Cheverie’s the glory boy for Belfast Giants
Belfast Giants 2 Cardiff Devils 2 (Belfast Giants win 1-0 on penalties)
It's a perfect 10 for the Belfast Giants.
The Elite League title eluded them a fortnight ago, but that didn’t matter one bit last night as the team’s first decade in existence ended on a massive high.
The seven year itch that has lasted since the Giants’ only previous Play-off title victory in 2003 came to an end as Evan Cheverie carved his name into the history of the club.
After an exciting 2-2 draw with the Cardiff Devils in regulation time a 10-minute end-to-end overtime period couldn’t separate the teams and with Cheverie scoring the only one of six penalties that was successfully converted, the silverware will be crossing the Irish Sea when the players return to Belfast today.
For some it is a glorious ending to their Belfast Giants career, with players inevitably moving on to pastures new.
In the case of Shane Johnson it’s exactly the way he wanted to bring his playing days to a close.
One of the original Giants when the team first hit the ice — ironically in the same National Ice Centre in which they won the Play-off title yesterday — on September 16, 2000, Johnson was in tears as he held the trophy aloft as
the man who has played more games for the club than anyone else said goodbye in style.
Steve Thornton will also be hanging up his skates to concentrate on coaching and he does so as the most decorated coach in those 10 years. Dave Whistle may have won the Superleague title and then the Play-offs in the first three seasons, but Thornton can now boast three trophies after winning the British Knockout Cup and Challenge Cup last season.
All the goalscoring action had come in a pulsating second period, in which both teams took full advantage of their only powerplay opportunities of the 20 minutes. The Giants opened up a 2-0 lead before Cardiff galvanised themselves and came back all the stronger to draw level, with Max Birbraer scoring both of their goals.
Just 81 seconds of that second period had elapsed when Kevin Phillips played a sharp cross-ice pass to Tim Cook. He let fly from just inside the blueline and Brandon Benedict got the slightest of touches to divert the puck past Stevie Lyle.
Then seconds after Colin Shields just failed to connect with a pass sent across goal and with the Giants on a powerplay, Benedict passed to Tom Walsh, who absolutely ripped his shot from the blueline past Lyle.
George Awada was credited with getting the all important last touch on the puck to add another to his record haul of Giants’ goals.
That 2-0 lead lasted only 26 seconds, although Birbraer’s first goal owed a lot to good fortune.
His effort looping into the net off a Giants player. His second, however, had quality written all over it.
Mark Richardson’s shot was saved, the rebound came out to Birbraer just inside the Giants zone and with power and accuracy he fired the puck past Stephen Murphy via a goalpost.
The Giants were the better team in the final period, with Lyle preventing both Thornton and Szwez from netting.
The 10 minute overtime period flowed from end-to-end.
With goaltenders on top though there was nothing left to do but prepare for a tense penalty shoot-out.
Birbraer was up first up, but this time found the outside of the post rather than the inside. Cheverie, Walsh and Szwez all missed for the Giants, while Wes Jarvis and Matt Smith were off target for the Devils.
It came around Birbraer again in sudden death, this time Murphy saving brilliantly.
With a chance to win the trophy for the Giants, Cheverie skated up the ice and fired the puck high into the Cardiff net to send the 600 Giants fans who made the trip into raptures.