Belfast Giants on top as former coach Doug Christiansen returns

Adam Keefe of the Belfast Giants celebrates after scoring the third goal past Frank Doyle of the Sheffield Steelers during the 4-2 win in Elite League
Adam Keefe of the Belfast Giants celebrates after scoring the third goal past Frank Doyle of the Sheffield Steelers during the 4-2 win in Elite League

The amphitheatre falls into darkness. The frozen stage is set for the next act in one of domestic ice hockey's fiercest rivalries.

The PA booms out the names of the Belfast Giants players as they power on to the ice, each cheered by the crowd.

The arena is buzzing because, for Giants supporters, tonight is special. Tonight the Sheffield Steelers are visiting.

The return of Doug Christiansen, the former Giants coach, who guided the Belfast club to the 2012 Elite League title.

So a hero returns? For some yes, others no.

Christiansen shocked many Giants fans last season, when less than 24 hours after the overtime play-off final defeat by rivals Nottingham, he left to take charge of Sheffield Steelers.

Tonight home fans want the Giants to show Doug that he was wrong to go.

Fans' exuberance gives way to a hushed silence as a minute's silence is impeccably observed for Peter Collins, a PR man with the Giants in the early years

Evan Cheverie of the Belfast Giants is tripped by Chad Langlais, former Giants player and now of the Sheffield Steelers during the Elite League game at the Odyssey Arena in Belfast
Evan Cheverie of the Belfast Giants is tripped by Chad Langlais of the Sheffield Steelers

After a pulsating build up it's game time. "Let's play hockey."

Face-off, and after just 52 seconds, the loudest roar of the night as Craig Peacock fires the home side into the lead.

Peacock rejoined the team on Wednesday after a short period in Denmark. A standing ovation heralds the return of a real fans' favourite.

Tension in the arena disappears. Fans enjoy revelling in the early lead over rivals Sheffield.

Twenty minutes of action yields no further goals and the Giants head to the locker room one goal to the good.

During the break the Zamboni zips around in a rhythmic pattern, laying a new layer of ice which covers ruts in the rink created by the relentless skating action of the first session

Fresh carves are cut into the newly carpeted surface as the players return to the ice.

Goalies scrape the crease in front of their goals hoping to gain any advantage they can.

Six minutes into the second period and the home crowd are on their feet again.

A blaring boat fog horn, representing Belfast's rich maritime history, signifies the latest Giants goal.

Another returning Giant, Jeff Szwez, fires in from close range to give Belfast a 2-0 lead.

Szwez and Sheffield's Gord Baldwin both head to the sin bin for two minutes to cool off, after things threaten to get out of hand in the aftermath of the goal

No further goals in the second period although the visitors are enjoying more pressure and seem to be growing into the game.

A drum beat reverberates around the arena shattering the silence, sparking the crowd into life ready for the third and final period of action.

Fans respond to the tribal beat, cheering "Lets go Giants!" at the end of each drum beat.

They say revenge is a dish best served cold. Only 20 minutes of action separate the fans from celebrating the victory that they crave.

In most sports a two-goal lead is quite comfortable, but in ice hockey anything can, and usually does, happen.

Sheffield Steelers boss Doug Christiansen congratulates Giants coach Paul Adey on his side's 4-2 win
Steelers boss Doug Christiansen congratulates Giants coach Paul Adey on his side's 4-2 win

Sheffield's Jeff Legue fires home three minutes into the third and suddenly there is silence. A nervous feeling sweeps around the arena. Could the comeback be on? Seventeen minutes left and the game is there for the taking.

For the first time I can hear the handful of visiting fans. Home fans are quiet, some look worried.

However, within a minute, Adam Keefe fires the home side back into a two-goal lead, playing a captain's role.

Another swing of the pendulum sees former Giant Robert Dowd reduce the arrears back to one with 14 minutes to play.

Three goals in as many minutes have set up an enthralling finish to this Elite League tussle.

Tensions are running high, the next score vital.

Minutes feel like hours for home fans as the clock ticks slowly towards the buzzer, the thinnest of margins separating the sides.

The Steelers pile on the pressure attempting to find the elusive equaliser.

Sheffield pull their net minder, giving them a numerical attacking advantage. Time is ticking away, another attack is quashed and the Giants break out.

In unison the crowd cries shoot. Fans are up on their feet screaming and roaring as the puck is fired towards the empty Steelers' goal. It seems to move in slow motion - 13 seconds left on the clock.

Dustin Whitecotton makes it 4-2. The noise is deafening- it's the end the Giants fans dreamed of.

Over 4,500 will make their way out of the Odyssey with a spring in their step. They have witnessed their heroes gain victory over the man who walked away from them.

A warm embrace between new Giants' boss Paul Adey and Doug Christiansen on the final buzzer brings the night to a fitting end.

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