SHEFFIELD, U.K. – The Sheffield Steelers traditional games over the festive period against fierce rivals the Nottingham Panthers are certainly games not to be missed.
The two back-to-back games on Boxing Day in Nottingham, and 24-hours later at the Motorpoint Arena we certainly no different with 18 goals being chalked up between the two teams.
Sheffield made the short journey down the M1 to take on the Panthers, whom were in fine form before the game, amassing a staggering 21 goals in their previous three games, including an 8-0 demolition of the Coventry Blaze.
From the opening face-off the game was played with the usual intensity and feistiness that has become a customary feature of the famous rivalry.
Both teams exchanged chances early on, with both netminders John DeCaro and Craig Kowalski of Sheffield and Nottingham (respectively) standing firm to the test.
The hosts were gifted a powerplay early on, as Sheffield skipper Jonathan Phillips was assessed a slashing penalty.
Just 89 seconds into the man advantage and the Panthers struck first courtesy of Great Britain international with his seventh goal of the season, with a low drive past DeCaro to make it 1-0 at 3:52.
The Panthers were handed another powerplay opportunity in the fifth minute, with Jonathan Phillips once again sitting out, this time for interference.
On the ensuing powerplay the Panthers came close through former Belfast Giant Brandon Benedict, who had his shot superbly saved by DeCaro.
The Steelers struggled to gather momentum in the first period due to indiscipline and taking silly penalties, which the Panthers capitalised on.
The Panthers doubled their lead at 15:16 when rugged defenceman Jason Beckett netted his own rebound close range low past DeCaro, to give his team some breathing room by making it 2-0.
The Panthers went into the first period intermission the happier of the two teams, after dominating the opening stanza, and outshooting the visitors by 13-4.
The Steelers looked galvanised in the second period and were unlucky to not tie the game up, as Shawn Limpright hit the cross bar on a 2-on-1 with Jonathan Phillips.
Tempers flared between the two teams at 28:40 when Panthers new boy Kelsey Wilson and Steelers agitator Shawn Limpright had a difference of opinion after a hit on the boards in the Panthers zone.
Whilst the two players were having a chat, Panthers enforcer Guy Lepine coaxed Steelers winger Steven Goertzen into dropping the gloves.
Lepine who already has eight fights to his name this season took the honours in a short but spirited bout.
The Panthers blueliner was also assessed a 2+10 penalty for being the instigator and a further two minutes for roughing, as well as his coincidental 5 minute fighting major, which resulted in a 5-on-3 powerplay for the Steelers.
Just 16 seconds into the powerplay Steelers top points scorer Jeff Legue restored parity with a nice top shelf wristshot from the right faceoff circle to make it 1-1 at 28:56.
Both teams pressed and exchanged chances in the final ten minutes of the second period, with Galivan of the Panthers coming agonisingly close as he struck to the post after a great solo effort.
After a more evenly contested second period, the Panthers came out the stronger of the two sides in the final period.
Steelers’ netminder John DeCaro made a string of fine saves early on firstly from Benedict and then from Bruce Graham.
Steelers Head Coach Ryan Finnerty called a timeout with 1:28 of the game remaining in desperate hope to rally his troops.
With netminder John DeCaro pulled in favour of an extra skater, the near 7000 crowd were in for a nervy final 88 seconds.
After a turnover in the Panthers defensive zone, David Clarke broke out with the intent of firing the puck into the empty Steelers net, but after some great Matt Stephenson backchecking Clarke was pressured into firing his goal-bound shot over the bar, much to the bemusement of Clarke and his teammates.
After Clarke’s catastrophic miss, the Steelers broke down the ice bearing in on Craig Kowalski. Shawn Limpright found a trailing Danny Meyers with a brilliant goalmouth pass from the left wing, and the former Panther stalwart re-directed the pass home past Kowalski to send the Steelers fans into raptures with just eighteen seconds of the game remaining.
Meyers, who was deemed surplus to requirements over the summer and replaced with veteran defenceman Jonathan Weaver couldn’t have scored at a better time against his former employers, where he was a mainstay in the side for the last six years, and captaining them for five of those.
In the ensuing overtime period, the Panthers started off strongly threatening on DeCaro’s goal with efforts from Ling, Clarke and Galivan coming close.
Sheffield fought back and exchanged chances of their own with Jeff Legue and Steven Goertzen forcing Kowalski into action with some good saves.
Neither team could score, ensuring that the game would be settled by the nerve wracking but yet awesome spectacle of a penalty shootout.
Shawn Limpright edged the visitors ahead with his calmly taken goal, before the impressive Eric Werner also dispatched his with a fine effort.
After three rounds and 14 penalty shots later, it was to be the hosts who would take the extra point, with Panthers defenceman Eric Werner executing sublimely to give his team the win.
Both teams battled it out once again 24-hours later at the Motorpoint Arena in Sheffield, with a breathtaking crowd of 8,122 on hand to witness a 9-4 demolition of the Panthers.
The hosts struck first courtesy of latest acquisition Chris Frank who snuck into the slot unevaded and fired high past Kowalski after a great Simon Ferguson pass to make it 1-0 at 8:10.
The Steelers celebrations were short lived as the Panthers replied just over a minute later with Matt Myers one-timing home after a nice drop pass by David Clarke to tie the game up at 9:25.
In the thirteenth minute the Steelers were close to regaining the lead when Shawn Limpright struck the crossbar after a 2-on-1 with Tylor Michel.
At 10:34 the Steelers thought that they had got their second of the night from Ashley Tait, but the goal was waved off by referee Mike Hicks due to a ‘man in the crease.’
At 15:34 the Steelers restored their one goal lead with former Panther Ashley Tait all alone in the slot firing high past Kowalski after a great Jeff Legue pass from behind the net to make it 2-1.
What happened next is not for the faint hearted and was certainly the turning point in the exciting and eventful game.
As the Steelers were skating back to their bench to celebrate the Panthers’ Kelsey Wilson viciously two-handed slashed Steelers forward Simon Ferguson in the midriff unprovoked forcing the Steelers player to crumple to the ice in agony.
Ferguson then seeked retribution, only to be restrained by the linesman who got in between him and Wilson.
Panthers’ new boy Wilson was given his marching orders for the slash after being assessed a 5+game penalty for slashing.
The league was asked to investigate the incident by the Steelers, and today (Friday 28th December) Wilson was handed a three game ban for the slash.
Many fans around the league, including the Panthers fans agreed that the 3-game was very lenient and Wilson was certainly a lucky boy after his barbaric assault.
At 17:16 on the resulting powerplay Tylor Michel pounced on a loose puck for the Steelers after a scramble in front of the Panthers net and he calmly slotted it past Kowalski to make it 3-1.
The Steelers went into the period break the happier of the two sides with their 3-1 lead, despite being outshot 16-8.
The hosts started the second period with a brief 34-second powerplay, which the Panthers managed to kill off with ease.
Just 50 seconds into the second period and the Steelers widened the margin to three as Drew Fata rifled home an impressive effort after a neat Simon Ferguson pass to make it 4-1 at 20:50.
The Steelers fans were still celebrating when Ashley Tait netted his second of the night just 18 seconds later to give the Steelers breathing room to make it 5-1 at 21:08.
At 24:35 the Panthers pulled one back courtesy of Pat Galivan who backhanded high past DeCaro after he made an initial save on an Eric Werner shot, but he couldn’t do anything about Galivan’s close range effort.
The Steelers restored their four-goal lead when Ashley Tait pounced on a Pat Galivan stray pass to go on a 2-on-1 and when he reached the top of the face-off circle in the Panthers zone, he let rip a slapshot from the right wing that beat Kowalski to give him his hattrick goal, and make it 6-2 to the Steelers at 35:22.
The Panthers grabbed another goal just moments later when David Clarke tried to find Rob Lachowicz in front of the Steelers net, and it took a fortuitous deflection from a Steelers defenceman and it went past DeCaro in the Steelers net, at 38:05.
The Steelers netted their seventh of the evening just 34 seconds later courtesy of veteran defenceman Rod Sarich who cut into the slot from the right wing and fired a neat wristshot past Kowalski to make it 7-3 at 38:39.
The Panthers started the third period with a change in goal, and replaces the usually dependable and impressive Craig Kowalski with backup netminder Dan Green.
Green was tested early and couldn’t do nothing about a one-timer slapshot from Tylor Michel which would beat most EIHL netminders, the goal being Michel’s second of the night to make it 8-3 at 46:15.
The Steelers soon added their ninth courtesy of Jonathan Phillips who one-timed 5-hole past Green after a great pass from Jeff Legue to make it 9-3 at 47:04.
After the Steelers ninth many Panthers fans decided that they had seen enough and left the Arena much to the amusement of the bumper crowd.
At 48:53 tempers were frayed once again when Chris Frank and Guy Lepine got tied up behind the Panthers net, and both players duly dropped the gloves. Frank got the better of the exchange with the highly acclaimed Guy Lepine.
Just 59 seconds later the gloves were shed once again, this time between Shawn Limpright and Pat Galivan with the Steelers player giving Galivan a lesson in pugilism with a convincing display.
Tylor Michel and Jason Beckett both picked up roughing minors on the play after a brief exchange of handbags.
The game was all but done when Pat Galivan netted a late consolation effort for the visitors, who were having a rare off night at 58:37, with the final score ending at 9-4.
Sheffield Steelers Head Coach Ryan Finnerty offered his thoughts after the game, “ I was so pleased how we stayed disciplined and played to our systems even when the game was won and out of their reach. Our players didn’t go point hunting, they stuck to their guns and showed their real character,” Finnerty said.
“This has been coming, we played well against Dundee and Belfast, then we played OK last night as well. The players know this style is the only style we can play. Everything comes from hard work, we do that and we create chances. Tonight we took them,” Finnerty added.
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