Road ends in Belfast for Cloutier’s Stingrays

END OF THE ROAD: Hull Stingrays' player-coach Sylvain Cloutier, right, battles for possession against Belfast Giants on Saturday night. Picture: Arthur Foster.
END OF THE ROAD: Hull Stingrays' player-coach Sylvain Cloutier, right, battles for possession against Belfast Giants on Saturday night. Picture: Arthur Foster.
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FOR a few minutes in Belfast on Sunday night, Hull Stingrays’ supporters must have dreamed their team would somehow pull off an astonishing comeback to reach the Elite League final four play-offs weekend in Nottingham.

Trailing 4-1 to league champions Belfast Giants from Saturday night’s quarter-final first leg in Hull, all seemed lost for Sylvain Cloutier’s team before they had even set foot inside the Odyssey Arena. But, shortly before the halfway point, two quickfire short-handed goals from Carl Lauzon silenced the home crowd.

Just under nine minutes after Lauzon’s second had taken Hull to within a goal of their illustrious hosts, however, Colin Shields made it 2-1 on the night and wrested back the momentum.

Further goals in the third period from Kevin Saurette and Darryl Lloyd sealed a 3-2 win for the Giants and a 7-3 aggregate triumph, with Fife Flyers lying in wait in the first semi-final at the National Ice Centre after they beat Dundee Stars 8-4 over two legs.

“We got pretty excited there for a while and the place suddenly went really quiet,” said Cloutier.

“But we made a mistake which let them back in and we couldn’t quite get ourselves back in front again, although we created plenty of chances.

“I have to give credit to the guys though – they battled all night and we never gave up.”

Jereme Tendler came close on a number of occasions to adding to Stingrays’ goal tally on what ultimately proved to be a frustrating night in Belfast.

He felt Hull outplayed Belfast over the two legs.

“I thought we controlled the game tonight (in Belfast),” said Tendler.

“I hit a few posts and missed a couple of breakaways which could have changed the game but the hockey gods were not on our side. It is a game of inches.

“We have had an excellent team this year, one of the best the Hull have ever had. We really gelled as a team and have broken a few records. We didn’t get the result we wanted but we have had a really good year.”

Hull were good value for their 1-0 first-period lead on Saturday, but three goals in the first five minutes of the second period – through Colin Shields, Chris Higgins and Jeff Szwez – gave Belfast control of the tie, before they added a late fourth on the powerplay through Saurette.

Sheffield Steelers edged out Coventry Blaze 3-2 in the first leg of their quarter-final, but will face their opponents in tomorrow night’s second leg (7.30pm) without forward Jeff Legue after he suffered a broken jaw.

Legue underwent surgery yesterday after being struck in the face by the puck in the first period.

Jason Hewitt, Maxime Lacroix and Steven Goertzen scored Steelers’ goals, with Russell Cowley and Gerome Giudice on target for Coventry,

“I felt we played a good enough hockey game to win,” said Steelers’ head coach Gerad Adams.

“I’d like to get back at Coventry straightaway, but we’ve got a bit of a break now and we’ll have a practice in-between play-off games which is a bit unusual, but I’ll look forward to that.”

A win over Coventry will see the South Yorkshire club line up against former head coach Ryan Finnerty, whose Braehead Clan team hammered defending play-off champions Nottingham Panthers 5-1 in Glasgow on Saturday night, sealing a staggering 9-1 aggregate triumph.