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A week of trophy lifts

Last week was a huge week in the world of UK Ice Hockey with the Challenge Cup 23/24 Champions crowned, and the winners of the Planet Ice NIHL National Division ordained.


Sheffield Steelers - Challenge Cup winners

On Wednesday March 13th, Sheffield Steelers hosted Guilford Flames in the final of the Challenge Cup at the Utilita Arena. Aaron Fox’s side lifted the trophy on home ice in front of 9,000 fans with a victory of three goals to one, securing the club’s first piece of silverware in four years - but there are still two up for grabs.

Goals from Brien Diffley, Patrick Watling and Mitchell Balmas within the first 40 minutes proved enough to claim the win despite the Flames applying constant pressure with a high tempo and physical game throughout - as could be expected from a Cup final.

Challenge Cup Final, Utilita Arena - photo credits: Emily Laycock

With just two minutes on the board, captain Robert Dowd was instrumental in starting what would become a special night in Sheffield as he collected the puck in the Flames zone, weaving around the edge of the right circle before firing a pinpoint pass to the unmarked Brien Diffley waiting at the back door to send the puck home into an empty net.

Despite Greenfield’s strong saves to deny the visitors at first, Guilford grew into the game and brought the score level at 13:48 with a powerful right-handed shot into the top corner past the 29-year-old. Bradley Lalonde picked up the puck in the Flames zone before driving into the Steelers zone and firing a shot through the legs of Sam Jones that Greenfield couldn’t get a glove to.

Patrick Watling reinstated the Steelers’ lead with just 19 seconds of the first period to play with a one-timer across Burman: the move was created by a pass from Dominic Cormier from the right circle that helped Fox’s side take a two to one lead into the intermission.

The winning moment - photo credits: Emily Laycock

Only one goal was scored in the second period, and it would also become the last goal of the game with a goalless third period following. Just four minutes in, Brien Diffley fired the puck on net with Mitchell Balmas making his way from right to left, tipping it beyond from close range.

Grade A chances were difficult for the Flames to come by as the Steelers’ defence worked relentlessly to retrieve the puck in their zone with Matt Greenfield standing tall in between the pipes to pull of some highlight reel saves that denied the visitors a route back into the game for an incredible 97.14% save percentage.

Burnam was pulled with two minutes of the period remaining but even with an extra skater, they couldn’t find a way past the Steelers who were crowned champions of the Challenge Cup 23/24 on home ice.

Post-win celebrations - photo credits: Emily Laycock

Attention now turns back to the regular season Elite League title. A win tonight over the Cardiff Devils would see Aaron Fox’s Sheffield Steelers win the Elite League 23/24 with Robert Dowd set to lift another trophy as captain this season - and playoffs are still to come.


Leeds Knights - League Champions

On Sunday March 17th, Leeds Knights won the Planet Ice NIHL National Division title for a second successive season with a 6-3 victory over Bees IHC at The Castle in front of their fans.

At the end of only their third full season, Ryan Aldridge led the Knights to another league title having become champions of the league and playoff winners last season too.

With the Bees one of three teams fighting for the two remaining playoff spots, it wasn’t to be an easy route to the trophy for Leeds, but goals from Kieran Brown, Innes Gallacher, Jordan Buesa and Matt Barron secured the win on the night.

The evening the Knights became back-to-back league champions began with the league’s highest points scorer and Leeds captain Kieran Brown breaking the deadlock at 6:57, tipping a floating shot from Noah McMullin past Brett Shepherd, but it wasn’t long before Dominik Gabaj equalised for the visitors with the score level at the first break.

Only three minutes of the second period had been played when the Knights’ lead was reinstated through Jordan Buesa, and it was doubled only moments later through Innes Gallacher sending the puck crashing into the back of the net, under the arm of Shepherd from close range.

Innes Gallacher - photo credits: Emily Laycock

Jordan Buesa scored his 50th point of the season with the Knights’ fourth goal of the night less than two minutes before the end of the second period. Canadian import Noah McMullin played a floating pass - almost a carbon copy of his assist for the captain in the first period - towards the Bees net with Buesa the man there to tip it in.

Gianna Vitali clawed one back for the Bees in the third period, only for Matt Barron to score a short-handed goal on the breakaway to make it three in two nights for the import. Kieran Brown added another to the tally just a minute later as the Knights led by six goals to two, but a late consolation goal through Edward Bradley for the visitors brought the final score to 6-3.

The celebrations - photo credits: Emily Laycock

Leeds Knights continue their dominance of the second-tier of UK Ice Hockey - despite being the youngest team in the league - and lifted the trophy in front of their fans on home ice after another sensational season with celebrations on the ice following.

A strong defence has led them to have conceded the least number of the goals in the league this season with their offensive outfit also impressing as they look likely to become the league’s second highest scorers with only four games of the regular season to play.

The playoffs are now Aldridge’s primary focus as he strives to complete the double with this team for a second season running.

The back-to-back league title winning team - photo credits: Emily Laycock


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