Things the Swedish are good at:
- Flat-pack furniture
Things the Swedish are EXTREMELY good at:
- Ice Hockey
Let me illustrate the point by taking a quick look at the winners of the Champions Hockey League to date:
2014-15: Lulea [SWEDEN]
2015-16: Frolunda [SWEDEN]
2016-17: Frolunda [SWEDEN]
2017-18: JYP [FINLAND… quite close to SWEDEN]
2018-19: Frolunda [SWEDEN]
It was no secret that tonight’s final home CHL group game was to be a tall order for Adam Keefe’s Belfast Giants- even with the weakened Lulea side that arrived in Belfast (missing up to seven key names heading into faceoff)- anything less than a win would end their hopes of progressing from a Euro-elite group stage.
But it’s also no secret that the Belfast Giants have been known to thrive when faced with a tall order.
Let’s get one thing clear- the Giants’ less than stellar road record to date? DOES NOT MATTER ON CHL NIGHT. The task of beating an in-form Glasgow Clan to advance from the Challenge Cup group stage this weekend? DOES NOT MATTER ON CHL NIGHT.
…the fact that in reality the Giants have only dropped a single league point in three games and are actually a little bit of road form away from being a juggernaut again this year, and we probably shouldn’t be too worried? STILL. DOES. NOT. MATTER. ON. CHL. NIGHT.
Tonight was about the standalone spectacle of a hockey team in Belfast getting all up in the grill of one of the best outfits in Europe, with a shelf full of silverware to stake their claim.
FIRST PERIOD: Farnham 1-0 Plexi, Lulea 1-0 Belfast
Bobby Farnham’s Ongoing Quest to Break Every Pane of Plexi in the Arena™ began well, dislodging one in the West end of the barn with a thundering hit which lit the Tuesday night crowd up.
An early Giants power play (Ilomaki, High Sticking, 1.55) looked promising, but Lulea opened the scoring five minutes in when Joonas Jalvanti ripped a solid wrister from the point after precision build up play to the right wing. (0-1)
The Giants were a goal down and defending hard against a razor sharp Lulea press- but they were still full of fight.
Kevin Raine dropped the boom at centre ice to send a yellow jersey into another dimension, before a dogged Brian Ward puck battle in the zone saw a chance fall just behind Patryk Wronka on the edge of the crease- the Wee Wizard going behind the back for a breathtaking shot which was saved by Lulea tendy David Rautio.
Belfast rallied as the first came to a close, to a hopeful ovation from the Teal Army.
SECOND PERIOD: Swe Will Rock You
Belfast had some jump in the early second period, buzzing the Lulea zone and forechecking with grit, but Lulea’s quality continued to shine through.
Shane Owen was beaten again at 25.25, when Juhani Tyrvainen unleashed a mid slot missile which could have legitimately, scientifically, punched a hole in a tank. (0-2)
Belfast worked hard to stay in the game, but when Lulea turned it on there was simply no stopping them. Their third came at 37.17 when Austin Farley was fed the puck from the right hand corner of the Giants zone- the American Forward breezing down the slot and deftly dangling the puck home from close range. (0-3)
A spirited Belfast power play at the end of the period could not break down the Swedish defences, and a frustrated Giants side left the ice to regroup.
THIRD PERIOD: It’s The Hope That Kills Ya
After 40 minutes of graft, the ice finally began to tilt for the home side.
Giants CHL Top Scorer Liam Morgan brought the roof of the SSE down around him with a backdoor finish off a cross crease pass on the power play at 41.49 (1-3)
But the Giants weren’t finished there- another power play followed moments later (Sellgren, Unsportsmanlike) and the recently-snakebitten Liam Reddox sent the fallen pieces of SSE roof back into the sky, tucking home Belfast’s second power play goal of the period at 43.19. (2-3)
The SSE was utterly electrified.
This seemed to anger Lulea, who promptly tucked away two goals in two minutes (Kovacs, Emmanuelson) to suck the air out of the home side’s rally. (2-4 / 2-5)
The Swedes seemed more keen on PIMS than an auld lad at Wimbledon- dishing out back to back power plays for Belfast, but the home side struggled to follow up their earlier success in front of goal.
Liam Reddox lit the SSE up again at 54.39, wrapping the puck around the net and beating Rautio at the post. (3-5)
But once again any cause for optimism was short lived. A succession of penalties saw the Giants killing a 4 on 3 in the final five minutes. Lulea struck instantly courtesy of Arttu Ilomaki, with one of the fastest goals off the drop I’ve ever seen. (3-6)
Tellingly, the SSE Arena rose to its feet and clapped the Belfast Giants home. A rare occurence three goals down.
You wanted to know if this Giants team has the will to dig deep and battle when attention turns back to domestic competition? You just got your answer.
AVFTB POST GAME
Liam Reddox breaks scoring slump.
Bobby Farnham: “sometimes nerves are good!”