Giants Douse Flames to Defend Elite League Title on Home Ice
The Stena Line Belfast Giants are the 2022/23 Viaplay Elite League champions after beating the second-placed Guildford Flames 6-1 to lift the trophy in front of a sold-out SSE Arena and make history.
Two goals from Henrik Eriksson, along with further strikes from Ben Lake, Jeff Baum, Matt McLeod and Steve Owre earned Adam Keefe's side another dominant win and allowed them to start celebrating in front of 7,000 spectators on home ice.
The Giants are the first team to win three Elite League titles in a row and are now the most successful side in league history, with this their sixth national championship.
A chippy opening to the game saw Gabe Bast and Ian McNulty get into an early altercation, which led to slashing and roughing penalties respectively, but it was largely a period of few chances, particularly in the first half of the frame.
However, when the goals came for the Giants, they came in quick succession, and it was a cracking backhand finish from Lake that got them on the board at 15:26, a nice reverse pass from David Gilbert sending him in on Eamon McAdam and he picked the top corner. (1-0)
And just under two minutes later the lead was doubled from an unlikely source, Baum's second goal of the season coming at just the right time as he lasered home a shot from the high slot at 17:25. (2-0)
But a lightning quick start to the middle frame saw the Flames battle back as Daniel Tedesco set up Ryan Tait for a tap-in, only for Tyler Beskorowany to somehow save the effort, before Logan Fredericks hit the post on a breakaway that yielded a hooking penalty for Jeff Baum.
A slashing call against Sam Marklund ended that powerplay, but on their next man advantage Guildford made it a one-goal game, Lake in the box for interference and Peter Crinella slamming in the puck when it landed fortuitously on his stick at 28:59. (2-1)
But quickly the lead was back to two as at 30:07 Eriksson got his first of the period, rifling in on the backhand from the right circle (3-1) before grabbing the best goal of the game at 33:45 when Donovan Neuls passed to the crease and the Swede tipped it in between his legs. (4-1)
Lake and Brett Ferguson then dropped the gloves as the tension ramped up inside the arena towards the end of the period, both players spending five minutes off the ice for fighting, but the Giants ended the frame with an even better exclamation point as McLeod grabbed the fifth with a beautiful top corner snipe from the right circle at 37:59. (5-1)
Rather than sit back in the final period, the Giants pressed while also giving ice time to young homegrown prospects Kell Beattie and Mack Stewart, with McAdam keeping the Flames in it by making two brilliant stops to first deny Scott Conway and then McLeod one-on-one.
But the Giants would win the period as Ben O'Connor sat for slashing and, although Conway was initially denied by the crossbar early on the powerplay, Owre would deliver at 55:59 as he tipped in David Goodwin's pass to the back door for the final goal of the game. (6-1)
All that was left was for the SSE Arena crowd to serenade the players home to the crucial victory, with raucous chants of "Championes, championes, ole ole ole" ringing around the bowl, with the final buzzer sparking wild celebrations on the ice as this team made history.