SHEFFIELD, U.K. – The Sheffield Steelers recorded their first loss in the Challenge Cup last night against old foes the Nottingham Panthers.
Both teams had already progressed through to the latter stages of the competition, so last night’s encounter was nothing more than a scrimmage for bragging rights at the National Ice Centre in Nottingham.
Both teams iced their backup goalies with Geoff Woolhouse and Dan Green of Sheffield and Nottingham respectively, both getting the nod for the fixture.
The Steelers had Rod Sarich return from a groin injury while Panthers forward David Clarke was sitting out with an injury of his own.
Geoff Woolhouse was called into action earlier on as he saved superbly from the Panthers Matt Francis with a great glove save in the second minute.
Halfway through the first period it was the visitors who were to score first courtesy of Drew Fata with a bullet from the left point on the powerplay at 10:54 to make it 1-0.
At 16:34 the Steelers had the opportunity to double their advantage as Jeff Legue stride clear on a breakaway, only to be denied by Dan Green in the Panthers goal, who read Legue’s move well.
The Steelers held on to their slender advantage and took it into the first period intermission.
The hosts looked like a completely different team in the second period and they were dominating the play and soon got their just desserts.
The Panthers were gifted a powerplay opportunity and soon took advantage of it when Eric Werner rifled home a slapshot from the point high past Geoff Woolhouse to make it 1-1 at 24:59.
The Panthers reinforced their dominance and the Steelers were struggling to clear their defensive zone, with Woolhouse having to step up time and time again, with a string of impressive saves.
The Steelers gifted the Panthers a second goal when defenceman Matt Stephenson made an errant pass through the zone from the corner, with Panthers power forward Bruce Graham pouncing on the loose puck and dispatching a backhand shot nicely past Woolhouse, who was hung out to dry at 37:51.
The Panthers were the much happier of the two teams as they dominated the second stanza and out shot the Steelers 15-4.
The hosts started the third period in a similar fashion to the second, with Sheffield struggling to keep up with the Panthers relentless forecheck and brilliant passing plays.
The Panthers almost doubled their lead when NHL lockout player Anthony Stewart found himself on a breakaway only to be denied superbly by former Panthers goaltender Geoff Woolhouse.
At 43:33 the Panthers made it 3-1 courtesy of Bruce Graham who fired home nicely after using Steelers defenceman Rod Sarich as a screen to fire high past Woolhouse.
The Steelers pressed and pulled the game to within a goal courtesy of sparkplug Tylor Michel who skated in from the corner and faked a pass only to deke in front and fire past Dan Green on the powerplay at 45:40.
The Panthers almost scored a fourth just moments later through Anthony Stewart only to have referee Tom Darnell wash it out, much to the delight of the Steelers players who collectively breathed a sigh of relief.
With just over five minutes in the game remaining Tylor Michel and David Ling came to blows with both men being assessed penalties for slashing with the latter receiving a 5 plus game penalty.
The Steelers pulled Woolhouse with just 35 seconds remaining, which almost backfired as Marc Levers almost scoring. The clock ticked away ensuring the Panthers won 3-2 and claimed another two points in the Challenge Cup.
The Steelers are back in league action tomorrow night at Ice Sheffield as they take on the impressive Fife Flyers in league action.
The Flyers have recently been boosted with the addition of former Braehead player Bobby Chaumont who will be in the lineup hoping to impress on his debut weekend.
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