SHEFFIELD, U.K. – The Sheffield Steelers inconsistent side reared its ugly head over the weekend after an embarrassing loss to arch rivals the Nottingham Panthers on Saturday evening, followed up by an emphatic win on home ice against the Blaze on Sunday.
The Steelers made the short journey down the M1 to take on their nemesis the Nottingham Panthers. With the league campaign effectively over, the game was an opportunity to send a message ahead of Wednesdays crunch Challenge Cup Semi Final against the Panthers, and gain a psychological advantage.
Sheffield certainly sent a message, a message of we won’t win the 50/50 battles, we won’t play with any intensity and passion and we will be outmuscled and outskated by the opposition.
The hosts broke the deadlock in the seventh minute courtesy of veteran defenceman Jonathan Weaver who blasted a shot from the point through traffic, low past Steelers netminder Frank Doyle on the powerplay to give his side a 1-0 lead.
The Panthers doubled their advantage at 15:19 on the powerplay once again when Leigh Salters was perfectly placed in the slot to re-direct a Steve Lee point shot to put the visitors under further pressure.
Nottingham started the second period strongly and soon added a third courtesy of former NHL’er Petr Kalus who cut in from the left wing into the slot and fired a sublime wristshot glove side past Doyle at 21:16.
Despite two 5-on-3 powerplay opportunities for the Steelers in the second period they failed to take advantage, and it was the hosts who would be the next to score.
Robert Lachowicz gave himself the perfect 24th birthday present when he calmly slotted the puck past Frank Doyle after a 2-on-1 with Matt Francis. The latter provided a precise pass to Great Britain international Lachowicz who netted his teams fourth of the night, and his seventeenth goal of the season at 26:49.
Despite strong chances midway through the period for the Steelers trio of Jeff Legue, Phil Hill and Robert Dowd, the visitors couldn’t find a way past the outstanding Craig Kowalski in goal for the Panthers.
Once again the Panthers came out for the final period flying and added a fifth just 40 seconds into the period when Lachowicz slotted home a wristshot from the right wing slot after a nice pass from Leigh Salters to give his side an emphatic 5-0 lead.
The visitors netted a late marker at 50:25 on the powerplay when defenceman Dustin Kohn rifled a blistering slapshot top shelf past Kowalski to give the vocal Steelers travelling support something to cheer about with less than ten minutes remaining.
With just over two minutes remaining Panthers Head Coach Corey Neilson opted to give backup netminder Dan Green a little token ice time, in a move that fans perceived as arrogant.
Green made a great save from a Phil Hill one timer, before eventually conceding a goal from former teammate Jason Hewitt who was on hand back post to tap home a close range rebound with just 53 seconds of the game remaining.
The clock ticked away ensuring that the Panthers would claim an impressive 5-2 victory and certainly signalled their intent for Wednesday night’s Challenge Cup showdown.
The Steelers returned to home ice 24-hours-later determined to make amends and bounce back from the previous night’s performance.
The Steelers were without Robert Dowd who was nursing an eye injury from a high stick which he suffered the night before, and were also without blueliner Mark Thomas who was sidelined due to injury too.
The most significant absentee was veteran forward and top point’s scorer Jeff Legue, who was a healthy scratch for the game. The Ontario native has only scored four times in his last 18 games.
The hosts threatened first after just 16 seconds when Captain Steven Goertzen forced Blaze netminder Mike Zacharias into making a good save close range.
The Blaze responded when Ross Venus tested Doyle with a low wristshot from the left wing in the sixth minute.
The visitors were first to get on the scoreboard against the run of play when Shea Guthrie added a shorthanded marker after he calmly slotted the puck low past Frank Doyle on a breakaway at 12:15.
The Steelers restored parity a little over two minutes later when former NHL’er Stefan Meyer expertly tipped a Gord Baldwin shot from the point low past Mike Zacharias to make it 1-1 at 14:53.
The visitors came close to regaining the lead at 18:20 when the towering Adam Henrich rifled a slapshot from the left wing half boards which Doyle saved but the puck then agonisingly trickled through the crease.
The hosts put in a much better second period performance and added a second after just a minute with Stefan Meyer re-directing a Chad Langlais shot from the left point to make it 2-1 at 21:00 on the powerplay.
Meyer then completed his hattrick at 29:07 after he fired a well placed wristshot high past Zacharias from the left wing after a great pass from Captain Steve Goertzen to give the Steelers a healthy 3-1 lead.
The game turned physical just after the goal when Steelers defenceman Danny Meyers and Blaze agitator Gerome Giudice exchanged pleasantries on the near side boards and both dropped the gloves. Both men traded blows in a short and spirited bout, with a draw being the general consensus of both teams’ fans.
No further scoring followed in a dominant second period, one in which Sheffield outshot the Blaze by 16-8.
The Blaze started the final period strongly, and threatened earlier on when the outstanding Ryan Ginand came close with a backhand effort in the opening minute.
The Steelers countered and added a fourth when Max Lacroix blasted home a slapshot from just inside the Blaze zone low blocker side past Zacharias at 43:34 for his eleventh goal of the season.
The hosts well and truly had the Blaze on the backfoot when they netted a fifth courtesy of Stefan Meyer once again, when he was perfectly placed to tap home a rebound whilst lying on the ice after an initial Chris Blight rebound fell nicely for him at 49:23.
The game was all but done when Chris Blight endeared himself to the Steelers fans on his home debut when he dropped the gloves with Blaze defenceman Steven Chalmers. The young Blaze blueliner had bitten off more than he could chew as Blight overpowered him and reigned blows in to take an easy victory in the bout at 53:10.
The clock ticked away to ensure the Steelers took the two points and an important confidence-boosting win ahead of Wednesday night’s Challenge Cup Semi Final, after a truly Jekyll and Hyde weekend on the ice.
Steelers Head Coach Doug Christiansen offered his thoughts from the game, “It was a massive performance and a great response from the team, and it was exactly what we wanted. I thought the guys battled and competed and did the things we asked of them, and when you do that we’re pretty good, and we were good tonight,” Christiansen said.
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