Belfast Giants came back from behind twice to defeat Cardiff Devils in front of a full-house at Ice Arena Wales (IAW) in Sunday night’s cup final.
The 6-3 win gave the Giants their first piece of silverware in four years, having last won the Elite League in 2014. It is also their first trophy with club legend Adam Keefe as head coach.
This feat was particularly impressive considering the Devils’ stunning league form in Cardiff this season. They have won 18 of 22 games at IAW, with two of them being losses to Belfast.
The Devils started strongly, Layne Ulmer giving the Cardiff side a 1-0 lead with a deflection past Giants’ netminder Jackson Whistle.
The Giants equalised in the second period through Brandon Benedict, before a powerplay goal from Gleason Fournier reclaimed the lead for the Cardiff side.
Goals from David Rutherford and Jonathan Ferland before the end of the second period gave Belfast their first lead of the game, 3-2, sending travelling fans into delirium.
After that, tensions began to rise, with Giants’ defenceman Ryan Martinelli playing pantomime villain and Justin Faryna the brave warrior for Devils fans at IAW.
Cardiff needed a strong final period, but it was Belfast who dominated the third. Goals from Matt Towe and Darcy Murphy made it 5-2, leaving local Devils fans clutching at straws.
With just under five minutes remaining, captain Jake Morisette offered Cardiffians a lifeline, scoring on the powerplay to make it 5-3.
However, any hope of a comeback was dashed when Ferland got his second goal of the night. He scored an empty net goal, after goalie Ben Bowns was pulled in a bold final push by Cardiff Devils.
So proud of this crew. Come into Cardiff and win. Exactly what we wanted. All year we’ve been winning on the road. Why not go win 1 more & that’s exactly what they did. #RoadWarriors #ChallengeCupChampions pic.twitter.com/6MJJAQbWqM
— Adam Keefe (@Adam27Keefe) March 5, 2018
For fans travelling from the Northern Irish capital, it was a night to remember.
There had been some doubts about whether the match would even take place, with Wales still feeling the aftermath of the ‘Beast from the East’.
However, in true ice hockey spirit, many Devils fans helped out by volunteering to risk hazardous conditions to collect travelling hockey fans from nearby airports, due to the impact of the weather on public transport.
It was a journey worth making though, as the Giants return to Belfast with silverware in hand, and renewed vigour going into the PredictorBet PlayOff Finals in one month’s time.
For Cardiff Devils, it is a case of dusting themselves off and regaining focus. They will aim to seal the Erhardt Conference and Elite League titles later this month in order to take some momentum into the playoffs themselves.
There is still a lot of hockey to be played before the season finishes.
Remaining Cardiff Devils home league fixtures
Saturday 10th March vs. Edinburgh Capitals 7.00pm
Wednesday 4th March vs. Sheffield Steelers 7.30pm
Sunday 18th March vs. Sheffield Steelers 6.00pm
Saturday March 24th vs. Belfast Giants 7.00pm
Sunday 25th March vs. Milton Keynes Lightning 6.00pm