Belfast Giants Clinch Elite League Title With Shootout Win: EIHL Takeaways

David Goodwin of the Belfast Giants celebrates winning the 2021-22 Elite League title (Image: Dean Woolley)
David Goodwin of the Belfast Giants celebrates winning the 2021-22 Elite League title (Image: Dean Woolley)

Even though Adam Keefe had only just finished coaching his Belfast Giants to the Elite League title, he was already thinking of ways to elevate the achievements of his players.

“These guys have done what we’ve asked of them all year long,” he told Premier Sports. “Early on in the season we had so many injuries and everybody just kept going in every spot, no questions asked.”

“We knew it wasn’t going to be easy,” Keefe said of his team’s title-clinching win. “The Steelers are a very good hockey team, I’m sure we’ll see them down the line, but these guys deserve it. When you bring in a group of good people, good things happen.”

Belfast Giants head coach Adam Keefe celebrates winning the 2021-22 Elite League title (Image: Dean Woolley)
Belfast Giants head coach Adam Keefe celebrates winning the 2021-22 Elite League title (Image: Dean Woolley)

Belfast’s title triumph arrived on Sunday [10 April] after a 2-1 shootout win over the Sheffield Steelers. Keefe’s side set up the silverware-sealing scenario on Saturday [9 April] by winning 3-1 over Aaron Fox’s side.

It was also a hectic week lower down the standings, with the Fife Flyers and Manchester Storm formerly eliminated from playoff contention. There was also a major announcement from the Cardiff Devils.

With that in mind, it’s time to dig into Elite League Takeaways. There’s a lot to discuss.

Shootout Win Sees Belfast Giants Clinch Title

Heading down the stretch, it looked as though the Giants and Steelers would be battling it out for the Elite League title until the final weekend of the season. Both teams have played excellently this season, receive high-quality coaching, and are extraordinarily hungry for success.

The battle for supremacy between Sheffield and Belfast had all the hallmarks of an affair likely to go down to the wire. However, it was clear that prediction was off by the time Saturday rolled around.

In the sides’ first meeting of the weekend, the Giants were a cut above. J.J. Piccinich and Scott Conway had nights to remember, with the former scoring a brace and the latter totting up three helpers. And after Belfast established their three-goal lead, they never looked like relinquishing it.

The shot map from Saturday tells the story. Through their valiant defensive efforts, the Giants kept most of Sheffield’s shots to the outside by clogging up the middle and battling without compromise in front of Tyler Beskorowany’s net.

The Steelers, on the other hand, were far less effective in their own end. All three of Belfast’s strikes came from the slot, as did most of their high danger scoring chances.

Although Sunday’s clash was tighter, it was the Giants who were in the ascendency. And then came Scott Conway’s winning penalty shot:

After the game, Keefe said: “The crazy thing about this league is that you never know how it’s going to end, we’ve ended it in all sorts of ways. This win was extra special, a bit of weird one in the shootout, but Beskorowany was solid all game and what a big goal by Conway.”

One question remains: will the Giants clinch a historic grand slam?

Belfast Giants, Elite League Champions 2021-22 (Image: Dean Woolley)
Scott Conway’s penalty shootout triumph saw the Belfast Giants clinch the Elite League title at the Sheffield Steelers’ expense (Image: Dean Woolley)

Will the Sheffield Steelers Bounce Back?

After the final buzzer on Sunday, a visibly disappointed Fox spoke to Premier Sports.

“It was tough for us tonight,” he said, “I loved our battle, I thought we were way better than we were last night. Before the game we said that we’d take the result as long as we left everything out there and I felt that we did tonight.”

Fox added: “It’s good to be in the hunt down the stretch, obviously it’s about winning though. For me, second place isn’t any good to be honest.”

Again, Sheffield’s bouncebackability will be tested. After falling to a crushing defeat in the Challenge Cup semi-final and missing out on the regular-season title, what impact will the Steelers make in the playoffs?

Jarrod Skalde Out as Cardiff Devils Head Coach

On Friday, the Cardiff Devils stunned the EIHL by announcing they had “parted ways” with head coach Jarrod Skalde. The Canadian went 32-15-3 behind Cardiff’s bench in league play and led the team to the Challenge Cup final. He signed with the Devils before the COVID-cancelled 2020-21 season, before making his senior head coaching debut at the start of 2021-22.

Related: Devils Part Ways With Jarrod Skalde

“I would like to thank Jarrod for his contributions to our team over the past season and during the year we missed because of Covid,” said managing director Todd Kelman. “The Devils organisation has great respect for Jarrod and we wish him all the best in his future endeavours.”

Brodie Dupont and Neil Francis will share coaching responsibilities through the end of the campaign. They are 1-1-0 behind the bench after overseeing a 2-1 loss to the Guildford Flames and a 4-1 win over the Manchester Storm.

Jarrod Skalde and the Cardiff Devils parted ways on Friday, a fortnight before the playoffs (Image: James Assinder)

Analysis:

As noted by Matthew Burgess of Dai Sport, Skalde’s exit essentially came out of nowhere.

While the 51-year-old had made his feelings known about the standard of officiating in the EIHL, he seemed content behind the bench in Cardiff and enjoyed a degree of success during his first season as a head coach.

It’s also important to consider the Devils’ modus operandi. They very rarely part with coaches or players mid-season, especially just weeks before the playoffs.

At the time of writing, it’s still unclear whether the decision was taken by the organisation or Skalde himself. My sense is more information will soon emerge.

Elsewhere in the EIHL

Nottingham Panthers: Will Kerlin secured his first win as a Panther on Saturday, dragging Nottingham closer to tying up the fourth seed.

Coventry Blaze: It was an up-and-down week for the Blaze – but they’ve still got plenty to play for. They’re three points back of Nottingham with a game-in-hand. The chase is on.

Also, props to C.J. Motte for his 30-save shutout versus the Clan.

Guildford Flames: Paul Dixon’s team are heating up again. The Flames enter the final week of the season tied on points with Coventry, making it (at least) a three-team race for fourth.

Dundee Stars: Despite clinching their playoff berth, it was a ‘meh’ week for Dundee. Dropping points to the Flyers will sting.

Glasgow Clan: Malcolm Cameron’s back for another year… and playoff-bound! Fans of bizarre hockey quotes, rejoice!

Manchester Storm: Losing 7-4 to the Clan on Saturday eliminated Manchester from playoff contention. Ryan Finnerty’s side didn’t bounce back either, they lost 4-1 to Cardiff on Sunday.

Fife Flyers: Despite being eliminated earlier in the week, the Flyers are now only three points back from the Storm. They’ll want to end the season on a high, Glasgow x2 and Dundee are up next.


Did you watch the Belfast Giants clinch the Elite League title live on Premier Sports or at Utilita Arena? Join the conversation by tweeting @BritIceHockey.

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