SHEFFIELD, U.K. – The Sheffield Steelers suffered mixed fortunes over the weekend after an impressive win on the road against the Coventry Blaze on Saturday followed by a disappointing and frustrating loss to the Belfast Giants on home ice 24-hours later.
The Steelers travelled to the West Midlands on Saturday evening, hoping to fare better than they did there two weeks previously, after suffering a tough 3-2 overtime loss in a raucous SkyDome Arena.
The visitors task was made that little bit harder after losing top scorer Stefan Meyer to an injury in training the previous week.
The Steelers were however boosted by the return of Head Coach Doug Christiansen, who has been away in the USA after the passing of his father Keith.
Both teams came out of the gates flying, and it was the hosts who threatened first with impressive American forward Ryan Ginand striking the post with a close range effort after just 48 seconds.
The visitors however broke the deadlock at 5:19 when Robert Dowd found linemate Nate DiCasmirro in front of the net, with the Italian international re-directing home a sublime Dowd pass to give the Steelers a 1-0 lead.
The Steelers soon doubled their lead at 11:16 when defenceman Drew Fata rifled home a well placed wristshot high glove side past Blaze netminder Mike Zacharias to make it 2-0.
The Blaze countered less than a minute later and almost netted themselves when Adam Henrich was denied by a great sprawling save from Frank Doyle, who would later go on to take the Man of the Match plaudits for his fine efforts in between the pipes.
The second period was a much more evenly contested affair between the two sides, with speedy Blaze forward Cale Tanaka forcing Frank Doyle into making a good reflex save at 22:16.
At 27:31 Steelers forward Rob Sirianni found himself on a breakway, only to be hauled down by veteran Blaze player Russ Cowley. After a brief consultation with his linesman referee Dean Smith signalled for a penalty shot.
Sirianni stepped up and skated down the middle to fire a low wristshot past Zacharias to give the Steelers a decisive 3-0 lead early into the middle stanza.
The Blaze soon pulled a goal back on the powerplay courtesy of Adam Henrich who was on hand at the backpost to backhand past a sprawling Frank Doyle, after a deflected Ryan Ginand pass fell nicely to him at 29:23.
The visitors soon regained their three-goal cushion courtesy of Captain Steven Goertzen who skated past a flat-footed James Griffin and pulled a nice move on Zacharias and backhanded 5-hole past the Blaze netminder to make it 4-1 at 31:21.
Despite further chances in the latter stages of the second period, neither team could add to the goal tally, ensuring the Steelers were the happier of the two teams with a commanding 4-1 lead going into the final period.
The Blaze came out strong for the third period, determined to claw their way back into the game. Cale Tanaka and Ryan Ginand were both denied good scoring chances by Steelers shot stopper Frank Doyle.
The Steelers were happy to sit back and protect their lead with some strong defensive play and shutting down the Blaze’s offensive threats.
The hosts pulled a consolation goal back with just 97 seconds of the game remaining when Adam Henrich used his strength to outmuscle Mark Thomas and found his brother Michael with a neat backhand pass with Michael firing home low past Doyle.
The clock ticked away ensuring the Steelers claimed a 4-2 victory and the all important two points.
The Steelers then played host to Elite League leaders the Belfast Giants on Sunday, a team whom they beat 2-1 at the Motorpoint Arena exactly three weeks previously.
The South Yorkshire side weren’t so fortunate this time, after being on the wrong end of a 4-2 loss to Paul Adey’s side.
The visitors got off to the perfect start when Jeff Szwez was on hand to tap home after a closer range scramble on a 5-on-3 powerplay for the Giants at 3:43 to give his side an early 1-0 lead.
The visitors soon doubled their advantage courtesy of veteran blueliner Rob Sandrock with a trademark bullet from the point which went low past Frank Doyle at 5:14.
The Giants well and truly had the Steelers on the back foot and almost added a third when former Steeler Colin Shields found his one-timer saved superbly by Doyle at 6:11.
The hosts soon pulled a goal back with a powerplay marker of their own with Steven Goertzen firing home a rebounded point shot high past Stephen Murphy in the Giants goal at 8:25.
The Steelers countered and almost added another with Italian international Rob Sirianni forcing Murphy into making another great save at 10:17.
The visitors netted once again to give them a healthy 3-1 lead courtesy of Colin Shields with the goal of the game as he slapshotted from the slot high blocker side past Frank Doyle at 14:19.
Both teams offered chances in a scoreless second period, with Chad Langlais, and Rob Sirianni coming close for the hosts, particularly the latter who struck the post with a wristshot in the 27th minute.
Belfast threatened with chances of their own from the impressive duo of Kevin Saurette and Evan Cheverie.
The Giants compounded the Steelers misery further when Dustin Whitecotton fired home a low wrist shot from close range to give his team a commanding 4-1 lead with sixteen minutes of the game remaining.
The Steelers pulled a goal back at 47:23 courtesy of a trademark Jeff Legue slapshot from the point low past Murphy to reduce the arrears to two.
Despite further chances from the Steelers, the Giants expertly shutdown the hosts in the latter stages of the game, ensuring the clock ticked down and the Giants deservedly collected the two points.
Steelers Head Coach Doug Christiansen offered his thoughts after the game, “I thought Belfast were outstanding in the first period, they really attacked our D and got the lead. After that I thought we settled in, our desperation level increased and in the second and third period you couldn’t fault anything,” Christiansen said.
“It just wasn’t meant to be tonight, and it’s obviously a very disappointing evening for us. This is a long season, we need to pick up our own team, move forward, and there is no better chance than to do it this weekend,” Christiansen added.
The loss was a bitter end to the weekend, and highlighted Sheffield’s inconsistency as they have only managed one four point weekend all season. The Steelers now face a tough double header weekend against arch-rivals the Nottingham Panthers.
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