Belfast Telegraph

Belfast Giants win Elite League in style

By Stuart McKinley

Nottingham Panthers 1 Belfast Giants 3: The Belfast Giants are the 2013-14 Elite League champions.

Now the aim is to follow that up by claiming a treble to make this the most successful season in the team's 14-year history.

For weeks now it's been a matter of trying to work out exactly when the title would be clinched, with any debates over whether Paul Adey's team would actually win it or not having long since been dispelled.

They weren't expected to seal the deal in Nottingham last night and in effect they didn't – defeats for the Dundee Stars and Sheffield Steelers put both of them out of the title race, handing the crown to the Giants after they had beaten the Panthers 3-1.

Chris Higgins, Robby Sandrock and Kevin Saurette scored the goals, with David Clarke briefly equalising for the Panthers.

The match at the National Ice Centre had finished at 6.20pm. Edinburgh's win over Dundee was confirmed at 8.20pm and at that stage Sheffield were drawing 2-2 with the Cardiff Devils.

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A win for the Steelers would have kept the championship champagne on ice until Friday night, when Coventry Blaze come to the Odyssey Arena.

Instead, at 8.45pm the Devils struck a penalty shoot-out winner and that put an end to the Giants' waiting game – ironically former Giants coach Dave Whistle, who is now in Cardiff, helped his old team to win the league.

That didn't take away from the joy felt by Adey, or dampen the celebrations of the players.

They even managed to get hold of the trophy as the party started.

"It's special," said Adey.

"What makes it even more special is that we won it after playing one of our best games of the season," added Adey.

"We dominated for most of the game and we've won the championship with 10 games to go.

"The players have done an excellent job and they really deserve this.

"They have played hard all year, they have fought through injuries and when it came down to it they dug really deep this weekend to win both games against a good Nottingham team and win the league.

"We have been really good in the tough games and it's very, very special for me to do this in my first year in charge in Belfast and it's even more special to do it by beating a good team who were champions themselves last year."

The Giants' fourth title success is also a history-making one. No team has ever won the league with as many as 10 games remaining. Yes, back in 2002 when they won the old Superleague for the first time it was clinched in mid-January, but there were fewer games left as the Play-offs were longer back then.

And what also makes it a remarkable achievement is that exactly a year ago the club was in turmoil. The prospective new owner, Christopher Knight, who had already thrown a lot of money around, was found to be on a sex offenders register in the United States.

The players terminated their contracts and agreed to play in two games at home to Coventry Blaze as free agents – potentially putting their careers at risk should injury occur.

For those who are still here that risk has been rewarded and now Coventry will come into a party atmosphere when they arrive in Belfast this weekend for another double-header

What a turnaround.

Now they have a Challenge Cup final to come, as well as the Play-offs and the team will now hunt down a treble.

Adey deserves a lot of the credit, but being the modest man he is the 50-year-old gave the plaudits to his players.

He didn't even join in the celebrations. Instead, he headed home, as his family is still based just outside Nottingham.

And he was doing his job as a father when the league was won.

"I was upstairs putting my children to bed and my phone kept ringing downstairs. I thought 'ok, we must have won it because people are trying to call me' and when I picked it up I'd a lot of missed calls and messages congratulating me," he said.

While that was happening the players, who had been keeping up-to-date with goings on elsewhere via Twitter, were already in celebratory mood and when the team's equipment manager Jason Ellery returned from the arena with the Monteith Bowl in his hands the party really got started.

There was no such party in the Adey residence though, with the coach's personal celebration being very low key.

"I don't even know if there is any wine or beer in the house," he said.

"I'll maybe have a cup of tea and a cookie before I go to bed."

While there was joy, there was also reflection on a time of sadness for the Giants coach

"I lost my father in July and and at the time I thought it would be nice to win something this year and dedicate it to him," said Adey.

"I didn't tell too many people about it and it's nice to be able to do that now."

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