What a weekend!


Looks good doesn’t? (Sheffield fans don’t need to answer!) What a weekend, what a truly brilliant weekend. You cannot ask more than two fantastic games of hockey and a brilliant time with good friends. I loved every single minute of it.
Saturday started as the Saturday usually does, 10.30am in The Castle with a bacon cob and a pint of Guinness (that is to say play-off Saturday, not every Saturday!) As friends joined us and the pub filled up we looked forward to the upcoming game between Steelers and Panthers. Confidence wasn’t high, up until that point in time we had never beaten the Steelers at a play-off weekend and when the Steelers went 2-0 up early doors the familiar feeling of dread began to creep over us. However, this time was different. Marc Levers pulled one back as Steelers neminder Ervins Mustukovs misjudged his backhand shot. 2-1 became 2-2 as David Beauregard put a wrist shot over Mustukovs blocker and it was well and truly game on. The second period ebbed and flowed but it was still all square going into the third period. Panthers took the lead with a screamer from Heerema (did you see what I did there?) that I doubt any netminder would have stopped. Back came the Steelers though as the excellent Ben Simon equalised and the game went into overtime. Less than two minutes in and a soft Matt Myers backhand wasn’t held by Mutukovs, Robert Lachowicz skated in, turned on a sixpence and put the puck home. Pandemonium ensued in the Panthers blocks while the Steelers fans sat in stunned silence. A quite wonderful game of hockey was over, but as great as it was to beat the Steelers this was somehow different, there appeared to be a great deal of mutual respect between the two sides, emphasised by the Panthers players banging their sticks on the ice as the Steelers players took their lap of honour. For those who haven’t seen it, here is a You Tube video of Lachowicz’s OT winner:

It was off to the Old Angel for yet more Guinness and a shot of Jagermeister before returning to the NIC for the second semi-final, the eagerly awaited clash between Belfast and Cardiff. Sadly, the game didn’t live up to the billing, Giants didn’t turn up and Devils cruised to a- victory without having to get out of second gear.
So it was off for a bit of food and then the rest of the evening in The Castle for a few more drinks and discussions of the games, the final and Kinder Surprise adverts (don’t ask!)
Sunday started with a bit of food and a couple of pints before heading to the Arena for the final. One thing you learn as a Panthers fan is never to be confident of winning! Most of us weren’t sticking our neck out as to the way the match would go, especially as Panthers had played in a tough, hard game while the Devils had won their semi with relative ease. The Devils came right out of the blocks and took an early two goal lead through Jon Pelle and Craig Weller. If Panthers were to win this they would have to do it the hard way. They pulled one back as Beauregard, who was outstanding all weekend, got a tip on Danny Meyers shot to make it 2-1. Into the second period and Devils struck early as the defence allowed an odd man rush and Ryan Finnerty made no mistake to make it 3-1. Those who thought it was all over (like me) were soon thinking again less than a minute later as Matt Myers backhanded the puck past Stevie Lyle to make it 3-2. Panthers then equalised as Jeff Heerema bundled home. The Devils went into the second interval ahead as Brad Voth slapped home into the top corner, a goal which was roundly cheered by the Steelers fans in attendance, which did make me laugh!
Devils had been well on top for two periods, so Panthers had to produce something special to take the trophy. Billy Ryan provided it, putting a laser of a wrist shot in off the underside of the bar. Panthers then took the lead for the first time as Beauregard scored from a tight angle for what turned out to be the game winning goal. Controversy at the end as Weller was penalised for a high check with just over two minutes to go, Scott Matzka was chucked out for abuse of official and then with a minute to go Finnerty took a slashing penalty to virtually end any hopes of a Devils comeback. The hooter went, Panthers had won and we celebrated.
It was hard on the Devils, they deserved something from their excellent season and were the better team in the final but it just wasn’t to be for them. As for Panthers, they won two trophies in a season for the first time in the modern era and Corey Neilson becomes the most successful coach in Panthers history with three trophies in three seasons.
One of my biggest regrets from the 2007 play-off win was that I went straight to the pub and didn’t go into Bolero square to celebrate. I wasn’t making that mistake again, we stayed and cheered as the team came on to the balcony to show off the trophy and celebrate with thousands of fans.

Then it was back to the pub to celebrate in style. There was laughter, singing, and appearance from Jade Galbraith (still in his kit) and plenty of drinking. I felt pretty terrible all day, but it’s well worth the hangover when you see your team win. This weekend will stay in the memory for an awful long time.


1 Response to “What a weekend!”

  1. 1 JohnnyfromDonny April 6, 2011 at 11:12 am

    Excellent read Jono, I noticed too at the end of the semi with the Steelers that there was some genuine congratulating and commiserating going on as the teams exchanged more than just the normal cursory handshake.

    A different result would have been appreciated and it was a hard pill to swallow going out in the way that we did but, for me, the semi was the best game by far of a fantastic play off weekend.

    Good to meet you and also a couple of panthers fans who greeted me in the Angel with “we hate you”. We had a good laugh.

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