Perlini and Keyes both left following the end of the season and 1987–88 saw the Panthers lose any momentum they might have gained, failing to defend their trophy and slipping back to sixth in the standings. This prompted Dampier to try an entirely different approach to his team. Prior to 1988–89, it had been customary for teams to sign two forwards and one defenseman when signing their imports. Dampier tried the opposite approach, signing one import forward and two defensemen. With the services of Terry Kurtenbach already secured, the club signed Doc Durdle to join him on the blue line.

The position of lone import forward would put a great deal of pressure on the man signed to do the job. The task was initially given to Bruce Thompson. However, it soon became apparent that he wasn’t able to make the contribution that was necessary of a man in his role, and the club began to look elsewhere. They found their man playing in France. Paul Adey made his debut for the club in their first league fixture of the campaign. Panthers rarely stumbled from there-on-in.

At one point it seemed like the team might have a chance of claiming the league title, with eight successive victories. However, two losses in a Scottish weekend ended those aspirations, and Panthers instead turned their attentions to playing at Wembley Arena in the playoffs, something they’d looked nowhere near capable of in previous post season campaigns. The regular season ended with a record of 22–9–5, good enough for third place. This put them in a playoff group with Ayr and Murrayfield.

Panthers had lost 12 successive playoff games in a run stretching back to 1986. That became 13 when the team lost 10–7 in Murrayfield in the first game. A post season win finally came six days later, when Panthers defeated Ayr 7–1 at the Ice Stadium. With the Bruins also having beaten the Racers, it meant that Murrayfield and Nottingham would have to face each other in a winner takes all match to secure a place in the final four.

The game took place on 15 April, the same day as the Hillsborough disaster. Many Panthers supporters had been in Sheffield to witness the horror of that event earlier on in the afternoon and this made for an intensely emotional atmosphere. Panthers edged a tight game with an 8–7 victory, securing their place at Wembley for the first time. Following an 8–4 loss in Ayr in their last group game, Nottingham finished second and earned a semi final berth against the Whitley Warriors.

Despite having had their best regular season of the modern era, Panthers still travelled to Wembley as outsiders. It was their debut appearance in the pressure cooker atmosphere of the playoff final four and they had the worst post season record of the teams. Perhaps most ominously, one of the Panthers’ rivals was Durham Wasps, already winners of the Norwich Union Trophy and league title and twice defending British champions. Their supporters were confident of winning a Treble, displaying a banner exclaiming ‘Durham Wasps – Grand Slam Champions 88/89.’

The Warriors had finished ahead of the Wasps, meaning that their semi final with Nottingham was the first of the day. The Panthers began dominantly, and little under 25 minutes into the match were leading 4–1. Then things began to swing in the opposite direction and by the half way point of the match Whitley were level. The remainder of the game was much tighter, and with less than six minutes to go the scores were tied at 6–6. However, the Warriors lost their discipline and two five-on-three power play goals in the final five minutes earned the Panthers a place in the final.

The Panthers could afford to sit back, relax and watch a Danny Shea inspired Ayr Bruins upset the double-winning Wasps 12–6 in the second semi final to set up a third playoff meeting between the two sides.

The final bought together two of the most impressive import forwards in the Premier Division—Paul Adey and Danny Shea—with 171 and 117 points respectively. Shea had been influential in the Bruins’ defeat of Durham the previous day, and Panthers would have to get him under their thumb if there was to be any chance of lifting the trophy. Adey had been in impressive form himself, with two goals and two assists in the win over Whitley.

The match began cagily, both sides eager not to make mistakes and adopting a cautious approach to the game. It was Ayr who had the first say in proceedings however. Already a man down, the referee called a second penalty against Nottingham and on the delayed penalty, Shea assisted Kidd on the opening goal of the game after nine minutes. Panthers drew level five minutes later, with Adey scoring what would turn out to be his only goal of the game. With both sides giving little away the first period ended with one goal apiece.

The second period was similar. The Bruins regained the lead, taking advantage of a Davie Graham error, only for Panthers to score an almost immediate equalizer through Randal Weber. Shea earned his third assist of the game at 34.49 to give Ayr a 3–2 lead but again Panthers hit back straight away, this time Nigel Rhodes being the scorer. The period ended with the scores locked at 3–3, and neither side looking like much would be given away. The tension in the stands was unbearable.

The Panthers finally asserted themselves early in the final period. Terry Kurtenbach, Nottingham’s captain, scored the fourth goal a little over five minutes in and, just under a minute later, Gavin Fraser had put the team into a 5–3 lead. The Bruins continued to battle but were visibly tiring. After Graham pulled a string of fine saves to deny Ayr in a goal mouth scramble, the writing seemed to be on the wall. On the power play with a little over a minute of the match remaining, Randal Weber made sure of the win with his second goal, the celebrations could begin.

The magnitude of what had just been achieved certainly wasn’t lost on the Panthers support in the building. The pure elation and delirium in the stands was a testament to just how far this club had come, and just how sweet this victory felt. Fans were covered in champagne or even simply beer. Men fell down steps, seemingly unconcerned about potential injury, in their glee. There were smiles and tears and a sense of joy and disbelief. More than any other trophy the Panthers have won, this one was the result of many years of effort and sweat by many people.

Of Nottingham’s roster of eighteen, seven players were under the age of 21 having risen through the ranks of the junior development system. Two of those had been on the score sheet, Randal Weber being the scorer of two goals. Of the eighteen points scored by Nottingham in the match, twelve went to the club’s British contingent. The Panthers had been told years earlier that they would have develop their own junior system to join the ranks of the country’s leading clubs. Victory at Wembley showed that they had achieved this.

The celebrations continued in Nottingham, and even on the trip home from Nottingham. Supporters and players alike finally felt they could count themselves alongside the likes of Durham and Murrayfield. Surely now they were on the verge of a period of success and dominance that they had worked so hard to achieve?


1 Response to “1987-1989: Glory”

  1. 1 choccy July 29, 2009 at 10:19 pm

    Have always been a big Panthers fan and was proud to say that my first Wembley Playoffs was this year and it was a great weekend.

    Paul Adey was Brilliant all year and with Terry and Doc in defence it certainly made a huge difference.

    Shame that we lost Fred earlier as he was my favourite, but am proud to say I became good friends with Fred over the years and even been on the same ice with him.

    Great write up!

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