In front of a near capacity crowd in the Motorpoint Arena in Sheffield, the Cardiff Devils claimed their first silver wear since 2007, defeating the Sheffield Steelers 2 – 1.
The game was physical but disciplined, only four penalties on the night with both teams looking to claim the trophy and become the first team other than the Nottingham Panthers to win the tournament since 2008.
Cardiff came out strongest, applying loads of pressure to the Steelers but Sheffield goalie Josh Unice stayed strong, stopping everything the Devils threw at him in the opening 20 minutes.
The other end of the ice, Devils goalie and GB netminder Ben Bowns also held firm, facing more shots as the Steelers relied on counter attacks, exposing the Devils high defensive line only to be met by a relentless Devils back checker or the glove of Bowns.
Coming out in the second frame, the Devils continued their pressure, starting the period with a powerplay, Cardiff took 67 seconds to grab the games first goal. After the Steelers initially held strong but when Andrew Lord moved his way into the slot, the Devils player-coach fired a wrist shot past Unice to give the Devils fans a one goal lead, much to the delight of the nearly 1,000 travelling fans from South Wales.
Just over a minute later, the Devils section of the crowd was cheering again, Chris Culligan – who rose to internet fame recently – was on hand to net the second of the game, quietening the Steelers fans who were seeing their sides fingers slip from the trophy on home ice. That was until the midway point of the period, the Devils had just killed off a penalty to captain Tyson Marsh when three seconds later, Cullen Eddy fired a shot through traffic, finally beating Bowns and clawing it back to a one goal game.
Time was ticking away, Cardiff looked happy to hold the victory while the Steelers desperate search for an equaliser continued, but even with Josh Unice pulled for an extra skater, the Steelers couldn’t solve Bowns again as the Devils victory was sealed with the final buzzer, a final score of the Devils 2 – 1 Steelers.
Devils fans were sent into a frenzy, the first trophy for the team since the now defunct Knockout Cup in 2007, and a complete change from the side that missed the playoffs for the first time in the Elite League set last season, finishing second from last. Devils coach Andrew Lord was the most jubilant of the players, just one of a handful of players who returned from the hardships of the previous year, he lifted the Challenge Cup trophy high, showing great pride in his accomplishment in his first year as a coach, but also great passion for the fan base who had waited a long time to see a trophy winning side.
Speaking after the game, he said “This is a special group of guys and it was a fantastic performance. I am so pleased for every single one of them, the management, the staff, the owners and the fans.”
The owners themselves were in attendance to see their team lift the trophy, after seeing the Devils take a 12 – 0 victory over the Dundee Stars the night before, they jumped on the busses with the fans and spent the third period with them, leading the chants and soaking in the atmosphere, with one owner Craig Shoshtak tweeting “best fans in the world” Coach Lord commented on the fan support by saying “The fans were superb and they deserve this moment. They have backed us for so long and I am thrilled for them.”
With a one trophy won, the Devils get straight back to work, another trip to Sheffield awaits them on Wednesday night with the two going back to battle, with the top two spots in the league very much in their sights, and two spots in next seasons Champions Hockey League awaiting them, but they both face stiff competition from league leaders Braehead Clan.