Step back a week ago and most Devils fans were feeling a little despondent and looking forward to the weekend’s crucial doubleheader in Belfast with a little worry in their minds. They had just seen their beloved boys from Cardiff get taken apart by Sheffield Steelers in the first leg of the Challenge Cup semi-final. The final score in Yorkshire was 6-2 to the home side. This left Cardiff Devils with a mountain to climb in last nights return leg at IAW. I like many Devils fans felt that we may well have left ourselves far too much to do, to enable us the opportunity to defend the cup we won against Sheffield back in March 2017. Captain Jake Morissette told me in his interview several months ago that come to the end of the season the Devils would be amongst the trophies, true to his word they are top of the league, 2nd in their conference with games in hand, and what about the Challenge Cup semi-final.
The Devils required a five-goal winning margin to advance to the final on March 4th. There is a very deep bond and the close-knit feeling amongst the Devils players and this is clear to see the way they all play for each other. The Devils started very brightly and put pressure on from the off. These players believed they would win and win by the required amount. After just over six minutes of the first period, the Devils took the lead through none other than Matthew Myers, who seems to think this particular trophy belongs to him. The Steelers struck straight back, and I’m sure this must have calmed their nerves a little, Eric Neiley scoring for the visitors. This was a night where the Devils were not going to allow the odds against them to count and just after 10 minutes the Devils again took the lead. This time Layne Ulmer with a great tip from Popes shot, this was the Devils second power-play goal of the night. The atmosphere in IAW was tweeted about as being as loud as it used to be in the Big Blue Tent. Spurred on by the ever faithful Red Army of fans the Devils increased their lead right at the start of the second period with another power-play goal, this time the goal credited to Matt Pope. At this point Devils, fans really started to believe and when Justin Faryna fired in the Devils fourth of the night the night IAW was really rocking. The levelling goal didn’t come and the period ended with the Steelers carrying the slenderest of one-goal advantages into the last period.
Many thought that the third period would be a tight and cagey affair with the away side hoping to sit on the lead they had and hit the Devils on the break but that game plan went out the window after just 45 seconds, Paul Crowder scored the levelling goal and it truly was then game on. The Steelers seemed shell-shocked, how had they let this happen? Just 20 seconds later and the turn around was complete. The Devils were 6-1 up on the night and had taken the lead in the tie for the first time thanks to an effort from Patrick Asselin. No sooner had the Devils scored the goal that put them in control of the tie and Paul ‘Thommo’ Thompson called a ‘time out’ to try to sort his crumbling side out. Unfortunately for ‘Thommo’ and the Steelers, whether through frustration or just the sheer amount of pressure exerted by the magnificent Devils, Zach Fitzgerald took a 2-minute hooking penalty and from the resulting power play the ruthless Devils extended their lead to 7-1 on the night and 9-7 overall. The goal from Bentivoglio put a little daylight between the teams and the place was now well and truly the ‘Devils Cauldron’ and I don’t think there was one home fan who believed that they wouldn’t be booking their final tickets very soon.
In the remaining minutes of the period, the Steelers did try to exert severe pressure on the Devils ‘D’ but they would not budge. Even when the Steelers rolled the dice and pulled the ‘Moose’ on several occasions, they just couldn’t make the extra skater count. In the end, the game clock ran out and the Devils had produced one of the most amazing comebacks of all time.
Mathieu Roy picked up the Man of the Match accolade for the Steelers and Netminder Ben Bowns picked up the Devils Man of the Match. He really deserved it making 27 saves from the 28 shots he faced but this really wasn’t about a Man of the Match, this was bigger than that, this was about a truly exceptional team performance.
At the beginning of the season I was a little disappointed by how many players Andrew Lord let go, and was a little surprised with who he replaced them with, but as the season has gone on, ‘Lordos’ choices have been justified, with all the new players now contributing, and it’s time for me to hold my hand up and admit I was wrong. This team I believe is better and more resilient than last seasons.
I just hope that this team take things one step further than last seasons and bring home that elusive Grand Slam of trophies. I would like to upgrade my photo with the three trophies for one photo with ALL 4.
All pictures courtesy of Helen Brabon. http://www.helenbrabonphotography.co.uk