The energy in the SSE Arena was cranked up to 11 with the surprise return of talisman Defender Kevin Raine to the starting lineup- his name and image on the big screens met with thundering cheers and applause from the Teal faithful.
Let’s be honest. We didn’t have fun last time around. Losing to the last placed Dundee Stars was a tough night out for everyone. The energy in the arena was defiant, pensive, tentative, quietly optimistic.
In short- everybody just needed a big dubya. And a rake of pints.
In town tonight were the Coventry Blaze, fresh off a stunning 5-0 shutout victory over the Cardiff Devils earlier in the week. Belfast, meanwhile, had turned things around with a come-from-behind win in Dundee; exacting a measure of revenge for the home loss earlier in the week.
Shane Owen was given the nod for Belfast, while the Blaze’s mid season pickup CJ Motte visited Belfast for the first time in goal.
Belfast iced without Patrick Mullen and Liam Morgan. Meanwhile, Coventry were missing Captain Drew Scheistel and Bobby Farnham’s best mate David Broll, who had been granted compassionate leave to tend to a family bereavement back in North America.
FIRST PERIOD: Easy As 1-2-3
It took 7:53 for Belfast to open the scoring. With the home support in uproar over a blatant missed holding call in the corner, Curtis Leonard took matters into his own hands.
As the puck glided into the mid-slot, Leonard pushed up from the blue line, keying up an utterly stone cold thunderbastard™ which punctured the net, plexi, 5th row, outer wall of the arena and was last seen sailing into the car park, on fire. (1-0)
Leonard had apparently enjoyed his time in the zone. At 10:55 he threaded the needle to Elgin Pearce at the back door, who made no mistake about his finish. (2-0)
Super Swede Rickard Palmberg added a third on the power play at 13:08, heralding a time out from Blaze head coach Danny Stewart. Embattled goaltender Motte headed for the bench to catch his breath. (3-0)
SECOND PERIOD: Rainer Killed A Guy
The good times kept rolling in the middle period. Jordan Smotherman sent the puck to the back door from the right circle with a beautiful backhand. There to meet it was, who else, Rickard Palmberg. His diving chop sent the puck flying into the roof of the net at 24:01. (4-0)
Kevin Raine, evidently delighted to be back in his natural habitat, utterly dropped the boom on Coventry’s Alex Forbes with around 8 to go in the period. To his credit, Forbes bounced up like he was made of rubber. If I ate a hit like that they’d have to poke a wee hole in my full body cast so I could drink soup. You have to tip your cap.
Dillon Eichstadt cracked the goose egg for the visitors at 34:00, dragging himself along the blue line to the point and snapping a wrist shot which avoided everyone in the shooting lane, sailing past Shane Owen low blocker side. (4-1)
Coventry looked slightly more dangerous in the closing minutes of the period, finding zone time and forcing big back checks from Kevin Raine and Captain Matt Pelech. Thankfully their efforts were iced by the end of period buzzer.
THIRD PERIOD: A Hockey Team In Belfast…
Ryan Lowney hammered the crossbar with around 14 minutes left in the game, sending gasps around the bowl.
Belfast had been efficiently eating pressure, catching the odd break and still getting their occasional looks- hoping to see this one out before the early rematch tomorrow.
Boomerang Corner, who had been in situ (on the wine) for most of the day owing to the NCAA Women’s game at 3pm, led the SSE in a repeated chorus of ‘A Hockey Team In Belfast‘. It was a welcome lift in the atmosphere around the barn, especially compared to previous weeks.
The home crowd was clearly enjoying this one.
David Goodwin sat for slashing at 50:24, but Belfast’s kill unit- rejuvenated tonight by the return of Kevin Raine- held strong in the zone.
The Blaze survived two clear breakaways from Elgin Pearce at even strength- CJ Motte throwing a beautiful paddle save in the way of number one, before sending Pearce’s second bite high over the bar.
The final five minutes were attritional. Belfast continued to press, forechecking behind the Coventry goal and forcing any blaze possession in their zone to the outside.
As time expired, the ovation sent from the stands to the ice was as much relief as it was joy. 2 for 2 in 2020.
AVFTB Post Game Interviews
Assistant Coach Jeff Mason: “We got off to a really good start, which was a key to the game.”
AVFTB POTM David Goodwin: “I love the fans here. They’ve been really good to me.”
MOTM Curtis Leonard: “You want to help contribute offensively as well as defensively…”