‘British ice hockey?’ I hear you ask. Yes, it exists, and here is what happened this season.
The top teams in Britain compete in the Elite League, with the Challenge Cup on the side and the Play-Offs to conclude the season.
The Belfast Giants were emphatic regular season league champions. Winning 46 of 54 games played, they topped the table by 11 points.
Much of that was down to them having a tight defence – their goalie, Stephen Murphy, only conceded 110 goals over the whole season. To put that into perspective, the worst record (that of the Edinburgh Capitals’ Nathan Craze) was 254 conceded.
The Giants’ main rivals were the Sheffield Steelers, who eventually finished second. A 3-2 win for the Giants in Sheffield on 2 March and a 5-1 home victory over the same opponents two weeks later sealed a third league victory for the Belfast outfit.
What about the Scottish teams? They make up four of the ten teams in the Elite League. The top performers were the Braehead Clan, who finished sixth in the league with 31 wins and 66 points. They also had the top-performing attacking player, Jade Galbraith, who scored 38 goals and provided 63 assists.
The Dundee Stars hit some decent form at the end of the regular season to sneak into the last play-off place ahead of the Edinburgh Capitals, gaining 32 points to the Capital’s 30. That was despite Edinburgh having the league’s top goalscorer Rene Jarolin, who grabbed 43 goals. Clearly it is the other end of the ice which his team need to work on.
That left the final Scottish team, the Fife Flyers, to finish a distant bottom, with just 8 wins and 22 points. On the positive side, they only joined the league this season (replacing Newcastle Vipers) and so they will have gained valuable experience and will hope to build from here.
Or will finances take their toll? The league has often been criticised for being too expensive, and the Manchester Phoenix and London Knights (as well as the Newcastle Vipers) have dropped out in the last decade for exactly that reason. The Flyers have to ensure they improve on the ice and also keep themselves financially afloat.
So that was the regular season done, but the Play-Offs for the British Championship were still to come. The Dundee Stars endured a 14-0 aggregate loss to league champions Belfast, while Braehead couldn’t turn a 3-0 home win versus the Nottingham Panthers into overall success, losing 5-1 away to go out 5-4 over the two legs.
In the semi-finals, the Cardiff Devils knocked out the Giants after a penalty shootout, while the Panthers won 10-3 against Hull Stingrays.
The final, on 8 April, was a cagey affair but was eventually won 2-0 by the Panthers, with David Alexandre-Beauregard scoring with seven minutes left and David Clarke sealing it as Cardiff pressed for an equaliser.
That meant that, despite finishing third in the regular season, they won the double of Play-Offs and Challenge Cup for the second season running and so it is they, alongside the Giants, who were the stars of this season.