The Belfast Giants will take a 7-1 lead into what should be a meaningless second leg of the Challenge Cup semi-final against the Cardiff Devils next Wednesday night but when they meet up they’ll be against an old friend.
The news from the Devils about an hour before last night’s face-off was that former Giants coach Dave Whistle will take over as interim head coach while Brent Pope is fulfilling his media commitments at the Winter Olympics in Sochi.
Whistle was already returning to the UK to be part of Rob Stewart’s Testimonial at the Odyssey on February 18th and now will dip his toe in the coaching waters once again.
Pope will return as coach at the end of the Olympics but Whistle appears to be on the lookout for a job next season and this is an interesting development.
He’ll have his work cut out if the Devils are to make the final. The Giants went ahead after only 49 seconds of last night’s game scoring on their first shot as Kevin Saurette took a hard hit to make the play, allowing the puck to find the stick of Evan Cheverie who skated untouched into the high slot and slammed home the opening goal.
At 3:08, seconds after Giants goalie Stephen Murphy shut the door on a shorthanded chance for the Devils Max Birbraer, Saurette was on the end off the home team’s next rush up ice to score on the powerplay.
Adam Keefe and Andrew Lord then dropped the gloves in a spirited battle that Keefe won with the take down as a hard hitting first period came to a close.
The Giants were sloppy in the second period, especially in their own zone with too many giveaways, one of which allowed the Devils back into the game at 27:43.
On the powerplay they allowed an odd man rush and Lord won the race to the puck to make it a one goal game.
It was a purple patch for the visitors as the Giants looked indecisive but they soon pulled themselves together to restore their advantage at 36:38.
Jeffrey Szwez showed his strength pulling the puck off the boards and holding off the attentions of the defenceman as he headed to the net. In the scramble in front of the Devils cage that followed the puck eventually squirted loose and Colin Shields was there to pick up the pieces and score.
The Giants fourth owed everything to the perseverance of Craig Peacock.
Killing a penalty at 43:03 he forced a turnover in the Devils zone, got a shot off wide of the net, retrieved the puck and fired it on net and off the back of Devils netminder Kawl Kosowski.
Peacock was on hand to add his second of the night on the powerplay at 54:55, Dustin Whitecotton’s got in on the fun 91 seconds from the end and Shields completed the rout.
The Giants will return to league action this weekend with a big home doubleheader against the Sheffield Steelers on Saturday and Sunday looking to extend their seventeen point lead at the top of the standings.