Nottingham Panthers: Elite League champions greeted at airport

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Media captionNeilson dedicated the title to the Panthers fans

Supporters greeted Nottingham Panthers at East Midlands Airport as they returned from Belfast with their first league trophy since 1956.

The Elite League ice hockey champions beat their rivals Belfast Giants 5-3 on Friday night to clinch the title.

Forward David Clarke, who scored a goal in the victory, said: "It was a special time - I can hardly believe it."

The team will be presented with the championship trophy at their next home game on Friday.

Hundreds of fans travelled to Belfast for the match and dozens more met the players as the team arrived back in the East Midlands.

The Panthers have won the Elite League playoffs and the Challenge Cup competition for the last two years in a row, but the league title has eluded them for 57 years.

In the past, the players have often been taunted by chants of "1956" by opposing supporters.

Image caption The Panthers team has players from Canada, the UK and the US

Led by two US-born stars - netminder Craig Kowalski and captain Jordan Fox - the team has played consistently during the current season to edge ahead of reigning champions Belfast and fierce rivals Sheffield Steelers.

Canadian-born defencemen Corey Neilson, who was injured earlier in the season and then moved behind the bench as full-time coach, said after the game: "I am ecstatic and am overjoyed.

"It has taken seven years to get to this point. We have tried to build a brand and a style that we hoped one day would be successful - we have been up and down and weathered a lot of storms.

"But it has been a joy to watch - it is down to their dedication, discipline and courage."

Nottingham-born forward Robert Lachowicz said: "The boys are ecstatic now. Finally after more than 50 years we've won the championship.

"I can't wait to lift the trophy."

The Panthers, who play their final home game of the season against Cardiff Devils on Friday at the National Ice Centre in Nottingham, will be officially presented with the trophy at the match.

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