Smotherman strikes in overtime as Belfast Giants retain Challenge Cup title
Belfast Giants 2-1 Guildford Flames (OT)
It will go down as an unforgettable final and Jordan Smotherman will go down in Belfast Giants history.
After three brutal periods refused to separate the Giants and the Guildford Flames in Cardiff's Viola Arena, up popped winger Smotherman 4:59 into overtime, pouncing on a turnover in the Flames' zone effected by Dustin Johner and finishing low past Chris Carrozzi to send the travelling fans into raptures.
In defending the title they won a year previous, this Giants roster becomes the first ever to successfully defend a trophy, and they have netminder Tyler Beskorowany to thank as he - not for the first time - stood on his head for the champions.
The Canadian backstop made 28 saves on 29 shots in regulation, which was good in itself, but then proceeded to add three more simply outstanding blocks in overtime to keep the Giants alive before Smotherman's game-winner.
Guildford put up a brilliant fight, led from the front by the excellent Ben Davies, in their attempt to win a first major trophy only a year after joining the Elite League, but ultimately their race was run when Jordan Abt was dispossessed behind his own net by Johner for the Giants centre to supply the pass to Smotherman.
Belfast had led when they struck on the powerplay early in the second period, Calle Ackered off for an interference call with 1:18 left in the first, and Patrick Dwyer's shot in the slot took a wicked deflection off a Guildford stick and bobbled over Carrozzi.
But the Flames' powerplay drew them level with 3:22 of the second remaining, Kendall McFaull goaded into taking the most needless of cross checking calls away from the play and Davies reversed a lovely pass into the slot for Jamie Crooks to rip home the one-timer on the man advantage.
In between that, both sides had seen off-setting penalties to Dwyer and TJ Foster add successes to their penalty kills, with the Giants' kill unit running at a 2-for-3 clip in the game. Their biggest kill came in the first period, a 20 minutes that the Flames had utterly dominated the first period to the tune of 15-5 on the shot count.
Mark Garside had headed off for a hooking call at 10:46 of the opening stanza, and only for some big saves from Beskorowany - who had 28 saves on 29 shots - and some smart blocks from Kevin Raine and Jim Vandermeer they could have easily led early.
The Giants had passed up two chances on the powerplay to win it in the third, Erik Lindhagen and Corbin Baldwin both heading off for separate calls, but where their man advantage failed, the penalty kill succeeded as they played out a nervy slashing call on Kyle Baun with just 8:17 remaining in the game.
Most impressive on that kill was brave block from Jonathan Boxill on a thunderous slapshot from Ackered, the British forward taking it square in the chest and battling on regardless to send it to overtime.
And the rest is history.
Belfast Telegraph Digital