Nottingham’s European journey sadly came to an end last month. After becoming the first UK team to reach the knockout stages of the CHL – Europe’s top Ice Hockey competition, the Panthers faced tough competition from Swiss side ZSC Lions Zurich. Despite a very brave effort over the two legs, it proved to be too much of a challenge for Nottingham and the Lions eventually ran away with it, winning 6-1 on aggregate. Heads in the Panthers camp certainly didn’t drop though, and in the last month, the team has gone on to record a succession of fine victories domestically and put themselves right at the top of the EIHL standings.
It all began on October 31st as the Panthers came up against the Lions before a 3,024-strong crowd at the Hallenstadion in Zurich. Both teams came into the fixture off the back of good domestic form with the Lions having won five out of their last seven games, and the Panthers similarly victorious in five out of their last six, making it set to be an exciting contest.
In the first period, the Lions came straight out of the blocks, firing shot after shot at Panthers goaltender Michael Garnett. At 8:56 on the clock, Samuel Guerra broke the deadlock and the Lions went into the break with a one-goal lead. The wait for the next goal would then go into the final period.
At 40:52, Brett Perlini stepped up for the Panthers and did what he does best, putting the puck right into the back of the net to equalise. However, the Lions forced their way back into it, managing to take the lead the again through winger Roman Wick at 45:51. As the game was finishing up, Fredrik Pettersson also added his name to the scoresheet making it 3-1 to the Lions at 55:40. The Panthers were headed into the home leg with a two-goal deficit.
“A sell-out crowd of 6,598 awaited the two teams”
A sell-out crowd of 6,598 awaited the two teams for the second leg at the Motorpoint Arena in Nottingham on November 7th. With a typically vociferous backing from the Panthers fans, Nottingham had a huge chance of making even more history. In the first period, the tie remained goalless, but this was not without a wonder save from Mike Garnett.
As the second period began, Nottingham continued to fight and attack, making it clear to the Lions that they definitely weren’t going to be pushed around and bullied. The Panthers were soon caught though and at 26:24, the leading goal scorer in the CHL, Fredrik Pettersson, struck in a one-on-one to make it 1-0 to the Lions. A goal from Roman Wicks at 49:10 and another from Pettersson at 54:20 ended up making it a dominant 3-0 victory for the Lions.
WATCH – Highlights of Nottingham Panthers CHL Last-16 clash with ZSC Lions at the Motorpoint Arena on Tuesday: https://t.co/CPYVp8vyjI
— EIHL (@officialEIHL) November 8, 2017
Nonetheless, the Panthers have done themselves and the city of Nottingham proud. Coming up against teams who play in a whole different ball ground financially, was never going to be easy, but the Panthers gave it a right good effort. Their European success this year has managed to grab the BBC’s attention and given UK Ice Hockey the coverage it deserves and so desperately needs.
“The Panthers are racing ahead of the pack domestically”
Elsewhere, the Panthers are racing ahead of the pack domestically with a fantastic run of form. They have recorded four recent EIHL victories with a 5-4 win against Belfast Giants on November 15th, a 7-4 win against Cardiff Devils on November 19th, a 4-1 win against Sheffield Steelers on December 2nd and a 3-0 win against Braehead Clan on December 3rd. During this time, they have only lost once in a 5-4 loss against Fife Flyers on November 26th.
These results leave Nottingham Panthers at the top of the EIHL standings on 31 pts. In second position are the Belfast Giants on 29 pts and in third position are the Sheffield Steelers on 27 pts. Looking ahead, there are two imminent fixtures: one against Cardiff Devils on December 9th and another against Guildford Flames on December 10th.
— Andy Bacon (@atbacon) December 2, 2017
Finally, there was a heart-warming moment in the fixture against Sheffield Steelers on December 2nd. The time had again come for the annual teddy bear toss at the Motorpoint Arena. Every year, fans donate teddy bears and toys to charity by throwing them onto the ice after the first Panthers goal. At 24:12, Brett Perlini scored an equalising goal and within seconds, hundreds of toys had hit the ice in what was an amazing sight to witness. This year, all the teddies were donated to the Salvation Army for further distribution to children all across Nottingham. The Panthers march on!
Featured image courtesy of Ally Middleton via Flickr. License here