NOTTINGHAM, UK – The final of the 2013/14 Elite League Play Offs got underway shortly after 4pm as the League Champions the Belfast Giants took on League runners up the Sheffield Steelers after both sides negotiated their semi final match ups successfully on Saturday.
However before the first puck was dropped in the final the Elite League Awards were presented, Dan Bakala (Dundee Stars)was named top netminder ,the best forward was Ryan Ginard (Coventry Blaze), Calvin Elfring (Belfast Giants) was top d man while Stephen Murphy (Belfast Giants) was chosen as the best British player over the course of the campaign. Finally the Player of the Year was announced and Dundee Stars superb goaltender Dan Bakala was chosen as top overall player over the 2013/14 term.
The National Ice Centre was almost sold out for the clash and with the Nottingham supporters getting behind Belfast support for the 2 teams in the final was roughly even. Once the action got underway the game was a little cagey as both sides looked to test each other out in the opening stages of the contest. Daryll Lloyd of the Belfast Giants broke away from the Steelers defence after 7 minutes of play when an unexpected bounce off the boards caught Danny Meyers out however Sheffield netminder Frank Doyle was able to expertly deal with Lloyd’s effort.
As the game progressed both sides were generating chances Giants Chris Higgins energy was causing the Sheffield defence problems while the best Steelers chance fell to GB forward Robert Dowd who couldn’t quite find the back of the net after a scramble in front of the Belfast goal.
At the start of the 2nd period both sides had powerplay opportunities however it was the Belfast Giants who made the most of their man advantage when Cody Brockwell found the back of the net. Sheffield quickly tied the game up though when Phil Hill fired into an empty after a rebound fell kindly to the former Cardiff Devils forward.
Belfast retook the lead on 29 minutes when Colin Shields fired home Sheffield appealed to the referee as they believed play should have been stopped before the goal went in however referee Tom Darnell had seen nothing wrong and allowed the goal to stand.
Sheffield responded by putting the Giants goal under severe pressure and Belfast goalie Stephen Murphy made a string of fine stops to keep his side in the lead. However the Steelers offensive efforts paid off on 37 minutes when Robert Dowd found the back of the net with a rasping strike.
Giants took a penalty at the very end of the 2nd period when Chris Higgins was given 2 minutes in the sin bin for tripping which resulted in Steelers going on the powerplay for the opening 2 minutes of the 3rd session of play however Giants were able to kill of the penalty without conceding.
Robert Dowd had the first genuine chance of the 3rd period when he forced Stephen Murphy into a fine save on 48 minutes. Soon afterwards Belfast’s Evan Cheverie had 2 scoring opportunities in quick succession however he could not find a way past Steelers in form netminder Frank Doyle.
Steelers put the Giants goal under pressure late on which resulted in Paul Adey calling a time out with only 7 seconds left in the game to give his under fire defence a chance to catch their breath.
Belfast managed to negotiate their way into overtime however Sheffield were looking very dangerous and Robert Dowd got a powerful shot on Stephen Murphy in the Belfast net very early on in the extra period of play. Steelers continued to create and Drew Fata netted the play off winning goal for Sheffield just 94 seconds into overtime when he fired past Stephen Murphy into the top corner of the net.
Frank Doyle was deservedly named as Man of the Match for Sheffield while Belfast’s Colin Shields was chosen as their best player during the final.
Belfast Giants Coach Paul Adey reflected on the game.
“Both teams played their hearts out, losing in a shoot out is always a hard way to lose and Frank Doyle made some great saves for them.”
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