Andrew Hotham scored with 20 seconds remaining in the Cardiff Devils game against the Belfast Giants to crown the Devils champions of the EIHL for the second straight year.
Coming into Friday nights meeting in Belfast, the Devils needed to win to clinch the trophy, and it nearly wasn’t done as the two sides battled hard over the 60 minutes, but Hotham’s powerplay goal with 20.9 seconds left was the difference on the night.
Cardiff ended a 20-year drought between league titles with their success last year to become the third EIHL side to defend their league title after the Coventry Blaze (2006-07/2007-8) and Sheffield Steelers (2014-15/2015-16).
The Devils found themselves behind after 13 minutes as Giants veteran Brit forward Colin Shields opened the scoring on the night, but 41 seconds later it was Joey Martin tied the game again to send it to the first period break with a 1 – 1 tie.
Cardiff struck first in the second frame as Matt Pope scored on an unassisted effort, before defenceman Spiro Goulakos found the back of the net for Belfast late in the middle frame.
Neither side could break the deadlock in the third period despite some great opportunities but both Ben Bowns and Chris Truehl over the Devils and Giants respectively blanked chance after chance.
Then, in the dying seconds the Devils had a glimpse of hope as Brendan Connolly of the Giants sat for two-minutes for cross checking, and just as it look destined for overtime, Andrew Hotham became Cardiff’s hero.
As the buzzer sounded, the Devils players stormed the ice in celebration as the coaching staff embraced on the bench, and the some 50 Devils fans who managed to somehow use their annual leave for a Friday trip to Belfast were ecstatic in the crowd, watching the Devils win the league on away ice for the second time after they clinched the trophy in Sheffield last season.
Captain Jake Morissette lifted the trophy to start what will be a few weeks of celebration in the South Wales capital, as the win also clinched the Erhardt Conference, still with two weeks of league competition to go.
Once the league wraps up it’ll be onto the playoffs for the Devils who won’t have to wait long to find out who they’ll face in the quarter finals.
One thing they will have to wait for however, is to find out which European cities the team and their fans will have to find flights too in the summer as the win solidified the Devils spot in the 2018/19 Champions Hockey League.
Last year the EIHL sent two teams to the CHL, the Devils as the league champions and the Nottingham Panthers as the winners of the 2016/17 Continental Cup.
In the years that the EIHL has participated in the CHL, this past season was the greatest for UK clubs. The Devils famously defeated Swiss side HC Davos and Vaxjo Lakers of Sweden on home ice, in a group where the Devils were expected to be the whipping boys, especially after a humiliating 10 – 1 loss against Davos in Switzerland to start the campaign.
Nottingham performed even better in their CHL campaign. As the lowest seeded team in the entire competition, the Panthers became the first side to emerge past the group stage, actually finishing top of their group that featured SC Bern of Switzerland, TPS of Finland and Mountfield HK of the Czech Republic.
The Panthers were then knocked out in the round of 16 against the ZSC Lions of Switzerland.
Now with celebrations to be had before playoff preparation gets underway, the Devils look forward to a meeting with their fierce rivals the Sheffield Steelers on Sunday night, where they’ll be able to celebrate Fridays success with an expected sold out crowd.
‘Cardiff Devils celebrate their title win!’
Picture Credit: William Cherry (@snappercherry on twitter)