NOTTINGHAM, UK – Heading into the new campaign the Nottingham Panther’s head coach, Corey Neilson, would have been well aware of the chasing pack desperate for his side to show some early signs of weakness or a sign that the players they have dressed in the black and gold, somehow, weren’t the right fit for the club.
As opening weekends go Nottingham’s couldn’t have been more dominant. On Saturday, close to 5,000 fans packed the National Ice Centre for the team’s first home game. What those in attendance witnessed was a controlled and over powering performance against a new look and optimistic Hull Stingrays, harbouring hopes of making it to the post-season even at this infant stage of the campaign.
What they departed with, though, was no points, and a goals against average of 9.00.
Robert Lachowicz took less than 7 minutes to open up the scoring and just past the midway point of the third period to end it and complete his hat-trick, in between those two goals Nottingham chalked up a further 7 leaving Hull to lick their wounds and head back across the Humber with a 9-3 defeat to show for their efforts.
Next up for the men from Lower Parliament Street was the short bus ride up the M1 to tackle their bitter rival Sheffield Steelers.
Again, with a bumper crowd on hand, Nottingham continue to lay the foundations for another title challenge against a Sheffield side still finding their feet.
Despite Jonathan Phillips netting his second goal of the season half way through the middle period, the Panthers where never really troubled. Two goals from Matt Francis again bookended the visitors scoring, however this time it was only 4 goals they recorded in total. That tally would be more than enough for them to run out comfortable 4-1 winners and send the warning signs out to the rest of the league that they intend to repeat their feet of just a few months ago.
What about the rest of the league?
Last season’s runners up, the Belfast Giants, also found the goals easy to come by, with Edinburgh in town on Saturday the Giants lit the lamp five times without reply, in fact the Capitals could only manage 13 shots on goal in the entire game, some 30 shots less than their hosts. Sunday brought with it Belfast’s first trip to the main land and the rival Cardiff Devils. This time the visitors would notch up a total of 7 goals and leave the Devils stunned by the 7-2 score line.
North of the boarder Dundee got their season off to the perfect start with a hard fought 2-1 win away at Braehead on Saturday and a 3-1 triumph at home to Coventry on Sunday. Meanwhile the Fife Flyers opened up their building with a 5-2 defeat to Cardiff before recording their first points of the year thanks to a 2-1 win away at Edinburgh on Sunday.
Doug Christiansen’s tenure behind the bench of the Sheffield Steelers did start with a win at the Skydome against Coventry. The 4-2 victory handing Coventry’s new coach, Matt Soderstrom, his first competitive loss behind the Blaze bench.
Finally Hull were able to finish their weekend on a high note with a 5-2 victory, at home, against the Braehead Clan.
So the new season is underway, Nottingham, Belfast and Dundee are yet to taste defeat, whereas Coventry, Braehead and Edinburgh are still searching for not only their first wins but also their first points of the year.