The Elite League Years: 2017-18

We’ve reached the end of the line, as we bring you the last one in our trips down memory lane. It’s a look back at last season, 2017-18. It had been an incredible season in 2016-17 for Cardiff, coming so close to the EIHL’s first ever Grand Slam in its current format. Could they go one better?

There were a couple of changes to happen in the EIHL structure before the season started in earnest. The first was to welcome two expansion teams in the shape of Guildford Flames and Milton Keynes Lightning who had been plying their trade in the now defunct EPL. A definite sign that the EIHL is getting better. This caused a reshuffle of the Conference system. The four Scottish sides formed a revamped Gardiner Conference, the four big Arena teams (Belfast, Cardiff, Nottingham and Sheffield) did the same for the Erhardt or as some wags said “The Group of Death” whilst Coventry, Manchester and the two new boys formed the Patton Conference.

After their CHL exploits finished, Cardiff moved through the gears and secured themselves a second successive league title which meant they matched the exploits of Coventry and Sheffield. They won it by ten clear points which is a sizeable margin and once more it was secured on opposing ice; this time a 3-2 win in the Odyssey did the trick for Andrew Lord’s men. Manchester enjoyed a great season, finishing second whilst the Steelers, Giants and Panthers were too inconsistent to challenge. Of the newcomers, Guildford finished a well deserved 6th in the overall rankings but Milton Keynes found it a bit tougher. They did have some great results though, a home double over the Steelers being particularly notable.

As regards the three Conferences, Cardiff took the Group of Death for a second successive season. The aforementioned 3-2 win in Belfast which clinched the main title was also good enough for the conference too so that was two trophies in the bank for Andrew Lord’s men. The Gardiner was dominated by Fife, and the Flyers had that won in record time: by mid February no less and with still a month of the season left. It was Fife’s first Gardiner title. The inaugural Patton conference went the way of the Storm but Guildford pushed them almighty close for it, a 3-1 loss for the Flames on home ice to Coventry was enough to send the celebrations heading Altrincham way.

The Challenge Cup Final remained in Ice Arena Wales for a second successive season but the trophy itself didn’t. That went across the sea to the Giants who upset the proverbial applecart with a 6-3 win. Twice the Devils led, but they were leads that they couldn’t keep and the Giants turned the screw to lead 5-2 with just under eight minutes to play. Needing to replicate their comeback against the Steelers in the semi-final, Devils reduced the arrears with 4:44 left but Adam Keefe (in his first season as Giants Head Coach) saw his side resist any more pressure and seal the deal with Jonathan Ferland scoring his second of the game.

The Play-Offs saw both of last season’s finalists make the final four but Manchester threw away their chance it has to be said of joining them. Leading 4-1 going into their home leg, they were blown away by the Flyers who completed an unlikely victory in overtime thanks to Carlo Finucci. Overtime was also needed to separate a close game between the Panthers and Giants, Panthers taking that 8-7 on aggregate thanks to Dan Spang’s game winning goal just 26 seconds before penalty shots loomed in the NIC.

So the first semi-final pitted the Devils against the Flyers and the Steelers versus the Panthers in the other. Despite dominating the shot count, it took until the 35th minute of play for Cardiff to break the deadlock thanks to a strike from former NHL defenceman Tyson Strachan. Three goals in six minutes in the final period finished the job for the Devils as they won 4-0. Could the Steelers join them in a repeat of last year’s Final? Well it looked doubtful when Corey Neilson’s men, in his final season at the helm, led 2-0 and 4-2. Steelers dug in and goals from Ben O’Connor and last year’s hero Levi Nelson got them back on parity before John Armstrong got the winner with 3:41 played in overtime.

Therefore we had a repeat of the Final from 12 months ago, but we didn’t get an overtime epic this time out. Goals from Matt Pope and Andrew Hotham put the Devils two goals to the good going into the final period, and despite Eric Neiley reducing the margin by one, Devils secured revenge for last year’s loss when skipper Jake Morissette (isn’t ironic don’t you think?) scored an empty netter shorthanded 17 seconds before the final buzzer.

CHL action saw both Cardiff and Nottingham feature, the Panthers being given a wild card for last season’s Continental Cup win. Both had decent campaigns and increased the EIHL brand well with some great results. Cardiff finished bottom of their group but recorded two wins: a 4-3 overtime win over HC Davos (who were apparently playing hungover after a night on the sauce in the Principality) and a superb 5-1 over Växjö. Panthers did even better, topping their group with a superb 11 points and making even more history to secure a last 16 spot. They were paired with the Zurich Lions of the Swiss NLA but that’s where the dream ended with a 6-1 aggregate win but Panthers gained more respect for what they had achieved. The title went the way over of JYP Jyvaskyla who defeated Växjö 2-0 in the showpiece finale.

Steelers were in Continental Cup action, and they entered it at the third round stage: one stage before the Super Final. After losing their opening game 7-1 to Belarusians Yunost Minsk, Steelers saw off hosts Rungsted 5-4 in an enthralling game that went to a penalty shootout. A battle with Latvians Kurbads Riga followed and they managed to replicate the Panthers appearance in the Super Final with a 4-2 win. Could they keep the Continental Cup in the UK? Minsk was the venue for it but the dream was over with two losses in the first two games although a 5-4 loss in game two to the hosts was a bitter pill to swallow. Yunost went on to win it with a third straight win but Steelers finished on a high with a polished 2-0 defeat of Italian side Ritten Sport.

That’s the history files closed, hope you have enjoyed the look backs. Thanks for reading..

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