Welcome once more to your latest history lesson as we look back at another season of the EIHL. The previous campaign had seen the honours go to different clubs but who would take the honours in season twelve? Time to read on and find out then..
Season twelve began with another surprise before the season actually began. Gerad Adams’ reward for leading the Steelers to Play-Off glory last season was a new deal which pleased the Steelers fan base no end. Could he deliver more honours to the South Yorkshire club? Meanwhile in Cardiff, the misery from the Ragan era came to an end. With the team teetering on the brink of folding, they were rescued by a four-man consortium based in Calgary. One of their first tasks was to have a proper General Manager and the decision was to bring in Todd Kelman in from rivals Belfast Giants where he had spent the last seven seasons in the same role. Andrew Lord also stepped up too to become the Devils new player-coach.
The title race was one of the most closest ones in recent times and it was decided on the final weekend of the season. For much of the season it looked like Cardiff or Ryan Finnerty’s Braehead would become the new holders of the Monteith Bowl. But they stumbled, and Adams’ Steelers took the honours for the fourth time in the EIHL’s history. Stalwart forward Jeff Legue scoring the goal that captured it; ironically against Cardiff on a night of pure emotion. Two pieces of silverware in as many seasons for Adams and showing his former employers what they were missing out on.
Gardiner Conference title went to Braehead for the second time in three seasons, which was small consolation for missing out on the big prize. Meanwhile, the Erhardt honour was heading its way not to Sheffield but to Nottingham for the first time after spending the last two years across the water in the Odyssey’s trophy cabinet.
For the first time, 2014-15 saw the Challenge Cup decided on a single game as opposed to the two legged finals which had been the norm since the EIHL came into its inception. The Final was held at the home of the Steelers, and they made the Final too. However, less than 24 hours before it they faced Belfast Giants in an congested fixture pile up. Opponents Cardiff had no game so were much fresher and after a goalless opening period, Steelers lethargy saw them concede twice in the opening two minutes of the middle period and be forced to play catch up hockey. They could only breach the Devils when Cullen Eddy netted with just over seven minutes left but that was it and Cardiff; under rookie player-coach Lord, captured their first Challenge Cup since 2005-06 and deservedly so.
There was to be more disappointment for the Steelers in the Play-Offs as they fell at the last hurdle. Having made the Final thanks to a late, late winner from the talismanic Mathieu Roy which had Stingrays player-coach Omar Pacha going absolutely mental over as he sat a penalty which had led to the winner, they faced a Coventry Blaze who had underachieved in the regular season but under Chuck Weber, were performing well in the Play-Offs. They had booked their place in the Final with a shootout win over the Giants after overtime couldn’t break a 2-2 tie which saw the Northern Irish side lead twice.
Blaze controlled the Final and with just one period left in it, led the newly crowned league champions 4-0 with one of the goals scored by Steven Goertzen who had lifted the same honour 12 months earlier with the Steelers. Ironic? Roy scored twice in that final period, one from long range after a Brian Stewart clearance landed straight on his stick with the giant Canadian scrambling back towards his goal. It ended 4-2, and once more the better side won.
Onto Europe, and 2014-15 saw the introduction of a new honour: the Champions Hockey League (CHL). Made up of 44 clubs, the EIHL’s first entry wasn’t from the previous season’s champions Belfast but the Panthers. Belfast had to forego their entry due to ice time availability, so the EIHL awarded it this to the Challenge Cup with the Giants taking the Continental Cup spot in a strange twist of fate. Panthers found the going tough, and after their first four games were pointless and had conceded 27 goals including 10-1 and 9-1 losses to Lulea Hockey of the SHL who subsequently won the inaugural title. Yet there was joy in game five when they defeated the Hamburg Freezers of the DEL 3-1 with former Red Wing and Bruin Nathan Robinson scoring the game winner in his short spell at the NIC. Local Robert Lachowicz sealed the win early in the third to create history. The return, and final group game, saw the Freezers get their own back with a 6-0 win.
In the Continental Cup, Belfast entered at the second round stage and took it to the final day. They and hosts Fischtown Pinguins of Bremerhaven both boasted two wins out of two so whoever won that final game, would get through to the third round and final knockout stage before the Super Final. Mike Kompon gave them a 2-1 lead early in the second but Jan Kopecky completed a hat-trick to give the German side a 4-2 win who iced future Giant Ryan Martinelli (now of Sheffield) in their ranks.
That appeared to be the end of the road for the Giants but Ukrainians HC Kompanion-Naftogaz withdrew and Giants were given the spot instead. They went close, very close. Three teams ended on six points after the round robin games, Giants, Belrusians Neman Grodno and hosts Angers. Angers had the best goal difference of the three so were given one spot but Grodno conceded one less than the Giants despite losing to them and were given spot two. They went to win the Super Final with eight points out of a maximum nine and capture their first Continental Cup honour.
Who would take the honours in 2015-16? Keep checking back as we continue to trawl through the archives until we reach the present day.