The 2011 Premier Cup Final

Where to start …. Firstly of course congratulations to Pete and the guys on becoming the 2011 Premier Cup Champions last night with a 4-2 win and an aggregate 7-4 with over the Basingstoke Bison

I arrived at the rink around 5.30pm yesterday and already, two hours ahead of Face-off there will supporters waiting for the big event. On entering the rink the massive efforts made in readying the Hangar for its biggest night of the season so far were obvious. The Cooler Bar was fitted out as a VIP hospitality suite and the Jets office was out of bounds as it too had become a hospitality suite.

From a high vantage point of view the Hangar isn’t excellent with just two high vantage points available in the rink. One of those was being used as VIP hospitality and the other was used for filming Jets TV and sponsor entertainment. With photographers, videographers and commentators all scheduled in for the night everything was sorted out so everyone had somewhere to go and all went well until the BBC decided they’d just ignore the plan, film from where-ever they wanted with little regard for the smooth running of the night. It’s pretty easy to see how some within the BBC have the reputation of arrogant. I think back to when we had Ollie and Andy with us commentating for BBC radio and those two guys were a joy to work with however the BBC South team we had yesterday were totally different to Ollie and Andy.

Anyhow, game time approaches, the Bison section is full and the Jets sections are filling. The Hangar can hold 1000 fans and by the time the puck dropped we weren’t far short of that 1000, the finishing number being 918. I remember back to the Play-off final when we played MK home and away and we packed out the rink, so much so we were struggling to find seats for everyone!! Last night was the biggest crowd I’ve seen at a home game since that night and it was fantastic.

I know from their regular season visits how loud the Bison fans can be, twice they won the loudest block competition but last night the Jets fans were equally as loud and proud through the game. Credit to the Bison supporters who travelled in massive numbers for the game and cheered their team on all night long.

The game itself was a fantastic advert for EPL hockey. There are some who say the EPL doesn’t have enough skill, enough speed, enough passion however on that fact I’d strongly disagree. Last night we had skill in abundance on both teams, we had some high paced hockey and you only needed to be there, or watch the highlights when they come out to see the passion and emotion on the face of every single player last night. Guys dressed and played injured, guys nursed themselves through that game just to help their team in their quest for silverware.

My personal opinion is the EPL is much closer to the old time hockey that hockey fans enjoyed. I suppose you could say the EIHL may be considered technically more skilful but even the EIHL themselves are now starting to reduce their numbers of imports. All those imports on the ice doesn’t make up for the raw emotion and passion of the EPL hockey model.

As the game ticked down into it’s final seconds you could see the thoughts visibly on both sets of players, as the Jets realised they were the season’s first confirmed champions and the Bison as they realised there were the runners up.

Spare a thought for the Bison who finished second in the cup competition. There are no losers at this stage in a competition like this as each team has made it through the gruelling qualification stage and played their semi-final. You don’t win away in Manchester to secure your final position and still end up a loser but credit to the Bison who made a fantastic final but did end up the runners up.

I remember our last cup final, against the Bees where we were the runners up and it’s not a pleasant feeling. The officials get their medals presented and then the runners up before moving on to the Champions. I remember feeling to just pack up after the medal presentations but as the announcer for the second leg of the final you have to be prepared to go through the announcements for all the presentation whether your team is the winning team or not.

There are 20 games played ahead of the final two in the cup competition. You have to finish in the top four from 18 qualifying games and then win over the course of a home and away aggregate series in the semi-final. Both of last night’s teams finished in the top four of the qualification and proceeded to then beat Guildford and Manchester in their semi-finals so fully deserved their places in the final.

The Bison put on a good show in their rink in the opening leg of the final two weeks ago and it came back to the Hangar with one goal separating the teams in the Jets favour. As I said in my programme notes and Jets TV introduction that single goal difference would have probably figured little in the build up last night and it was all about the win on the night. A two goal win for the Bison would have won them the trophy and a tie or better would have won the Jets the trophy.

The first period was pretty even hockey and ended fairly at 2-2. The middle period saw Basingstoke force the game with some sustained pressure but the Jets dug in defensively and kept their opponents out. Then, in the third period Joe Greener’s goal at 47.09 opened up the game with Bison now having to clear up a two goal deficit to pull level in the series. When Doug Sheppard netted a powerplay strike at 53.22 that left Bison down by three on aggregate with 6.38 left to play and a massive task ahead.

I’m certain that the right team won on the nights and on aggregate however I do spare a though for Mo and the Bison. I have a lot of good friends in the Bison line-up, players who once gave their all for the Jets and last night gave their all for their current team. Nobody likes to play 22 games and get beaten at the last hurdle but as I said earlier at this stage of the competition there’s no losers, just runners up.

I’m proud of the effort made along the way by so many that made last night what it was. There’s obviously the team on the night, who won enough games to see us qualify and then proceeded to do the business in the semi-finals and finals. Pete who’s assembled the team, gelled them, coached them, motivated them, Al and Joe, Vic and Rambi who’ve looked after the guys. I’m also proud of the team that works the game off the ice who could leave last night proud that they played their part in what was a proud night for Slough and a great night for the EIHA model. I’m ecstatic at the support last night. I have moaned a few times this season when we’ve had small crowds, or sometimes quiet crowds but when it mattered last night you, the supporters let no-one down; you were there in your numbers and you were there loudly and proudly.

I was in Coventry when Nicky Chinn and the Jets lifted the play-off trophy a few seasons back and that was a proud moment for me. Last year I missed seeing Blaz and the Jets lift the play-off trophy at Coventry but I was proudly tweeting from hospital but last night, seeing so many home fans getting to watch the home team, in their home rink, lift a trophy meant so much. I finished the night with virtually no voice left but with a smile on my face.

Thanks to everyone that was a part of the 2010/11 EPL Cup win.

Cup winners photograph taken by Lewis Cleveland