as group winners. This result saw them make the Super Final in Grenoble, being the first EIHL side to do so. The Super Final series started off well for Dave Matsos’ men as they beat the hosts 5-2 in their opening game. However, they crashed 6-1 to EC Red Bull Salzburg in game two and then 4-1 to Yunost Minsk in their final game to end up as bronze medallists. Salzburg would win the tournament itself with a 100 per cent record throughout.
So that was 2009-10, what would happen in 2010-11? Join us again soon to find out…