Alex Dampier arrived in the United Kingdom in 1978 and immediately set about building a dynasty with the Murrayfield Racers, winning three British Championships and three Northern League titles in succession. Having never qualified for the Championships and done little of note in other competitions, Panthers had developed a reputation of being ‘pussy cats.’ Dampier’s arrival spelt an almost immediate end to that name tag. The season began with the Norwich Union Trophy, the Panthers being placed in the England South group. The team were able to win 7 of their 8 games, to finish ahead of Streatham and qualify for the English Final. Here they faced the mighty Durham Wasps, a powerhouse of 1980s British hockey.

The first leg took place in Nottingham, with the Panthers stunning the Wasps by taking a 4–1 first period lead. Durham came back into the game during the final two periods, but Nottingham held on to a 6–5 victory. Unfortunately the gulf in class between the two teams was still substantial, and Panthers returned from the second leg having been beaten 11–2. Though the Norwich Union Trophy campaign had ended in disappointment, it at least gave a indication that the days of being hopeless losers were behind them.

The league campaign also saw significant improvement. Led by the scoring of Jimmy Keyes and Jamie Crapper, the Panthers made their first serious assault on a playoff place. As the season reached its climax, Panthers became involved in a race for the sixth and final post season berth with the old enemy; Streatham Redskins. Keyes and Crapper were to be the stars in two of the most decisive games. In the first, Keyes scored five goals as Panthers defeated Durham 6–3. This was the first of five successive wins for the team, the penultimate of which came in Streatham.

Panthers required a point to end the challenge of their rivals and secure a first playoff place since the defeat to Brighton brought an end to the original era. Streatham Ice Rink was crammed far beyond capacity, most in the building supporting the away team. Crapper stole the show, scoring five goals of his own as Panthers triumphed 6–4, securing the all important sixth spot. The Redskins had failed to qualify for the playoffs for the first time since the Premier Division was formed and this defeat was the beginning of the end for the club as a leading British side. The end of the decade saw them relegated.

The season did not end in such glorious fashion, as the Panthers failed to pick up a single a point in the post season. However, the days of playing our a meagre existence over.

The 1985–86 season had shown that the Panthers were beginning to show their potential. The 1986–87 showed that the Nottingham Panthers had arrived. When the team managed to lose 3–2 in the second game of their Norwich Union Trophy campaign at the First Division side Lee Valley Lions, few could have expected what followed. Panthers won the England South group by the narrowest of margins, coming out on top in a three way tie for points with Streatham and Telford.

In the English Final they faced Whitley Warriors, who had managed to dislodge Durham from top of England North for the first time. After winning 7–5 in the North East, Panthers returned to Nottingham and defeated the Warriors 8–4 to secure a 15–9 aggregate victory and move into the final at the National Exhibition Centre.

The final was played against Fife Flyers, something of a glamorous club at the time. It was a final of firsts; the first major final the club had competed in since reforming and the first time the Panthers had played in an arena since the days of Empire Pool and Harringay. The attendance of 5,600 was the largest the Panthers had played in front of to date and the game was televised on BBC Grandstand.

The match itself turned out to be a topsy-turvy affair. Twice each side led. Leading 4–3 and on a power play, Panthers somehow allowed Fife forward Dave Stoyanovich to score an equalising goal and send the game into an extra session. Only those who had been present at the last game of the first era had experienced such an event before. Grandstand delayed coverage of further sports programming to witness Nottingham seal their first modern era trophy in dramatic circumstances. Fittingly the man who scored the decisive goal in overtime was Layton Eratt, one of the individuals who’d moved from Sheffield to reform the team in 1980. At 61.53 of the match, Eratt tipped in a pass from Gavin Fraser on the wing, the cup belonged to Nottingham.

A major trophy finally added to their name, the team now set its sites on making a major breakthrough in the upper echelons of the league. To help achieve this, Panthers secured the services of Fred Perlini, a player with NHL experience with the Toronto Maple Leafs. With Crapper departing early season, it was Perlini and Keyes that led the scoring. With 158 league goals between them, they helped the Panthers achieve a third place finish, the first time the club had finished in the upper half of the Premier Division table and thirteen points better off than any previous effort. Unfortunately the playoff campaign would end in the same fashion as the previous season, Panthers rooted firmly to the bottom of their group without a win to their name.


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