SHEFFIELD, U.K. – A short benched, injury ravaged Sheffield Steelers side shared the spoils over the weekend with the Cardiff Devils, as they beat their Welsh counterparts in Cardiff on Saturday, before losing in a nail biting encounter in Sheffield on Sunday.
The Steelers were without defenceman Danny Meyers, C had Langlais, and forward Maxime Lacroix before they headed down to the Welsh Capital, and also lost another defenceman, Dustin Kohn after the first period to further complicate their injury woes.
The Steelers drafted in reinforcements with Finish left winger Ilpo Salmivirta joining the club on an initial one-month deal.
The Devils were boosted by the return of former NHL netminder Dan LaCosta, who sustained a concussion in pre-season action against Danish outfit Esbjerg.
His opposite number is also no stranger to the Devils fans. Steelers’ netminder Frank Doyle had initially signed with the Devils, but then pulled out after the university package that they had initially offered him never materialised. This then prompted the Steelers to lure him to Broughton Lane.
Doyle certainly won the battle of the goaltenders that night with a masterful performance, keeping the Devils at bay with some world-class saves and earning himself the Man of the Match award.
The game got underway, and it was a fast and frantic start by both teams, with a hard hitting tempo throughout.
The hosts offered the first real chance with defenceman Tyson Marsh jumping up into the play and forcing a good save from Doyle at 3:20.
The Steelers broke the deadlock at 10:07 with veteran forward Jeff Legue forcing a low wrist shot past LaCosta from the right wing slot for his fifth goal of the campaign, and to give his team a 1-0 lead.
Legue’s marker spurred the visitors on and they soon had the Devils on the back foot, when Great Britain international Robert Dowd hit the crossbar with a nice backhand effort at 11:21.
The hosts were resilient and had a strong spell towards the end of the period, where they dominated possession and controlled the tempo of the game.
The Devils impressive winger Chris Blight found himself on a breakaway, only for his backhand shot to be turned away by Doyle at 17:40.
Against the run of play the visitors doubled their advantage with defenceman Drew Fata rifling in a wristshot from the slot on the powerplay, top shelf over LaCosta’s blocker to give his team a 2-0 lead just 26 seconds before the end of the period.
Both teams came out of the gates flying for the second period with the Devils’ Chris Blight and Steeler Jeff Legue, both offering chances for their respective teams early on.
Frank Doyle was called into action once again at 25:34 when he made a great double save from impressive Devil Andrew Lord and then veteran forward Max Birbraer, much to the Israeli International’s astonishment.
Despite an indisciplined middle stanza from the visitors, they soon added a third goal on the powerplay courtesy of Robert Dowd who re-directed a Tim Spencer point shot past LaCosta at 27:44 with Salmivirta picking up an assist on his debut to make it 3-0.
The Devils piled the pressure on the Steelers when former Nottingham Panther Matt Myers came close with a 2-on-1 chance, only to be denied by a spectacular Frank Doyle leg pad save at 28:45.
The visitors soon added a fourth with Rob Dowd grabbing his second of the night at 29:41 after he one fired home a well-taken wrist shot 5-hole past LaCosta after a nice drop pass from Salmivirta to make it 4-0.
The Devils pressed and were determined to claw their way back into the game, and a string of wreckless penalties from Steelers tough guy Tim Spencer gifted the hosts the opportunity to do so.
Sheffield killed the string of penalties with gusto, but soon fatigue began to take over and it was only a matter of time before the Devils looked likely to get on the scoresheet.
At 37:12 they did just that courtesy of imposing British blueliner Mark Richardson as he snuck in back post to one-time a shot past Doyle, after a nice Birbraer pass from the corner, to reduce the arrears to three.
The Devils started the third period strongly and signalled their intent when Chris Blight stuck the post with a powerful slapshot just 20 seconds into the period.
Just 55 seconds into the final period the Devils netted their second of the game after Andrew Lord superbly redirected a Mark Richardson shot in front of the net, to give his side a glimmer of hope.
With a renewed vigour and optimism and spurred on by a vocal home support the Devils pressed and were determined to take advantage of tired and weary Sheffield side.
Despite late chances from Devils Captain Mac Faulkner and rugged defenceman Brad Plumpton, the Steelers hung on until the final buzzer and collected the two points in a gritty and hard fought road performance.
The two teams battled it out once again 24-hours later at the Motorpoint Arena, with the Devils desperate to avenge the previous nights defeat.
Referee Michael Hicks would once again be in the spotlight with some dubious calls much to the bemusement of both teams, coaches and spectators alike.
The game was a feisty encounter, and this was shown early on when Jason Hewitt invited Chris Blight to drop the gloves centre ice after they tangled on the board’s moments earlier, with a score draw being awarded in a short and spirited bout at 03:04.
The hosts pressed and almost broke the deadlock when Gord Baldwin forced a good save from Dan LaCosta in the fifth minute.
The Devils deservedly took the lead at 08:14 with a spectacular play from Mark Richardson as he went end-to-end and handed the puck off to Jake Morrisette who then fed the puck back to Richardson, who duly slotted the puck home with a well taken wrist shot, to make it 1-0.
At 13:29 the game turned physical once again when speedy Devils forward Luke Piggott finished a hit high on Steelers Captain Steven Goertzen near to the Devils bench, with the hit being deemed as a 2+10 for a check to the head.
The Steelers almost restored parity moments later on the powerplay with Stefan Meyer forcing a great save from LaCosta once again.
It was mainly one way traffic in the second period in favour of the Devils as they outshot Sheffield by 15-5.
Less than four minutes into the period and the Devils doubled their advantage courtesy of skipper Mac Faulkner who rifled home a blistering slapshot on the powerplay, with Mark Richardson picking up an assist on the play at 23:53.
The Steelers ran into more penalty trouble with some dubious calls from Referee Mike Hicks once again, puzzling the players with a tripping penalty on Jonathan Phillips and a hooking penalty on Jeff Legue.
At 33:03 Faulkner netted his second of the game in emphatic fashion as the Devils Captain fired home a sublime wrist shot, top shelf from the slot on the powerplay to make it 3-0.
Faulkner’s goal and the string of questionable penalties that preceded it were enough for Steelers Head Coach Doug Christiansen who rather animatedly, remonstrated his frustrations with Referee Mike Hicks by the Steelers bench.
Steelers defenceman Drew Fata naively picked up a ten minute misconduct on the play, leaving the already short defensive corps in a tricky spot for the next ten minutes.
With just over a minute to go in the middle stanza the visitors added a rather fortuitous fourth goal with a Chris Blight pass deflecting itself of Steeler stand-in defenceman Tim Spencer’s leg, past a helpless Frank Doyle at 38:59 to make it 4-0.
Doug Christiansen’s in between period team talk must have done the job, as the Steelers netted three unanswered goals in a spirited third period, but unfortunately it was too little, too late for the hosts.
A thunderous slapshot by Rob Dowd from the blueline at 44:16 was the first to beat the impressive LaCosta in the Devils goal, to reduce the arrears to three.
Steelers’ defenceman Gord Baldwin was the next player to get on the scoresheet after he was on hand to tap home an Ilpo Salmivirta rebounded shot at 54:42, to ensure a nervy final five minutes.
Steelers Head Coach Doug Christiansen called a timeout with 1:35 remaining just as the Steelers were handed a powerplay opportunity, and also pulled netminder Doyle in favour of an extra attacker.
The astute tactical decision paid dividends as Stefan Meyer was the first player to pounce on a loose puck during a goal mouth scramble with just 86 seconds of the game remaining, to bring the game to within a goal.
Despite a tense finish the visitors hung on to claim a 4-3 victory, much to the disappointment of the Steelers fans.
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