NEWCASTLE Vipers general manager Jaimie Longmuir paid tribute to his battling team after their shock 3-2 victory over Elite League leaders Belfast Giants.
The Vipers were viewed as being mere cannon-fodder for the rampant Ulstermen but they showed their true grit and mettle to stun their hosts.
Danny Stewart’s men raced to a 2-0 lead inside nine minutes thanks to goals from Mike Prpich and Jamie Carroll (pictured right).
Belfast then laid siege to the Vipers net, with keeper Charlie Effinger making a number of saves, but he was powerless to stop strikes from Mike Hoffman and Jon Gleed, who levelled for the Giants. But late in the final quarter, Vipers’ Polish ace Jaroslaw Rzeszutko broke clear to slot in the winner.
A delighted Longmuir said: “On paper it’s an absolutely crazy result, but I’m delighted with the outcome.
“This team just will not give up, despite the challenges that are thrown their way.
“I’m so proud of Danny and the players. They are an inspiration and an example of the fighting spirit the whole organisation is going to have to show over the coming weeks.
“The Challenge Cup semi-final will be a great boost both on and off the ice for the club. We are waiting for the other group to conclude, but the game will be a two-leg affair against either Nottingham or Cardiff.” Coach Stewart, meanwhile, echoed Longmuir’s sentiments praising the character of his team.
“It took a lot of guts, and heart from every single player,” the Canadian said.
“We played simple but effective hockey and our penalty kill was amazing. Guys were blocking shots, diving for pucks and Effy (Effinger) was incredible with 46 saves.”
Alluding to the 10 powerplays the Vipers had to kill, Stewart added: “The referee did everything he could to help them but we battled through.”
As the fixture doubled up as a league and Challenge Cup encounter, the victory not only brought two priceless points but a cup semi-final date against either one of Nottingham or Cardiff.