Ice Hockey: Eagles salute Panther who changed his allegiance

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The Independent Online
Jeff Hoad, the man Ayr Scottish Eagles fans hated just nine months ago, has now acquired hero status after netting the winning goal late in the Benson and Hedges Cup final.

Hoad was mobbed by his team-mates and acclaimed by the supporters, who had turned on him at the start of the season, following Ayr's 2-1 come- from-behind victory over Cardiff Devils at the Sheffield Arena.

Hoad became Ayr's public enemy No 1 in March when he scored the game- winner for Nottingham Panthers in the Play-off Championship semi-final in the sixth period - the longest game in British ice hockey history.

By a bizarre twist of fate, Hoad then found himself with the club he had conquered just a few months earlier as a summer move from Nottingham was forced upon him.

With his Panthers' future hanging in the balance and after talks with his coach, Mike Blaisdell, he decided he could not hang around to see if the club were going to survive or go bust.

Ironically, it is a move which has quickly paid dividends as Hoad has now won the Benson and Hedges Cup with two different clubs in successive seasons - Panthers having beaten Ayr 5-3 a year ago.

The 24-year-old Canadian, clutching the gold trophy in both arms, said: "It's quite a turnaround. When I first came to play in Ayr this year I was introduced and the crowd booed me, but I respected them for that because it showed they cared about their hockey.

"The fans have since given me great support and I figure after this game and that goal they will be happy with me even more.

"To be the player who scores the winner in a major game feels great, but in all honesty it was a total fluke. Just 30 seconds earlier I had missed a great chance and when the opportunity quickly came back to me again, I just threw the puck on the net and it went in."

For more than 50 minutes, however, it looked as if it was again not going to be Ayr's night as they trailed by Doug McEwen's 32nd minute strike, had hit the pipe and had one disallowed when referee Simon Kirkham had blown his whistle seconds earlier following a penalty on Shannon Hope for his cross-checking of Sam Groleau.

But Groleau gained his revenge minutes later with the equalising goal to reward Ayr's dominant pressure on a weakened Cardiff defence which had been hit by penalties before Hoad's strike.