Hill split as former teams get ready for cup final

Phil Hill will be at Sunday's game to see his two former teams in action (PHOTO: Cardiff Devils)

Former Cardiff Devils and Sheffield Steelers hero Phil Hill was non-commital when it came to trying to pick a winner between his old teams in Sunday’s Challenge Cup Final.

The former GB international played for both sides in two spells each, icing for the Devils from 2000 to 2006 then from 2007 to 2013 and Steelers in 2006 to 2007 then again between 2013 and 2015.

But the 37-year-old does expect an interesting game, especially after they played each other on Friday at the Viola Arena on league business.

“With this final, you have two organisations in Sheffield, who are trying to get back to winning trophies while Cardiff have a culture of success in recent years so it’s set up to be quite the final,” he said.

“The fact they’re both battling at the top of the league certainly adds to it and this final certainly doesn’t always throw up the top two going for it.

“As a player, these are the games you can thrive in are the ones where there’s a little bit of hatred and I think the fans are on board with that now.

“Steelers had a few years of success and Cardiff then took over under the new ownership and know how to win consistently so it sets up a great game in prospect.

“There are two organisations that want to be at the top and the gap is closing and there are four or five teams right now looking at the standings who can maybe look back at a title that’s maybe got away.

REWIND: Cardiff Devils win the Challenge Cup in 2006, a tie Phil Hill played in

 

“Sunday’s game will be so tough to call.  I think, if it was a best of seven, I would edge towards Cardiff, but as a team, they’ve been letting teams hang around in games this year.  While Cardiff play a more structured game, while Sheffield’s offence can hurt you.  It could go either way to be honest.”

Hill won honours with both clubs, winning the Challenge Cup in 2006 with the Devils as they overcame a first leg deficit to go on and beat Coventy Blaze on penalty shots.

He was also part of the Steelers side that won the play-offs in 2014, beating Belfast Giants in overtime courtesy of Drew Fata’s winner and remained there the following year to help Gerad Adams’ side to the EIHL title.

Hill looked back on those triumphs and was pleased to enjoy success with them in his career, starting with that final in 2006 when Cardiff snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.

He added: “I enjoyed my time with both clubs.  Cardiff are obviously much different than they are today and in my time there, they were always battling to keep up with the big hitters.

“In Sheffield, the pressure was on the second you got there and a culture already established that the expectation was to win every trophy.

Hill won the league and the play-offs with Steelers (PHOTO: Sheffield Steelers)

“If you ask most Cardiff fans, they’ll tell you the Challenge Cup Final in 2006 is one of the craziest games I’ve ever been involved in.

“It was a two-legged affair and we went in three goals down and I remember the atmosphere.  I’d never heard anything like it.  You couldn’t hear yourself calling for a pass or anything.

“We had three solid lines, likes Vezio Sacratini and Gerad Adams, plus the likes of Mark Richardson were coming through.  We probably weren’t expected to be challenging for a trophy that year, but momentum took us on.

“We brought in a guy called Rejean Stringer, who was a friend of Regan Darby and he became a hero in that game and he’s gone down in folklore as a Devils legend now.

“Coventry were the team to beat and had a history of success prior to that final and looking back, were probably heavily expected to win that one.

“Paul Thompson was their coach and had a great core of British core with the likes of Adam Calder and Dan Carlsson, who were generational players and it still feels like yesterday.”

REWIND: Sheffield Steelers win the play-offs in 2014, with Hill scoring in a memorable final

But Hill revealed the play-off final in 2014 was also special as Steelers overcame Braehead Clan to meet Belfast Giants in the final in a game still fondly remembered by those who were in Nottingham that day.

He recalled: “I joined the Steelers in early October 2013 and it was a stacked team with a lot of good Brits again, with Jonathan Phillips, Jason Hewitt, Mark Thomas and on paper, it should have been a team that was winning trophies.

“There was a coaching change and ‘G’ came in and let the boys play with some freedom and we grew and grew, which took us to the play-off weekend.

“We came up against a really good Belfast side on the day.  Frank Doyle stole the game with some terrific saves.

“I’ve been lucky enough to have won everything and won them all in pretty amazing ways and the top one was winning that final in overtime with Drew Fata getting the winning goal.

“This week will be a great game between the two sides and I’m sure the fans will make it a special occasion with that trophy up for grabs.”

LISTEN: Catch the full interview with Phil Hill on this week’s British Ice Hockey podcast

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