SHEFFIELD, U.K. – The Sheffield Steelers travelled to league leaders the Belfast Giants, for a double header weekend at the Odyssey Arena. It was the hosts who would claim the victory with a hard fought 4-2 win.
The Steelers were boosted by the addition of former Cardiff Devil forward Chris Blight, who put pen to paper late Friday evening, after being deemed surplus to requirements in South Wales.
Blight replaces the departing Rob Sirianni who joined former Italian team Val Pusteria on Wednesday evening,
Sheffield Steelers Head Coach Doug Christiansen favoured offensive playmaker Chris Blight instead of the physical presence of Tim Spencer, as this was a must win game for his side.
The hosts got off to a dream start when Jeff Szwez opened the scoring after just 13 seconds when he broke down the left wing, then cut inside and rounded Doyle with a great move.
The Steelers responded almost instantly when Jonathan Phillips was perfectly placed in front of the Giants goal to convert a great Robert Dowd pass from close range to make it 1-1 at 01:48.
The Giants came close on the powerplay at 06:15 when former Steeler Colin Shields was gifted an opportunity on a 2-on-1 but couldn’t find the net after a great pass from Kevin Saurette.
The first period was a fast and frantic end to end affair from both teams, with the Giants imposing their physicality on home ice in front of a vocal crowd of over 5000 fans.
The Giants came close once again on the poweplay at 13:48 when Chris Higgins fired narrowly wide from close range.
The hosts soon made amends when they returned to full strength when the impressive Jeff Szwez netted his second of the game when he was on hand to tap home a close range rebound low past Steelers netminder Frank Doyle to make it 2-1 at 14:40.
In the closing moments of the period the Steelers came close once again when Chad Langlais jumped up into the play and tested Giants netminder Stephen Murphy with a low wrist shot from the left wing slot.
The Giants went into the period break with a 2-1 lead, after an evenly contested first period, one in which they were narrowly outshot by the visitors by 10-8.
The Steelers started the second period strongly and almost levelled when Rob Dowd tested former teammate Stephen Murphy with a great glove save at 21:11.
The Giants countered and offered chances of their own with both Evan Cheverie and veteran blueliner Rob Sandrock forcing Doyle into making a string of great saves at the midway point.
Tempers were frayed at 28:19 when Steelers defenceman Drew Fata and Giants agitator Darryl Lloyd exchanged blows, and were assessed roughing coincidental minors by referee Tom Darnell.
The visitors pressed and came close once again when Stefan Meyer forced Great Britain international netminder Murphy into making a spectacular glove save at 33:24.
Both teams offered further chances late in the period, but proved fruitless due to strong goaltending from Doyle and Murphy in the Steelers and Giants goals respectively.
The Steelers were perhaps disappointed to not go into the period break with at least a goal after a dominant second period, outshooting the Giants by 14-8.
The hosts buoyed on by a vocal home support, started the final period strongly, with Evan Cheverie and the outstanding Jeff Szwez looking lethal for the Giants in the opening three minutes.
At 44:18 came a turning point in the game when Frank Doyle saved exquisitely from Even Cheverie on the backhand, with Cheverie’s effort destined for the back of the net. The momentous save spurred the Steelers on, who started the final period a little flat.
The boost was short lived as the Giants extended their lead when Captain Adam Keefe created a turnover on the forecheck and pounced on the loose puck and calmly slotted it past Doyle for 3-1 at 47:30.
The Giants widened the margin further when they added a contentious fourth goal two minutes later, when Jeff Szwez squeezed the puck over the line to complete his hattrick after a goalmouth scramble, with the Steelers players claiming Frank Doyle had covered the puck before the whistle.
The Steelers responded and pulled a goal back on the powerplay when Robert Dowd fired a bullet from the left wing slot high past Murphy at 51:09 to reduce the arrears to two.
The visitors’ frustrations began to show when Jeff Legue was handing a slashing penalty in the Belfast offensive zone and he foolishly speared off the play to earn himself a game penalty and an early shower.
The Giants were looking to take advantage of Legue’s absence and Almost added a fifth when Chris Higgins was denied by Frank Doyle with a spectacular diving stick save to deflect his effort wide at 57:59.
The Steelers pulled netminder Doyle with just under two minutes remaining in favour of an extra attacker, and the tactical decision almost paid off when Captain Steven Goertzen struck the crossbar with his close range effort.
Despite a tense finish the Giants killed the game off to take the two points after a great 4-2 victory in the first leg of the top of the table weekend.
Despite six goals in the game, both netminders deserved praise for outstanding performances for their respective teams.
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