EIHL playoffs: Finals weekend preview

Semi-finals

#2 Cardiff Devils v #8 Coventry Blaze

The Welshmen just edged past the Dundee Stars on Sunday. They netted the couple of goals needed in the last period to progress into the final four 6-5 on aggregate. The seventh seeds exceeded expectations in the Cardiff Arena winning the first-leg 4-1. Andrew Lord’s side lived up to their regular season billing. Andrew Hotham and Joey Martin (the league leaders in assists) set up the goals required to progress.

Blaze became the first eighth seed to knock out the champions and they did so in some style. The Sheffield Steelers were 4-0 down after the opening 25 minutes. The talent shone through and managed to make it respectable clawing it back to 5-3. Coventry made the 90-minute journey to Yorkshire knowing they could get beat by one and qualify for the semis. Even with that safety cushion, it was looking like Chuck Weber’s team were going to miss out. However, like their upcoming opponents, they got the job done in the last period. Scoring twice to level it up at three each.

Devils won six of the eight regular season matchups against Coventry. This includes the one contest at a neutral venue. Cardiff knows how to perform in the cups and that will likely see them edge past the Englishmen.

#4 Nottingham Panthers v #6 Fife Flyers

The Gardiner Conference runners-up beat the two-time reigning champions over the weekend. However, they needed overtime to do so at the Braehead Arena.

After a thrilling Fife comeback in the final 81 seconds of the first leg, the same tense affair played out in the second instalment. Braehead levelled the tie up twice at home with efforts either side of TJ Caig’s strike. The Canadian deservedly won the man of the match with his second and decisive strike in overtime.

Panthers beat out the Belfast Giants to secure home field advantage at the National Ice Centre. Overcoming the fifth seeds 7-4 on aggregate. Nottingham was 3-2 down in the first tie but turned it around late as they took a one-goal lead over to Northern Ireland.

Nottingham and Fife only met four times in the regular season with the home team coming out on top on three of the four occasions. With that in the mind, Corey Neilson’s men will likely reign supreme and go onto the final.


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Match Report: Fife Flyers 2-1 Braehead Clan

Fife Flyers’ Kyle Haines capped off a remarkable 81 seconds in the Kirkcaldy Ice Arena as he netted the winner with 13 ticks of the clock left to take a 2-1 lead along to Renfrew this evening.

Over 3,000 ice hockey fans were present to witness the Clan’s collapse in the last minute and a half in the first leg of the playoff quarter-final tie.

The visitors took the lead through Swede Marcus Gotz on a power play after 19:03. The next 39 minutes remained scoreless. However, Todd Dutiaume’s side kept up the pressure and levelled at 58:39 through Ryan Dingle on a power play. 68 seconds later, defenseman Haines turned the game on its head with the game-winning goal.

Preview

At 6pm, the second leg takes place at the Braehead Arena.

Ryan Finnerty is without Brendan Brooks due to a broken arm. However, he will have the services of the returning Rik Jackman. Entering the weekend, Todd Dutiaume knew he had a full strength squad and does so again.

Both teams are looking to return to Nottingham for the final four after missing out last year. In 2014, Braehead and Fife made it to finals weekend but were losing semi-finalists. Although, the west coasters claimed third place with a 7-6 victory over Flyers.


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Coaches welcome OT rule change

Next season in venues across Great Britain and Northern Ireland, three-on-three overtime will be implemented in an attempt to add excitement to ice hockey’s Elite League.

Fife Flyers Head Coach, Todd Dutiaume, said: “Three-on-three, I think you will find there is a good chance you won’t get to a shootout.

“It is good to try things out and shows the Elite League is moving forward.”

Piggybacking off the success of the change in the National Hockey League. EIHL Director, Todd Kelman said: “From a fan point of view, watching NHL overtime is just awesome. You see way more goals and see chance after chance.”

On the issue of penalties in overtime. Kelman, said: “It goes to a four-on-three power play in overtime, we don’t go to three-on-two,”

“If there is a carry-over penalty from the game in regulation time, it carries over into overtime as five-on-four.

“At the first stoppage of play you go back to three-on-three.”

With the news of this rule change coming close to playoff time it gives fans of Edinburgh and Manchester something to look forward to next season.


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Concussions in sport

On January 27, Dennis Wideman checked linesman, Don Henderson in Calgary. The NHL Commissioner, Gary Bettman levelled the defenseman with a 20-game suspension.

On the face of it, the second longest ban in the history of the league fits the crime. Especially, as it left the ref suffering post-concussion symptoms from the event.

However, delving into the background is when it becomes murky. The Calgary defenseman had just been knocked into the boards. From that ugly scene, he did not look aware of his surroundings as he made his way towards the bench.

Within their explanation for the suspension, the league confirmed that he suffered a head injury.

“It is accepted for the purposes of this decision that [Wideman] was later diagnosed as having suffered a concussion. However, that fact – even accepted as true – cannot excuse Wideman’s subsequent actions.”

Bettman did not believe the advice of two concussion experts to be enough to overturn the decision. He said:

“In short, the record as a whole does not support the contention that Mr. Wideman’s actions were the result of confusion, a failure of ‘impulse control’ or a loss of balance. Moreover, to find on a record such as this one that the player was not responsible for the consequences of his actions would set a precedent that could be easily manipulated in the future in a way that would make the game more dangerous for all participants, including players.”

These circumstances are rare, but, it does feel like the league is protecting its brand. Which does not come across as a surprise. As a result of this sanction, Wideman will miss a quarter of the season and the half a million dollars he was due.

What is worrying that the player in question refused the help of the medics while sat on the bench. The game is full of big hits and skaters plying their craft through a high pain threshold. As a result, it should not come as a shock that one of its members kept their bravado even if it was to their own detriment.

A player should not be punished for not disclosing their injury. They know that their position is under threat constantly throughout their career. A person should not be harshly dealt with when the damage is of the brain’s ability to function. However, the NHL used this to their advantage and strengthened their position.

It is crass of the league to hide behind somebody that puts their body on the line to make them money to be the fall guy. The NHL and its executives are making sure it will not be them that takes the hit on this. In this instance, not to the player, but to one of their officials.

Two NHLPA doctors gave testimony in Wideman’s appeal, Paul Comper, and Jeffrey Kutcher. Comper described many “outward objective” signs of concussion, including “anything from balance impairment to disorientation, not knowing where they are, to garbled speech and confusion.”

Kutcher added it is “very, very common” for the concussion to result in “a change in awareness, a change in basically any cognitive ability that the brain possesses so a lack of orientation, impulse control, memory issues, personality changes, inability to coordinate complex tasks.”

Concussions are difficult to diagnose immediately. It does not need a medical expert to identify if a person is of sound, body and mind. You can formulate an opinion from the footage below.

The concussion protocol is sloppy and gives the league a loophole. It places the incentive on the individual to report the injury. Safe in the knowledge that those persons have many reasons not to report an incident. The lunacy of having a person with a brain issue trying to compute that decision is negligent.

Wideman had never been suspended in any of his first 800 games which span north of 10 years. It seems out of character for him to lay waste to an authority figure. Now if he was frustrated, it would be easier to get retribution on his opponent and take the in-game penalty. As a side, Wideman’s opponent, Miikka Salomaki was not disciplined for the hit that caused the Canadian’s concussion. Why would the former Florida Panther not want to exact his revenge on the Finn. That would seem to be the correct course of action.

The league took the steps they had to take to protect themselves. The NHL is facing multiple class-action lawsuits from players. The ex-pros are alleging that they were not warned about the dangers of head trauma.

They are also seeking payment as they believe they were provided adequate care when suffering from head injuries. If these accusations were proven, it could get messy quickly. It would be opening a pandora’s box. The financial ramifications it can have for American Sports would be catastrophic.

A fan of the game does not wish to see what happened to Don Henderson happen again. But, the punishment does not fit the crime and does not stop these incidents happening again. All it does is cover the backsides of those in charge by pushing the league’s dirty little secret onto the ones that love(d) playing the game.


You can follow @MichaelWood_SJ on Twitter.

EIHL playoffs: Quarter-finals preview

Seven of the eight teams returned to the playoffs this year. The exception being the now defunct Hull Stingrays. Their vacancy was filled by 2015’s worst side, the Dundee Stars.

Braehead Clan and Cardiff Devils switched seedings as have Coventry Blaze and Fife Flyers.

Edinburgh Capitals missed out again as they dropped from ninth to 10th. Newcomers Manchester Storm fell away in the concluding few weeks and finished ninth.

2014/15 winners Coventry will be looking to repeat their post-season win when the action gets underway on Saturday night. Three of the four reverse fixtures will take place on Sunday evening. Belfast Giants v Nottingham Panthers commences on Monday.

In Nottingham, the one-legged semi-finals will be contested on Saturday. Then, on Sunday, the third-place game and the final.

Quarter-Finals

#1 Sheffield Steelers v #8 Coventry Blaze

Sheffield won the regular season title, but they lost six of eight matchups v Coventry. Steelers won the first and last matchup of the campaign.

Both sides split the points at Sheffield Arena. Blaze are unbeaten when coming face-to-face with Paul Thompson’s men at SkyDome. I can foresee the reigning playoff champions “upsetting” the Yorkshire outfit.

#2 Cardiff Devils v #7 Dundee Stars

This matchup pits the best defence against the best offence in the country. Netminder Ben Bows had conceded 139 while the Stars scored 200 in the 52 fixtures.

Both squads earned four points against one another. Although, the Welshman beat out their Scottish rivals in the two-legged Challenge Cup tie.

Steve King has already led his team to a final in the cup this year and I expect him to coach his way out of the first round.

#3 Braehead Clan v #6 Fife Flyers

Braehead is the form side in the division. They have won their last seven fixtures to lift the conference title. On their way to becoming back-to-back Gardiner champions, they bypassed their post-season opponents, Fife.

Todd Dutiaume got the better of compatriot Ryan Finnerty this season winning four out of six meetings.

Although, this is a bad time for Flyers to be playing their Renfrew-based rivals. The Kirkcaldy outfit has lost their final three and momentum is with the west coasters. However, I would not be surprised to see the Clan bow out at this stage.

#4 Nottingham Panthers v #5 Belfast Giants

The two closest matched seeds provide the toughest to call tie of the first round. Belfast and Nottingham had seven encounters. The English outfit won four and lost the final two.

Giants ended on a high with three wins to secure the fourth spot from Panthers. Nottingham had lost their last two and six of their previous 10. Oddly enough this malaise has taken place after the Challenge Cup victory.

Corey Neilson should guide his men into the finals weekend, but only just.


You can follow @MichaelWood_SJ on Twitter.

EIHL week in review

This week’s big winners are Sheffield Steelers as they won the Elite Ice Hockey League’s regular season for the second season in a row. Steelers earned 72 points throughout the campaign, two more than runners-up Cardiff Devils.

The big losers are Edinburgh Capitals who once again lost heavily in both of their games.

Last week’s results

Wednesday:
Cardiff Devils 4-3 Belfast Giants;
Nottingham Panthers 5-0 Coventry Blaze

Friday:
Belfast Giants 5-3 Fife Flyers

Saturday:
Manchester Storm 2-5 Cardiff Devils;
Belfast Giants 5-1 Fife Flyers;
Braehead Clan 8-1 Edinburgh Capitals;
Dundee Stars 2-1 Coventry Blaze;
Sheffield Steelers 4-3 Nottingham Panthers

Sunday:
Coventry Blaze 6-2 Manchester Storm;
Edinburgh Capitals 3-6 Braehead Clan;
Cardiff Devils 4-3 Nottingham Panthers;
Fife Flyers 1-3 Sheffield Steelers

On Wednesday, Cardiff made up their game in hand on Sheffield as they maintained pressure upon the Yorkshire outfit with a 4-3 victory against Belfast.

Devils matched the result in Sheffield on Saturday and left Manchester with two points and as Erhardt champions. Unfortunately, for the Welsh side, it was not enough to be crowned champions. This allowed Steelers to run out to a guard of honour in Kirkcaldy on the last day of the season. They finished in style with a 3-1 dispatching of Todd Dutiaume’s squad.

The task was clear for Braehead. Two wins and they would place third in the table heading into the post-season and in the process regain the Gardiner Conference title. Fortunately for them, they were playing an Edinburgh side which had lost 16 straight going into this week and had no hope of finishing higher than last for some time now. Ryan Finnerty’s Clan had enough to get the four points needed and just edged Flyers in the process. As an extra, they have won their last seven and hit form at the exact right time to play Fife in the playoffs that start on Saturday.

Other results

The marquee matchup on Friday lived up to its billing with an entertaining eight-goal thriller between Belfast and Fife which Giants edged 5-3. 24 hours later, Flyers failed to regroup and lost 5-1 in Northern Ireland.

Nottingham’s National Ice Centre hosted Panthers’ 5-0 drubbing of Coventry in a game which had little meaning to both sides with their playoff seedings already decided.

Dundee went into the playoffs with a three-game winning streak after a 2-1 at home against Coventry. A day later Chuck Weber’s men bounced back with a 6-2 flourish over Manchester. Blaze will have a challenge when they matchup with Sheffield in the first round of the playoffs.


You can follow @MichaelWood_SJ on Twitter.

EIHL week in review

Last week’s results

Wednesday:
Coventry Blaze 6-1 Nottingham Panthers

Saturday:
Edinburgh Capitals 2-10 Dundee Stars;
Braehead Clan 8-3 Manchester Storm;
Cardiff Devils 5-2 Belfast Giants;
Nottingham Panthers 2-4 Sheffield Steelers

Sunday:
Manchester Storm 3-6 Braehead Clan;
Sheffield Steelers 6-3 Coventry Blaze;
Cardiff Devils 4-3 Belfast Giants;
Dundee Stars 13-2 Edinburgh Capitals;
Fife Flyers 1-2 Nottingham Panthers

Blaze lived up to their nickname as they won 6-1, and briefly became the form side in the Elite Ice Hockey League. Taking the mantle from the recently anointed Challenge Cup winning Nottingham Panthers. Coventry was victorious in their last five and moved up to seventh in the rankings.

A day removed from Sheffield’s 4-2 triumph at Nottingham’s National Ice Centre. They brought an end to Coventry’s good form. Paul Thompson’s team dispatched Chuck Weber’s outfit 6-3 at Motorpoint Arena. Steelers remain top of the table after their four-point weekend.

The Englishman was not the only head coach to win both of matchups over the weekend. Braehead, Cardiff, and Dundee held their ground after picking up maximum points.

Braehead Clan’s victories, home and away over Manchester has eliminated Storm from playoff contention. The Renfrew-based unit remains third, five points off the summit.

In their doubleheader, the Dundee Stars netted 23 times against the Edinburgh Capitals. In response, Riley Emmerson’s men could only score four times. Drubbings like these are the reason that they are at the bottom of the EIHL table. Marc Lefebvre will be looking behind him with Coventry in reach. Although, they have assured post-season Ice Hockey due to these results.

Cardiff had two home matches against Belfast. The first being a 5-2 victory while Giants reduced the deficit of defeat to one, a day later.

Flyers could not take advantage of Nottingham’s post cup final hangover. The Scots lost in overtime to Panthers 1-2. If Fife had beaten their opponents, they would have been one spot and a point behind Corey Neilson’s side. Alas, they remain in sixth where they will likely finish.

With just one week remaining before the post-season, here are the penultimate week’s fixtures.

This week’s fixtures

Wednesday:
Belfast Giants v Cardiff Devils;
Nottingham Panthers v Coventry Blaze

Friday:
Belfast Giants v Fife Flyers

Saturday:
Manchester Storm v Cardiff Devils;
Belfast Giants v Fife Flyers;
Braehead Clan v Edinburgh Capitals;
Dundee Stars v Coventry Blaze;
Sheffield Steelers v Nottingham Panthers

Sunday:
Coventry Blaze v Manchester Storm;
Edinburgh Capitals v Braehead Clan;
Cardiff Devils v Nottingham Panthers;
Fife Flyers v Sheffield Steelers


You can follow @MichaelWood_SJ on Twitter.