HULL STINGRAYS produced a stunning comeback to book themselves return to the Elite League Final Four play-off finals weekend in Nottingham.
Carl Lauzon’s name is the one which will appear in the record books for scoring the goal which took his team to the National Ice Centre for a second time in four years, but last night’s 3-1 win over a much-fancied Braehead Clan in the quarter-finals team was a true team effort, according to player-coach Omar Pacha.
Lauzon’s strike with just 77 seconds of overtime remaining ensured Hull booked themselves an all-Yorkshire showdown with Elite League champions Sheffield Steelers in Saturday’s first semi-final (1pm).
Leading 3-2 from Saturday night’s first leg in Glasgow, Gardiner Conference winners Braehead were firm favourites to repeat last season’s journey to the final four, particularly when they went 4-2 up on aggregate through Matt Haywood’s 45th-minute strike in last night’s second leg.
But Hull came roaring back and Zach Hervat made it a one-goal tie with a powerplay strike at 49.26 before Eric Galbraith levelled matters just under five minutes later.
That was how it stayed until the talismanic Lauzon – who also operates as Pacha’s coaching assistant – fired the puck past netminder Kyle Jones to send Hull Arena into raptures.
“It is a great feeling,” said a delighted Pacha.
“From day one with these young kids, no-one gave them a chance. All through the year we have had injuries, but through all the ups and downs we have always worked hard.
“We were down by one but the boys never quit. We got a big goal by Hervs, then Gally driving the net and what can you say about Lauzon?
“But we had a good feeling and even after the second we thought we could have had one or two. Jones was unbelievable and Browny played big too.
In Glasgow 24 hours earlier, Stingrays had been boosted by the return to the line-up of assistant captains Yan Turcotte and Hervato, although Cory Tanaka was missing after sustaining a nasty facial injury the previous weekend.
Derek Roehl got the go-ahead goal for the home side at 3.33 before Hervato marked his return from an eight-game absence with a game-tying marker at 27.43. Neil Trimm put Clan back in front on the powerplay at 29.05 and Roehl’s second at 42.54 – scored with Hull’s Dominic Osman serving a high sticking call – extended the Clan’s advantage.
Stingrays goaltender David Brown saved a Matt Keith penalty shot at 54.31 before Galbraith reduced the deficit on a five-on-three powerplay.
Steelers, top-ranked in the post-season, advanced with a 6-5 aggregate victory over Fife Flyers, although they were given an almighty scare by the eighth seeds at the Motorpoint Arena last night.
Gerad Adams’s team returned home from the first leg in Kirkcaldy on Saturday night with a slight advantage after Robert Dowd’s strike 34 seconds from time handed them a 3-2 lead.
That lead stretched to four goals overall just after the halfway point in last night’s return leg after Mathieu Roy’s second-minute opener was followed by two goals from Dowd.
But a 37th-minute reply from Fife’s Stephen Gunn gave the visitors a glimmer of hope, something they built on at 48.40 when Jordan Fulton made it 6-4 overall.
If the home fans’ nerves were not already frayed they certainly were just over six minutes later when Danny Stewart popped up to make it 6-5 on aggregate.
Try as they might, Fife couldn’t find the leveller and Steelers ensured they would be in Nottingham to defend the crown they won under Adams with a memorable 3-2 overtime victory over Belfast Giants last year.
Belfast will hope to eradicate that painful memory after making it through to the semi-finals once again.
Leading 1-0 from the first leg at home to Cardiff Devils, they produced a stunning performance in South Wales last night to win 8-3 overall.
They will take on Coventry Blaze in Saturday’s second semi-final after Chuck Weber’s team upset Erhardt Conference champions Nottingham Panthers 5-4 over two legs.