Ice hockey: Panthers skate home

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The Independent Online
While the growing popularity of ice hockey has the game's publicists talking of a dawning of a new ice age, the old rather than the new prevailed in the final of the premier knockout competition. Nottingham Panthers won the Benson and Hedges Cup last night, defeating the Ayr Scottish Eagles 5-3.

It was a victory for the establishment and one that confounded the form lines. Nottingham, first formed in 1939, prevailed over a club barely out of the embryonic stage despite a sequence of results coming into the match of no wins in seven matches. The contest always suggested the Eagles would make a heavy landing.

Behind within a minute of the start, Ayr never gained parity and Nottingham, who have always reached the semi-finals at least since the Benson and Hedges Cup began in 1992-3, secured their second title with some degree of comfort. Indeed, for all the flashing lights and rock music, the occasion lacked one vital element: real tension.

The fact that the Eagles had reached the final was reason for celebration, given that 12 months ago the club was merely a germ in the imagination of Bill Barr. A rink, begun 10 years previously and still awaiting its final touches, was bought and completed by the Ayr United football club chairman and a Superleague team was born. Given that the powerhouses of the sport were situated north of the border in the Eighties, it was extraordinary that it required Barr's involvement to resuscitate ice hockey in Scotland.

Ayr are coached by a Canadian, Jim Lynch, whose ability to transform a squad of strangers into finalists in five months is matched by his grasp of the sporting truism. "Nobody remembers the losers," he said prior to the match, coupled with: "The result is everything. Losing would be like kissing your sister...not very exciting."

La Lynch probably did not appreciate that, and his players were hardly models of motivation either because Ayr were behind within 29 seconds. Marty Dallman passed to Derek Laxdal and the Eagles net-minder, Sven Rampf, began a personally unsatisfactory night by collecting the puck from behind him.

After 18 minutes the German minder was replaced by Colum Cavilla after feeling the effects of a groin injury but by then Nottingham were 3-1 ahead thanks to further goals by Mike Bishop and Neil Morgan.

While Ayr were having problems with their minder, Nottingham's Trevor Robins, who was outstanding in the semi-finals against the Sheffield Steelers, was making a sequence of stops. But he was beaten by Markus Berwanger after 13 minutes.

Behind 3-1 at the end of the first 20 minutes and 4-2 at the second, the Panthers got their claws around the cup in the fifth minute of the final period when the Ayr defence dissolved to allow Garth Premak to score. Jiri Lala brought Ayr to within two goals again but never closer.