Giants battle for final win

The Belfast Giants had to dig deep into their inner strength to fight back in the final period and into overtime against the Cardiff Devils last Wednesday in a spectacular Challenge Cup final at the SSE Arena in Belfast, and thus secure their first silverware of the season.

By Darryl Armitage
Thursday, 24th March 2022, 3:44 pm

For the first time since before the Covid-19 pandemic the arena was packed with over 7,000 fans supporting both the home side and travelling fans from Wales, and they went away having experienced what will go down in ice hockey history as one of the best Challenge Cup finals.

The Giants started well in the first period 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.

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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.

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) on to the blade of Jake Coughler in the slot, with his snipe sailing past Beskorowany to open the scoring at 24.31.

The Giants’ powerplay 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).

Press Eye - Belfast, Northern Ireland - 16th March 2022 - Photo by William Cherry/Presseye Belfast Giants coach Adam Keefe celebrate winning the Challenge Cup after defeating the Cardiff Devils in overtime in Wednesday nights Challenge Cup Final at the SSE Arena, Belfast. Photo by William Cherry/Presseye

Lewis Hook’s shot from the blue line was rebounded by Carruth and into the path of a crashing Tyler Soy at 42.13. (Second assist: Mark Garside).

The Giants continued to pour forward on a gradually tiring Devils defense. 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.

Beskorowany pulled off a game-saving stop from a wrist shot in the low slot with 2.20 remaining in the game.

The game was one of two goalies with superb tending both from Beskorowany and Carruth, as overtime began the Giants’ had had 37 shots on the Devils goalie and of these only two had made it into the back of the net as Carruth doggedly hogged his posts to keep the Giants goal tally down.

Press Eye - Belfast, Northern Ireland - 16th March 2022 - Photo by William Cherry/Presseye Belfast Giantsâ€TM David Goodwin celebrates winning the Challenge Cup after defeating Cardiff Devils with an overtime winner in Wednesday nights Challenge Cup Final at the SSE Arena, Belfast. Photo by William Cherry/Presseye

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 sneak home the winner.

The SSE Arena (and the Giants bench) erupted with jubilation.

Press Eye - Belfast, Northern Ireland - 16th March 2022 - Photo by William Cherry/Presseye Belfast Giantsâ€TM Mark Cooper with Cardiff Devilsâ€TM Mac Carruth during Wednesday nights Challenge Cup Final at the SSE Arena, Belfast. Photo by William Cherry/Presseye

But the celebrations had to be briefly curtailed with a speculative goal review casting a moment doubt on the finish, but the after reviewing the footage the officials dismissed the review and once more the SSE erupted with elation – the Giants had won and were indeed the Challenge Cup champions.

And with that performance, who is to stay that the won’t be favourites for a domestic triple, with still the league and play-off championships up for grabs.