Q Radio Sport
The Stena Line Belfast Giants pulled off a spectacular comeback win in front of a sold-out SSE Arena on Wednesday night, coming from 0-2 down to defeat the Cardiff Devils 3-2 in overtime and clinch the Premier Sports Elite Ice Hockey League Challenge Cup.
Goals from Cardiff’s Jake Coughler and Cole Sanford had the Giants in trouble heading into the third period, before Tyler Soy and David Goodwin’s goals tied the game, and Mark Cooper found Ben Lake for a dramatic winner in overtime.
With a sell out crowd roaring them on, the Belfast Giants started well with a phase of pressure in the zone on Devils goalie Mac Carruth. Griffin Reinhart came close, before a follow up mid-slot wrister from David Goodwin zipped just wide.
Ciaran Long’s retaliatory hit on Sam Duggan at the Devils bench sent Belfast onto their first penalty kill of the game at 5:09, before Lewis Hook struck Carruth’s crossbar on a rush at full strength.
The remainder of the first was cagey, with Belfast moving their feet and creating decent offence in the Devils' zone. Cardiff meanwhile looked their most dangerous in the closing minute, causing a scramble in front of Giants goalie Tyler Beskorowany.
The Belfast Giants began the second period on the power play, as Brandon McNally sat for a charging call picked up in an end-of-period scrum. A fragmented shift saw them struggle to establish themselves in the Devils’ third.
Cardiff, meanwhile, were in the ascendancy throughout the first 10 minutes and were rewarded when a Cole Sanford puck from behind the net was flicked (via Trevor Cox) onto the blade of Jake Coughler in the slot, with his snipe sailing past Beskorowany to open the scoring at 24:31. (0-1)
After the drop, Cardiff’s Justin Crandall hit the post on a tight-angle wrist shot before the onslaught was cooled by a Matt Register tripping penalty at 27:20.
The Giants’ power play unit fared much better on their second outing but faltered again on their third; a Stephen Dixon slashing penalty at 30:23.
After a solid Devils penalty kill, Jake Coughler fed the puck to a primed Cole Sanford on Beskorowany’s left post to double their lead at 34:38 (Second assist: Josh Batch). (0-2)
Cardiff’s Justin Crandall struck the post again after the drop before Belfast’s Mark Cooper broke away on a backhand/forehand effort which Carruth swallowed up.
Lewis Hook’s shot from the blue line was rebounded by Carruth and into the path of a crashing Tyler Soy at 42:13; a spark of life from the Belfast Giants that triggered an utterly deafening eruption from a packed SSE Arena (Second assist: Mark Garside). (1-2)
The Giants continued to pour forward on a gradually tiring Devils D corps. JJ Piccinich skated the puck behind the net at 45:08, feeding it into in the slot for Captain David Goodwin to punch home the tying goal. If the first goal celebration was loud, there are no superlatives for the second. (2-2)
Tyler Beskorowany pulled off a game-saving stop from a wrist shot in the low slot with 2:20 remaining, and as time elapsed The SSE Arena prepared itself for yet another Challenge Cup Final to be decided in overtime.
It took just 4:18 for the Belfast Giants to find their overtime winner as Cardiff’s Matt Register was dispossessed behind the Giants goal by Griffin Reinhart. His puck out of the zone was met by Slater Doggett on the right, who crossed the blue line and was relieved from a board battle by Mark Cooper.
Cooper’s determination to skate the puck to the net paid dividends, finding Ben Lake stick-down at the crease to tuck home the winner to absolute pandemonium in the stands.
A speculative goal review casted a moment’s doubt on the finish, but the Belfast Giants had sealed the comeback and the EIHL’s first silverware of the season.
Pictures: William Cherry, Press Eye