Steelers start off Christmas schedule with mixed fortunes

SHEFFIELD, U.K. – The Sheffield Steelers claimed two vital league points out of a possible four at the weekend, as they beat the Hull Stingrays away on Saturday before losing in a hard fought game against the Belfast Giants on Sunday.

Steelers start hectic Cristmas schedule with a win and a loss.

Steelers start hectic Cristmas schedule with a win and a loss.

The Steelers travelled the short journey down the M18 to take on the Hull Stingrays in Elite League action, in what turned out to be a feisty encounter between the two Yorkshire rivals.
The visitors started off strongly and forced Stingrays’ netminder Ben Bowns into making some early saves, keeping the Steelers efforts at bay.
The Steelers were gifted an early powerplay opportunity with former Steeler Tom Squires sitting out a minor penalty for tripping.
Just 41 seconds into the man advantage and the Steelers got their breakthrough courtesy of in-form defenceman Matt Stephenson who snuck in back post to one time a low slapshot past Bowns from close range to give his team a 1-0 lead at 5:04.
The Stingrays pressed and less than four minutes later they restored parity on the powerplay courtesy of American winger Dominic Osman who was unmarked back post and tapped home a nice goalmouth pass from Matt Davies to tie the game up 1-1 at 9:02.
Both teams exchanged chances, but the next goal would go the way of the visitors with Drew Fata rifling home a blistering wristshot top shelf past Bowns, even gaining the plaudits and adoration from several Stingrays fans, to regain the lead at 10:45.
The Steelers were relentless on the forecheck in the Stingrays zone and almost converted after forcing a turnover, with Steelers Captain Jonathan Phillips coming agonisingly close, as his shot trickled through the goalmouth.
The Steelers doubled their advantage with just over five minutes remaining in the period when Jeff Legue one-timed home a nice slapshot past Bowns, after a great pass from recent Steelers addition Simon Ferguson to make it 3-1.
The Steelers went into the first period break the happier of the two teams after a dominant first period out shooting the hosts 13-6.
The Stingrays came out in the second period with fire in their bellies, and chief tough guy Ryan Hand was looking for a willing dance partner, so that he could try to ignite a spark to spur his team on. No one obliged Hand due to Steelers Coach Ryan Finnerty instructing his players not to fight.
The Stingrays had a much improved second period, with Cale Tanaka and Jereme Tendler coming close, only to be denied my Steelers netminder John DeCaro, who would go on to take the Man Of The Match award for his stellar performance.
Steelers netminder John DeCaro had a solid weekend between the pipes (Image courtesy of Dean Woolley)

Steelers netminder John DeCaro had a solid weekend between the pipes (Image courtesy of Dean Woolley)

Tempers were fraying in the second stanza with Steven Goertzen and Cale Tanaka of Sheffield and Hull (respectively) exchanging brief blows and Christmas cards.
The hosts got their just deserts at 32:47 on the powerplay, with Dominic Osman finding himself all alone in the slot to fire home a nice top shelf effort to bring the game to within a goal.
The Rays’ came close to equalising with Cale Tanaka on a breakaway, but he was denied superbly by the Steelers American shotstopper John DeCaro in the 35th minute.
The Stingrays started the first period strongly and threatened early on with Osman coming close to completing his hat trick just two minutes in with a nice wristshot, but once again being thwarted by DeCaro.
The visitors countered and soon restored their two goal lead when veteran forward Ashley Tait was on hand to dispatch a low rebounded shot after an initial Steve Goertzen effort on the powerplay to make it 4-2 at 47:55.
Just ten seconds after the Steelers goal, the Stingrays almost had one of their own with top scorer Jereme Tendler rifling a shot off the crossbar, signalling the hosts intent with just over ten minutes of the game remaining.
Both teams pressed and with just 13 seconds of the game remaining tempers flared when Kurtis Dulle was assessed a checking to the head penalty, with Steelers forward Simon Ferguson being on the receiving end.
During the commotion Steelers defenceman Chris Frank and Jason Silverthorn paired up and traded blows, much to the frustration of Ryan Hand who had tried all game in vain to get Frank to fight him.
Ryan Hand was given a ten-minute misconduct penalty and escorted off the ice as he was trying to fight anyone and everyone during the stoppage.
Steelers’ feisty forward Jason Hewitt and Stingrays goalscorer Dominic Osman also dropped the gloves, with Hewitt getting a surprising victory over the much bigger Osman.
After the dust had settled, the clock ticked away and the Steelers took the all-important two points after an impressive victory.
If Steelers fans cant make the Hull away fixture I would thoroughly recommend the club’s live webcast, which I was watching from the media gallery and it looked first class.
The Steelers returned to home ice 24-hours later in a crunch match against fellow title rivals the Belfast Giants.
The Steelers came out of the gates strongly in front of a bumper crowd at the Motorpoint Arena and dominated the opening period, with a relentless work ethic and hitting everything in a teal green Giants uniform, looking like a team possessed.
The Steelers came close just two minutes in when Chris Frank was denied by the impressive Stephen Murphy in the Giants goal.
Murphy was once again called into action in the fifth minute to rob Jason Hewitt of a nice wrap around effort, with a masterful save.
The visitors came close with an effort in the eleventh minute when top points scorer Noah Clarke struck the post, much to the bemusement of the former NHL player.
At 16:31 the Giants got a goal against the run of play courtesy of agitator Darryl Lloyd who got the decisive last touch on an Adam Keefe shot to give the visitors the early advantage, making it 1-0.
The Steelers came close to equalising before the end of the period when Simon Ferguson and Tylor Michel found themselves on a 2-on-1 only to be denied by the crossbar.
Matt Stephenson had a great game on Saturday with a 1%2B2 tally (Image courtesy of Dean Woolley)

Matt Stephenson had a great game on Saturday with a 1%2B2 tally (Image courtesy of Dean Woolley)

The closing seconds of the first period ticked away, one in which the Steelers were unlucky to not lead after out shooting the visitors 14-8.
Both teams came out strongly in the second period, and the Steelers carried on with the intensity that they started the game with.
Giants Captain and chief enforcer Adam Keefe was tied up with Tylor Michel, in front of the Giants bench and whilst this was happening the Steelers broke into the Giants defensive zone and Simon Ferguson was on hand to tap home a close range effort to tie the game up at 1-1.
At 26:28 the game turned sour when Tylor Michel landed a beauty of a mid ice hit on Darryl Lloyd, with Giants’ defenceman Dave Phillips taking particular exception and leaving the bench to get involved in the melee.
Referee Mike Hicks was wise to Phillips’ stunt and gave him his marching orders for an early shower after his breach of indiscipline.
Steelers pressed and looked for their lifeline but it wasn’t to be as Giants netminder Stephen Murphy kept the hosts chances at bay with a string of impressive saves.
The third period was just 105 seconds old when Darryl Lloyd netted the game-winning goal after a nice re-directed tip from another Adam Keefe shot to give the Giants a 2-1 lead.
Despite a resurgent and valiant Steelers fight back with several chances coming close the Giants held firm and took the valuable two points in their quest to retain the Elite League title.
Sheffield Steelers Head Coach Ryan Finnerty offered his thoughts after the game, “I’m gutted more for the players than I am for me. We out shot Belfast two to one, we laid 64 hits on the Giants, out worked them, out played them and out chanced them. I can’t fault the guys, everyone of them laid it on the line tonight and gave us their all,” Finnety said.
“The wrong team won tonight. Sometimes that happens, we have had it happen to us when we have won a game we should have lost. We haven’t got time to feel sorry for ourselves, we have to get up and get dusted off and start again on Boxing day,” Finnerty added.
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