Jonathan Boxill proves worth beyond the stats sheet for Belfast Giants
He may have been lauded for his Man of the Match performance in the Challenge Cup final, and rightfully so, but Tyler Beskorowany was quick to hail one of his skaters.
Facing a daunting penalty kill late in the third period, it was a testing time for the Giants in Sunday's game. Facing them on the ice was the Elite League's fourth-best powerplay in the Guildford Flames, and Belfast were already reeling from conceding a goal on the man disadvantage in the second period that tied it up at 1-1.
So when the puck made its way to Calle Ackered at the top of the left circle, there were no shortage of nerves in the Viola Arena. One of the top powerplay exponents in the league, with a cannon of a slapshot to match, Ackered saw a path to goal and quickly wound up the shot.
Had it made it all the way through to Beskorowany then he would have needed to make another sensational save to deny him. As it was, it didn't. Boxill bravely threw himself in front of the shot, taking it in his side, forcing Guildford out of the zone and eventually killing off the penalty - which would send the game to overtime.
"Unbelievable, to lay down in front of that shot. I don't even want to get in front of that one!" said a grateful Beskorowany. "It's great for him, he really contributed to the team tonight. He doesn't get the most ice time but when he was out there he made it pay."
For the man himself, it was a chance to stand tall and make his mark in a thrilling Championship success.
Boxill has never been a points producer - his highest tally of 26 in 52 games coming back in 2015 with the Nottingham Panthers - and his current figures sit at six goals and eight points in 65 games this season with the Giants. But what he provides the team with off the scoresheet is just as valuable.
A strong penalty killer and a minutes eater on the fourth line, Boxill has been a mainstay in the line-up for a reason, and his willingness to throw his body on the line and deny Ackered a potential goal-scoring opportunity proves his commitment to the cause. He's not been a stranger to blocking pucks throughout the season either, his defensive role a strength of his game.
By keeping Guildford's Swedish star quiet, Boxill did more than just play a role in the final, not that he was willing to take all the glory.
"There were a lot of guys who contributed, and to come out and win the way we did was unbelievable. We have a very special group of people," said the 29-year-old Ascot native.
"Guys like myself aren't the ones to get the points, so for the group to notice me digging in in any way then that means a lot to me. I care a lot about this club, and when I left last year it was a bitter pill to swallow and seeing them win a Championship, so being a part of this is really special."
A year away with Milton Keynes was a down season for Boxill, with the Lightning rooted to the bottom of the Elite League table in their first season in the Elite League, while the Giants achieved Challenge Cup success even if it was at the expense of a push for the league title and an early elimination in the play-offs.
But Boxill watched from afar and wished he could return. He got that wish when he received a call from head coach Adam Keefe over the summer and his return to the club he had represented for two years before was quickly agreed.
As a result, this season he didn't have to watch on as Belfast won silverware. He was right in the thick of it - and according to the former GB international it won't end there.
With the Giants right there in the Elite League title race, just two games back of leaders the Cardiff Devils with seven to play, and with the play-offs still to come as well, there's still an outside chance that Boxill and his team-mates can come away with an unlikely treble. But, then again, who could write off this group?
"I think we deserve trophies," he insists when asked if this roster deserved a trophy for their work this season. "We have a very very close group here, we've been through a lot together and hopefully this is the first of many for us this season.
"There's a huge amount of pressure off our shoulders now, you could feel it in the room - we didn't want to let another one slip away like in the Continental Cup. To win the way we did, it's a very emotional experience to do it with this group."
Unsurprisingly, forward Jordan Smotherman was named EIHL Player of the Week for his two goals over the weekend, the latter of which was a rather important one... how do you react to a game-winner in a final? According to defenceman Jim Vandermeer, you "throw your s*** off and get on the ice!" Each to their own... different players do different things with their medals from the Challenge Cup, with Patrick Dwyer admitting he'll put it in his trophy cabinet, Dustin Johner giving his to his kids so they'll stop fighting over the one he received last year, while Jonathan Boxill admits he doesn't know what to do with his yet... if you haven't checked them out yet, there was some great work done by Dave Williams on the pictures from the Challenge Cup final... with the Elite League announcing that whoever finishes third will enter the Continental Cup, it makes for an intriguing sub-plot for the rest of the season with the Glasgow Clan currently holding that spot but only a game ahead of the Nottingham Panthers and two games ahead of both the Fife Flyers and Guildford Flames.
Belfast Telegraph Digital