Ice hockey: Virta's reality sees off holders

THE FIRST trophy of the domestic season was settled in favour of a Nottingham Panthers side whose will to win the Benson & Hedges Cup for the third time proved stronger than Ayr Scottish Eagles' desire to become the first team in the competition's seven-year history to defend it successfully.

Last season's grand slammers - beaten 2-1 - were outplayed in the first and last periods of a tense match in which the netminders, Vincent Riendeau of Ayr and Trevor Robins of Nottingham, both former NHL men, distinguished themselves with some outstanding saves.

But it was the middle phase that turned out to be decisive. With Trevor Burgess off the ice, in the penalty box for the second time in the period, Nottingham's Finnish forward Pekka Virta took advantage of the powerplay to rifle home the winning goal, his second of the match.

The evening's entertainment for a near full house of around 8,000 at the Sheffield Arena had begun with the obligatory anthems, in Ayr's case "Flower of Scotland", although with no British players, let alone any Scots, in their line-up the Maple Leaf might have been more appropriate. Nottingham were only fielding one Englishman in Simon Hunt but their fans, heavily outnumbering those from north of the border, would have cheered for anything with a Panther on its chest.

The opening period lived up to their expectations despite Ayr taking the lead against the run of play with a scintillating solo effort from David St Pierre, who caught the eye on more than one occasion with the kind of weaving run that led to his goal. The Ayr captain, Angelo Catenaro, an Italian-Canadian previously with Rotterdam, earned the credit for the assist with an astute pass out of defence.

The opening goal came after 10.59sec and, very briefly, the wind was taken out of Nottingham's sails. But it took them just 23 seconds to strike back and Catenaro's opposite number, Jamie Leach, was the architect. Leach, a Stanley Cup winner in his time with the Pittsburgh Penguins, worked an opening on the left before flicking the puck back inside the Virta and his instinctive drive flew into the roof of Riendeau's net.

The Panthers could, and perhaps should, have added one or two more before the first interval, Leach himself coming closest when he hit the post. After that the effects of Ayr's wearing trip and last-minute defeat by Mannheim in midweek looked to have worn off. But it was one of Nottingham's two last-minute recruits from North America, Jason Weaver, who began to make a real impact.

Weaver and Darcy Loewen had flown in just two days before the final as Nottingham's injury crisis showed no sign of abating, and it was some clever play by Weaver that was the turning point. From almost behind the Ayr net, he found Virta with an accurate pass which gave the Finn time to pick his spot and, thanks to a slight deflection, Riendeau was beaten again.

The final period was attrition rather than sensation but by then Ayr probably were feeling it and the sense that it was Nottingham's day had long since been apparent. It was a good day for the sport itself in this country too, a view enthusiastically endorsed by Ian Taylor, Great Britain's Olympic gold medal-winning hockey goalkeeper, who is now chief executive of the Ice Hockey Superleague.

"It was a great game, and a great advert for us," he said. You've got to have some sympathy for Ayr. They were all-conquering last year but I'm sure that no team is going to do a grand slam again."

Mike Blaisdell the triumphant coach, also paid tribute to his opponents. "They've got some great hockey players and they are tough to break down," he said.

"There are a lot of teams in the league that we would have beaten badly tonight because we came at them pretty hard, but they can weather a storm and they don't panic, ever."

As for Nottingham, Saturday's final was followed swiftly by last night's league encounter with high-flying Manchester, and, with another game at home to Bracknell tomorrow night, it seems there is no rest for the wicked Panthers.

News
One Direction's Zayn Malik gazes at a bouquet of flowers in the 'Night Changes' music video
people
News
people
News
'Free the Nipple' film screening after party with We Are The XX, New York, America - 04 Feb 2014
news
Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished
tvReview: The latest episode was a smidgen less depressing... but it’s hardly a bonza beach party
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Manager

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity to...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Manager - Production

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Trainee Managers are required to join the UK's...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Manager

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will maximise the effective...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + uncapped commission : SThree: Hello! I know most ...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss
Tony Blair joins a strange and exclusive club of political leaders whose careers have been blighted by the Middle East

Blair has joined a strange and exclusive club

A new tomb has just gone up in the Middle East's graveyard of US and British political reputations, says Patrick Cockburn