Despite the Christmas cheer on display, and despite the full-on brass band playing fans into the building- tonight’s visit of the Cardiff Devils comes at the tail end of another turbulent week on and off-ice for the Belfast Giants.
Following their shut out Challenge Cup exit against tonight’s opponents last weekend, it emerged that well loved Polish Forward Patryk Wronka had left the club, apparently having asked for his release for a move back into mainland Europe.
Then, the club announced the arrival of former Dundee Star Elgin Pearce- who had been released by Omar Pacha’s side last week to widespread surprise.
With Pearce in the lineup, the Giants were still without Defenseman Kevin Raine, in addition to Liam Morgan.
Cardiff arrived in town without the services of Mosey, Rutkis and Reddick.
Ahead of faceoff, in one of the most gloriously minor league things I have ever seen (I mean that as a compliment), an elf was winched from the rafters clutching the Giants game puck. Couldn’t love it any more if I tried.
FIRST PERIOD: …Well That’s A First
After an agonisingly long delay right after opening draw, Jordan Smotherman headed to the box to serve a bench minor for an illegal lineup- seemingly indicated to the officials by Devils Head Coach Andrew Lord.
What a nerd.
Heated exchanges between both head coaches and the referees were conducted under a thundering hail of boos- and as Smotherman took a seat in the box the packed SSE Arena crowd utterly LIT UP.
The Giants kill unit were clinical, keeping the puck pinned in Cardiff’s zone for the majority. Every single hit in the opening minutes was delivered with venom, and to be honest the Giants- galvanised by early controversy- were getting their looks.
But it was Cardiff who would strike first courtesy of Marsi Majamaki from close range at 9.35. (0-1)
Any Giants advances for the remainder of the first were taken care of by a steady looking Ben Bowns. Debuting Giant Eglin Pearce had maybe the chance of the period inside the last minute, dragging the puck across the face of goal and being denied.
A first period punctuated by the bad blood that exists between the clubs this season came to an end with the score locked at 0-1 in favour of the visitors.
SECOND PERIOD: That Sinking Feeling
Jordan Smotherman came close in the opening seconds of the middle period, turning and shooting from the right circle toward’s Bowns’s right post.
Belfast had their first power play of the game 4 minutes in, when Shane Morrison took a seat for hooking.
In a scary moment, Cardiff Defenseman Mark Richardson caught a puck full speed to the side of the head. Thankfully, to a round of relieved applause from the entire building, he was able to leave the ice under his own power.
Cardiff doubled their tally with 12:17 left in the period with a well worked goal by Stephen Dixon, who came from behind the goal line and across the front of Shane Owen, roofing the puck emphatically. (0-2)
With Jordan Smotherman in the box for hooking at the midway point of the game, a huge angry roar hailed down from the stands when Bobby Farnham was put down in the Giants zone on a backcheck. The crowd continued to make their feelings known for the remainder of the kill.
A 5 on 3 power play for the Giants went begging despite decent zone time, and at the end of the period it was beginning to feel all too familiar for the home fans.
THIRD PERIOD: It’s The Hope That Kills You
With 14 minutes left in the game, Bobby Farnham roofed the puck past Ben Bowns from an almost lateral angle. The explosion of emotion from the Teal Army was like nothing I have heard in a long, long time.
This continued after the puck drop when Shane Owen was mauled in front of his net, sending his stick flying towards the left circle. As the referees arm stayed firmly down, the excitement quickly flipped to anger- led by none other than a furious Adam Keefe.
The home side’s hope was short lived.
Sam Jardine found himself alone in the right circle, wristing the puck high into Shane Owen’s net to restore Cardiff’s two goal cushion at 48.47. I don’t know about anyone else, but it made me feel physically unwell. This season is putting years on me. (1-3)
A world class glove save from Ben Bowns in the Cardiff goal denied about as good of a grade A chance as the Giants could hope for.
But the Giants were still battling for zone time, and were rewarded when Curtis Hamilton (wearing a C on his jersey in error… don’t panic) unleashed a rocket from the bottom of the right circle, sending the puck into the roof and the arena to its feet at 55.02. (2-3)
With time now of the essence, there was a heart stopping moment when the puck bobbled up over Bowns and into the crease, coming to within an inch of crossing the line.
Belfast surged, throwing everything forward. Shane Owen headed for the bench with just shy of 1:30 left, and Belfast iced the extra man.
Adam Keefe called a timeout with 1:24 on the clock, and everyone paused for breath.
Heartbreakingly, the game was over with 49 seconds left when former Giants Captain Blair Riley found the empty net. (2-4)
AVFTB POST GAME INTERVIEWS:
Bobby Farnham: “It stings more when it’s closer like that.”
Adam Keefe: “I really liked our pushback in the third period. That’s something we can look to as a positive, and something to build on.”