Time once more to go back into our EIHL time machine and visit another season in the archives. This time we go back into season eight, the 2010-11 season. Coventry Blaze had captured their fourth crown the season beforehand, could they win back to back titles for the second successive time and make it five titles in just eight years? Only one way to find out…
The 2010-11 season saw the EIHL expand back to ten teams as they welcomed a new franchise in the Braehead Clan to the ranks, funded by Nottingham Panthers owner Neil Black, and Dundee Stars made the jump from the SNL. There was a coaching change in Sheffield just weeks before the start of the new season as David Matsos took on a role as assistant coach at OHL side Windsor Spitfires; his replacement: former NHLer Ben Simon in his first coaching role whilst combining playing. The newly formed Clan had agreed terms with the legendary Adam Calder to be their first coach but at the last minute, the appointment collapsed and so former Panthers centre Bruce Richardson was given the gig instead as player-coach.
The title could have gone to any of three teams such was the closeness of the final standings. Only one point separated the winners from third. The title eventually went the way of the Steelers by virtue of them having one win more than second placed Cardiff. It was harsh on the Devils who at one stage went on a terrific run that saw them unbeaten in 22 games including a 7-1 hammering of the Steelers in the House of Steel. Third placed went to the Giants and those sides finished well clear of the fourth placed Panthers. Braehead enjoyed a superb debut season, finishing fifth.
Current holders Coventry endured a season where nothing went right, ending it with a less than .500 record. It was also a miserable season for the Newcastle Vipers too, not only did they finish a lowly ninth out of ten but as of November 2010 they played their home games in the confines of Whitley Bay after ice time and attendance concerns caused the Vipers to head 10 miles north-east.
The Panthers continued their love affair with the Challenge Cup, retaining the title they won the season before. Both them and Cardiff, last season’s losing finalists, emerged from Group B whilst the Giants and the Vipers did likewise from Group A. A 4-0 home win in the first leg was the building block for the Giants to make the Final and despite the Devils winning 2-1 in the BBT: the Northern Irish side advanced. Panthers grip on this trophy was loosened a bit when the Vipers took the first leg 4-3 at the NIC but Corey Neilson’s men ran riot in Hillheads with a comprehensive 15-0 win to secure a Final spot. Panthers took the opening leg of that Final 3-1 in Northern Ireland but despite losing their own home leg, held on for a 4-3 aggregate triumph.
Panthers ensured a double cup triumph when they also took the end of season play-offs. Neilson’s team had recovered from a two goal deficit to send the league champions, the Steelers, tumbling out at the semi-final stage where they would face the Devils who slayed the Giants 4-1 in the other final four contest. The game saw Panthers do exactly to the Devils to what they did to the Steelers did in their semi-final, that is emerge winners after being two goals adrift. Panthers taking the spoils by the odd goal in nine.
There was also Continental Cup action, and it looked good for the Elite League to have a Super Finalist for the second successive campaign. Coventry had been mightily impressive with a couple of 6-1 wins in their opening two group games. However, the wheels came off spectacularly in the deciding game as the Blaze crashed 7-3 to hosts Rouen Dragons. Rouen would go on and finish pointless in the Super Final held in and won by Minsk.
It had been an eventful eighth season, which also saw the Boston Bruins play an EIHL select side in Belfast. The EIHL select at one stage led the Bruins 1-0 thanks to a goal from the mercurial Jade Galbraith. There was also the sight of a bench clearance in the Sky Dome, Coventry, when all hell broke loose after Blaze’s former Steeler Brad Cruikshank ran Panthers former NHL back-up Craig Kowalski. A number of players received suspensions for their part in this melee.
Join us soon for season nine, 2011-12, as we inch closer to the present day.