The sky seems to be the limit right now for the Nottingham Panthers. From being the first UK team in history to win a game in the Champions Hockey League (CHL) three years ago against Hamburg, they have now gone on to secure a spot in the last 16 stage of the competition, putting themselves right up there with Europe’s elite sides.
It is a remarkable feat, almost similar to that of football’s Leicester City, in a sport where British teams cannot often compete with the best from Sweden or Finland, where the game is their most popular winter sport. Perhaps, the times are changing though as Nottingham’s European journey continues.
Drawn into Group F, the Panthers faced difficult matches against SC Bern, Mountfield HK and TPS Turku. It was not going to be an easy ask and their 5 -2 defeat against SC Bern in the first fixture confirmed this. However, defeat was soon forgotten as the Panthers managed to achieve three successive victories and find themselves in pole position to qualify for the knockout stages. All that was needed was a victory against Finnish side, TPS Turku on home soil at the Nottingham Arena.
On October 3rd, this exciting European encounter took centre-stage. The arena was packed with 4,499 expectant fans, who had turned out in their masses to provide an electrifying noise and atmosphere throughout the important game.
As the game began, the first period got off to a bad start as the Panthers were given a bench minor for having too many players on the ice, with only 90 seconds on the clock. Goaltender Mike Garnett made sure to cancel out the penalty though, and the game continued with both teams trying their hardest to get an early breakthrough. Numerous chances came and went, with either defences proving to be too strong, and as the first period ended there was nothing to show on the scoreboard and both teams went into the break goalless.
In the second period, it was much the same and the fixture was proving to be a stalemate. Nevertheless, the Panthers were certainly not ready to give up and right before the end of the second period, they made their mark after almost 40 minutes of ice hockey. Brett Perlini was victorious in a face-off in the Turku area, Joshua Shalla was fed the puck and the goods were delivered. Shalla scored a fantastic goal on 38:19 to make it 1-0 to the Panthers. The crowd were up and off their feet, roaring the team on with all their might.
Only 55 seconds later, Nottingham struck again. This time it was Russian Alexander Mokshantsev, who showed great patience and skill in his finish to give the Panthers a 2-0 lead over Turku as the second period ended. From then on, Nottingham held the lead in the third period until the end, with the assistance of Garnett, who made a succession of big saves in the face of Turku’s attack.
The Panthers, who had been seeded in 32nd position out of a possible 32, had beaten Turku to get their fourth consecutive victory and qualify, creating history for Ice Hockey in the UK. The celebrations begun and the pure elation could be seen on everyone’s faces in the arena.
At the end of the group stages, results from other teams meant that Nottingham finished in 1st position on 11 points with Swiss team SC Bern, who were fourth seed, qualifying behind them in 2nd place on 9 points.
On October 13th, the CHL draw took place for the last 16 stage and Nottingham are now going to face Zurich, a high ranking Swiss side with many international players. The first leg will be staged away in Zurich on October 31st with the return leg set at the Nottingham Arena on November 7th. Prices for the fixture at home have been reduced and can start from as little as £10, which is great value for money. The loyal Panther support will no doubt turn out again in record numbers and cheer the team on, as they advance in their European adventures.
Elsewhere in domestic competitions, the Panthers have won their last two games in the Elite League. They had a 4-3 victory over Sheffield Steelers on October 14th and then won 6-3 against Belfast Giants on October 15th, leaving them placed in 3rd position in the league standings. The Panthers are in perfect form going into upcoming fixtures against Edinburgh, Cardiff, Milton Keynes and Coventry. Let’s hope October’s success can continue.
Article image courtesy of NottinghamArena via Wikimedia Commons.