It’s the penultimate trip in the time machine as we look back on another Elite League season. This time out, we go back to 2016-17. The Steelers had won the previous two titles, could they go all the way and record a first ever EIHL three-peat? Only one way to find out, read on..
It wasn’t to be for the Steelers in that bid to make history but a new name appeared on the Monteith Bowl in the Elite League era. That new name was the Cardiff Devils who continued their resurgence under Andrew Lord with a first ever league title in the EIHL years and a first ever league title in twenty years. It certainly had been a long, long time coming. They secured the win with a 6-2 triumph over the Steelers in the House of Steel which sent the large Red Army contingent delirious in a crowd of almost 6800. Nobody could begrudge them it at all really.
Cardiff secured their second trophy of the season with the Erhardt Conference crown; securing that particular honour when they defeated nearest challengers Belfast 5-2 in their penultimate game of the season. There was no change though in the Gardiner Conference as Braehead took that for the third season in succession and fourth time in five years. It was a convincing retain for the Clan whose nearest challengers Dundee were ten points adrift.
It was certainly a season to remember for the Devils and they also took the Challenge Cup home with them. In the close season, the venue for this much maligned trophy was switched to Ice Arena Wales from Sheffield where it had been for the last two seasons. Gleason Fournier gave them an early lead but goals from Robert Dowd and Mathieu Roy put opponents Steelers into a first period lead. However, the Devils dominated from thereafter and only allowed Steelers just five shots on goal in the remaining two periods of play. Giant defenceman Mark Louis levelled 2:20 before the end of the second and one game New York Ranger Layne Ulmer scored what turned out to be the game winner just 3:39 into the final session of regulation play.
The Play-Offs though proved to be one of the most epic ones since they came into being. That was illustrated in the quarter-finals when the Steelers produced one of the most remarkable comebacks. Going into their home leg against arch rivals Nottingham 5-2 down, few people gave them a chance. Former Boston Bruins draft pick Levi Nelson reduced the arrears by one but the game changed when Panthers netminder Miika Wiikman was injured by his own defenceman when looking to keep the home side at bay. Wiikman was wheeled off in pain on a stretcher, forcing Corey Neilson to ask backup Dan Green to stave off the Steelers. Steelers were in no mood to be nice to their former netminder and with seconds left had inched into a 6-5 aggregate lead. Yet there was more drama when Chris Lawrence brought the Panthers level with 59:54 played on the night. Then in overtime, Guillaume Desbiens broke down the left wing then cut inside and squeezed his shot under Green to spark scenes of home joy and away despair.
Steelers reward for that was a semi-final against Belfast, whilst champions Cardiff took on surprise packet Dundee in the opening final four game. Dundee looked on course for another shock as they led 2-0 after the opening period but a combination of Devils pressure and Stars tiredness saw the Welsh side prevail 4-2 at the game’s conclusion. Steelers booked their place in the final when they shutout the Giants 2-0 with Desbiens scoring and starring once more.
The Final though became the stuff of legend. Cardiff looked well set for a Grand Slam when they led 3-1 at the end of the first but Steelers turned it round to lead 5-4 at the end of the second. Andrew Hotham made it 5-5 early in the third and after that both netminders put on an absolute clinic. The game was deep in a second period of overtime when Nelson (who it was revealed had gone through several pain killing injections and shouldn’t really have iced) picked up a pass on the right wing, cut in and wristed an effort over Ben Bowns and leave the Devils dejected but send the Steelers into unbridled joy. What a game, you had to be there!
Into Europe, and the Steelers were the only EIHL representative in the Champions Hockey League as there was no repeat of the wild card which Braehead took advantage of in 2015-16. They were paired with HV71 Jönköping of the SHL and Red Bull Salzburg of the EBEL. The away trips proved less than fruitful for Paul Thompson’s men as they lost 5-3 in Sweden but acquitted themselves well, but crashed 8-1 in Austria. HV71 completed a double over the Steelers in Sheffield, with a 5-2 win and all five being scored on the powerplay. But the campaign ended on a high, as a Jesse Schultz hat-trick fired the Steelers to a well deserved 5-2 success over Salzburg. Frölunda retained the main title.
Nottingham Panthers were the EIHL’s representative in the Continental Cup, and it became quite an adventure for Neilson’s team. After breezing through the second round stage with three wins and 28 goals scored, they went into the third round played in Odense with the hosts, Angers (who finished 3rd two seasons previous) and previous winners HC Donbass in opposition. Yet they topped the group against the odds to secure a spot in the Super Final which was being held in Ritten, Italy. The fairytale ended up with the dream finish as Panthers won the tournament with eight points out of nine; the first time a British hockey team had won the Continental Cup. A fantastic moment for the EIHL but most of all for the Panthers and their supporters.
Well that concludes 2016-17. Join us soon for a look back on 2017-18 as we finish our EIHL history files, it was another season to remember for a certain team..