Gary Jackson reflects on his excitement as a pivitol moment in the EIHL title race approaches
Back in January I wrote about what I believed to be the most exciting title run in for some time, and a big part of that run in is the games between your Belfast Giants, and Sheffield Steelers. As I predicted, it’s tight at the top, as I write this Belfast are 3 points clear at the top and Sheffield have a game in hand, with the teams facing off 3 times between now and the end of the season. Games against Sheffield always have a bit extra, and I have no doubt that there will be a large travelling contingent from the province this weekend, given it’s a double header weekend with all to play for.
I often bleat on about the class of 2003 to anyone who will listen to me, its arguably my favourite team in Giants history and I remember a home double header against Sheffield where we beat them both nights, and they took us to overtime on the second night, going on to win the league by 1 point. That might have been the loudest I had ever heard the Odyssey. In 2012 we hosted Steelers in a double on St Patrick’s day. Again it was a top 2 clash, and everyone (except AVFTB Patrick Smyth it has to be said) thought these would be two tightly contested games. When Craig Peacock slotted home some 30 seconds into the game the league was sealed.
Since the Giants claimed top spot, I have been running every scenario through my head, reading every tweet, from every fan I know for both Belfast and Sheffield. Our PPG is better at home, theirs is better away, current form favours us, basically I’ve been absorbing every nugget I can. The one thing that stands out for me is goals tally. Giants have scored 207 league goals which is a GFA of 4.14 in the league, Sheffield 188 goals is 3.83, so in theory the winning team has to score 4 goals or more. Even more stark are the goals against, the Giants have only conceded 96 goals, or 1.92 GAA, scoring 2 against us will be some ask for Sheffield, who have conceded 124 for 2.5GAA.
Defence wins’ championships!
I could write an article on this seasons defence corps, and in particular Griffin Reinhart who has been immense this season, an absolute Bentley of a defenceman, but I’ll save that for another day. The bottom line is none of it really matters, clichés are clichés for a reason, and the game is played on the ice not on a spreadsheet. 2 wins in 3 games against Sheffield and it’s over, the Not-Monty stays in Belfast.
Over the last few seasons I’ve felt like Belfast was the most hated team in the league, but in preparation for this article I reached out to fans of teams other than Belfast and Sheffield and the general consensus is everyone wants Belfast to win, ABS is alive and well in 2022. I asked the same question of them all, “as a neutral what would you rather see, we have 5 games against them, a split series, which might drag Cardiff back into contention, but even if it doesn’t keep the title race alive to the last game of the season, or one team to win it and then romp to the title. Fans in Cardiff Nottingham and Coventry all agreed they want the Giants to win the series, and the league.
“As much as no one in Wales wants to hear you lot crowing on about 4 in a row, it’s better than seeing the trophy in orange.”
“I’d pick Belfast over Sheffield any day, “
It’s been over 10 years since the phrase “for the good of British hockey,” was uttered about trying to stop Belfast from winning the league, and now the shoe is on the other foot. Giants and Steelers fans are understandably nervously excited about the prospect of this weekend’s Double Ender.