SYLVAIN Cloutier hopes lightning can strike twice over two legs when his Hull Stingrays team face-off against Belfast Giants in the quarter-finals of the Challenge Cup.
While success in the competition may not be a top priority of any Elite League team – save perhaps for Nottingham Panthers who have won it for the last three years – tonight’s first leg at the Hull Arena against Belfast is an opportunity for the Stingrays to produce what would be a second seismic shock in nine months.
Beating defending Elite League champions Belfast would prompt memories of last season’s play-off success over the Sheffield Steelers, when Cloutier’s team held their Yorkshire rivals to a 2-2 draw at home before going on to thrash them 5-2 in the second leg and reach the play-off finals weekend in Nottingham.
Despite a 3-1 defeat at home to current league leaders Nottingham on Saturday – heralding a fifth straight defeat – player-coach Cloutier was encouraged by an improved performance from his players.
“They had a lot of shots on our goal, but we were a lot tighter as a team than in previous games and I though we played quite well,” said Cloutier, whose team dropped to the bottom of the overall league standings last night as a result of Edinburgh Capitals’ 5-3 win at home to Scottish rivals Braehead Clan.
Hull will welcome a Belfast team smarting from a 6-1 league defeat at Nottingham last night, a result which took the Panthers four points clear in the overall standings.
“It’s going to be tough against one of the top teams in the league,” added Cloutier. “But, as we showed last season when it’s over two legs anything can happen. It is rare to see them concede that many goals so expect a reaction from them – Doug (Christiansen, Giants coach) will want a reaction.
“We just have to give ourselves a chance for the second leg in Belfast.”
Hull found themselves 2-0 down after two periods on Saturday after goals from Nottingham’s Matt Francis (18.04) and debutant Kelsey Wilson (35.46).
An early third-period strike from captain Kurtis Dulle halved the deficit only for Panthers to seal victory through a 48th-minute David Ling powerplay goal.
The Steelers enjoyed a relatively comfortable 3-1 win at home to Dundee Stars on Saturday night – only to find their weekend curtailed earlier than planned less than 24 hours later.
Heading north for the return match on Tayside, the Steelers’ team coach broke down in Gretna, forcing a cancellation of the fixture.
Efforts were made to arrange further transport, but that would only have resulted in a 9.30pm face off at the earliest.
On Saturday at the Motorpoint Arena, it wasn’t until 53 seconds into the second period that Matt Stephenson broke the deadlock for the home side with a short-handed strike.
The visitors levelled with a Tristan Harper goal at 29.18. but, just over a minute later, Steelers’ Steve Goertzen scored what proved to be the game-winning goal at 30.55.
Despite outshooting the visitors 13-4 in the third, it wasn’t until Dundee pulled their goaltender that the Steelers found the net again through Rod Sarich at 59.59.
Sheffield Steeldogs’ poor season in the English Premier League continued with a 6-4 defeat at home to Basingstoke Bison.