SHEFFIELD, U.K. – The Sheffield Steelers game plan to ‘rough up’ the Dundee Stars was played to perfection in front of a packed crowd at Ice Sheffield last night, all expecting a grudge match as promised by the Steelers organisation.
The fans were not left disappointed as Sheffield dominated the game from the first puck drop to the final buzzer, firing five goals past the usually dependable Stars’ netminder Nic Riopel.
The mind games began in warm up when the Steelers defensive duo of Chris Frank and Matt Stephenson were hell bent on letting the Stars know that they were there, as they fired pucks into the Stars net, and roughed up Player/Coach Jeff Hutchins with a cross check and a face wash or two.
Hutchins, 34, is certainly no stranger to the physical side of the game as he has chalked up 79 fights in a ten-year professional career. But the Toronto born forward showed his cards by backing down from the imposing Steelers.
The Stars returned fire with the mind games, coming out late onto the ice for the pre-game presentations, which only fuelled the Steelers fans anger, and fired up the Steelers players even more.
The Stars handed former Hull Stingrays forward Janis Ozolins a debut, in a game im sure he would want to forget, as the flashy Latvian was also the target of the Steelers physical superiority.
The game started as a fast and high tempo affair from both teams, with hits being thrown galore and shots being shared early doors.
The Steelers looked like they had scored first when Matt Stephenson fired a shot into Riopel, which he managed to cover underneath his arm as he was sprawled out on the ice.
The Stars then came close with a chance of their own courtesy of the in-form Mike Wirll, but he was denied by an excellent defensive effort by Danny Meyers in the goal crease.
Sheffield broke the deadlock at 09:51 on the powerplay after a scramble in the Stars’ goalmouth, with Shawn Limpright having the decisive touch to put the Steelers 1-0 ahead on the night.
As the Steelers players were celebrating behind Riopel’s now breached goal, Matt Stephenson skated in from the blueline and upended Riopel as referee Dean Smith was at the timekeepers box, relaying the goal information.
Surprisingly not one of the Stars players confronted Stephenson for his antics, including Player/Coach Jeff Hutchins who simply let his prize asset be the subject of Steelers bullying.
The unpunished running of Riopel by Stephenson set a precedent, showing that the Steelers can literally bully and humiliate the Stars and get away with it. The incident set the tone for the night and there was simply no answer from the Stars.
The incident clearly affected Riopel as the Steelers added a second goal just 29 seconds later with Simon Ferguson netting a sublime top shelf effort on a breakaway high glove side past Riopel to make it 2-0, and 4-4 on aggregate at 10:19.
The Steelers pressed and almost added a third in the sixteenth minute when Ferguson tested Riopel with a good effort, with the Quebec-born shot stopper coming up big for the Stars.
At 17:08 the Steelers added a third courtesy of veteran forward Jeff Legue who netted high past Riopel on a 2-on-1 with Mark Thomas. The goal ensured that Sheffield edged ahead 5-4 on aggregate, much to the delight and relief of the Steelers faithful.
Stars’ netminder Riopel did himself no favours when he knocked the net off its moorings countless times when the Steelers were bearing in on his goal. He was greeted with a chorus of boo’s for his cheap tactics.
The Steelers then netted a fourth at 17:47 thanks to the outstanding Simon Ferguson who’s low right wing shot from a tight angle managed to beat Riopel near post, a goal which the Stars’ netminder would want back. Nevertheless the goal gave the Steelers some much-needed breathing room.
The period was all but done when Tylor Michel added further misery to the lacklustre Stars with his impressive top shelf effort after a great pass from Scott Champagne to make it 5-0 on the night at 19:10.
No further scoring followed in the opening period, one in which the hosts dominated by outshooting the Stars 23-3, in one of the better opening periods that I have seen in recent years.
The second period was a much more evenly contested one between both teams, as they both managed 9 shots on goal each.
Sheffield had the better of the opening chances with Simon Ferguson coming close with a blistering wristshot, only to be denied superbly by Riopel.
The Steelers pressed and still kept up the physical play on the Stars, visibly rattling and knocking the confidence of the Scottish team.
The visitors came close at 28:42 with EIHL top scorer Sami Ryhanen almost adding another to his impressive tally.
At 39:21 tempers frayed again when Chris Frank and Jeff Hutchins exchanged pleasantries, with both men being assessed coincidental two-minute minor roughing penalties for their troubles.
Both teams came out strong for the final period, with the Ryhanen firing a shot at John DeCaro’s mask at 44:18.
The Steelers added their sixth of the night courtesy of the ‘British Bulldog’ Jason Hewitt as he re-directed a Jeff Legue slapshot from the blueline at 47:56, to make it 8-4 on aggregate to the hosts.
Just 29 seconds later the Steelers netted their seventh and final goal with Jonathan Phillips taking the plaudits with a well taken goal, to complete the scoring rout at Ice Sheffield.
The seventh goal was the final nail in the coffin for Hutchins as he replaced Riopel in the net with young Scottish understudy Craig Chalmers for the final eleven minutes of the game.
The Steelers had only one shot on the deputising goaltender, a signal perhaps that the message had been sent loud and clear, and they had mercy on their opponents in the latter stages of the game.
The clock ticked down ensuring that the Steelers progressed through to the Challenge Cup semi final with a 9-4 aggregate victory, confirming they will face another Scottish team, the Braehead Clan.
The 7-0 shutout was netminder John DeCaro’s second of the season, turning away 16 shots in the process.
Stars Captain A.J. MacLean was given the man of the match award for his team, whilst in a rarely seen before move the Steelers ‘team’ were given the man of the match award for their heroic comeback effort, epitomising the workmanlike performance of the city it represents.
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