SHEFFIELD, U.K. – The Sheffield Steelers campaign to reduce the seven point deficit between themselves and table toppers the Nottingham Panthers took a dramatic set back after losing to them last night.
The Steelers firstly had to take on the Coventry Blaze on Saturday at the Sheffield Motorpoint Arena, before they could focus on the Panthers challenge.
The Blaze started off strongly and had the opening shot of the game courtesy of Brad Leeb, after just 35 seconds.
The Steelers came close with a chance of their own just over a minute later with rugged defenceman Chris Frank missing by a whisker with an attempted wrap around.
The visitors ran into a host of penalty trouble during the first period with four minor penalties being assessed on them.
The Steelers took advantage of one such powerplay as Blaze defenceman James Griffin was sitting out a hooking penalty.
Just five seconds into the man advantage the Steelers opened their account courtesy of feisty forward Simon Ferguson, who tipped home a Rod Sarich point shot at 09:50.
The Steelers celebrations were short lived as the Blaze equalised just 15 seconds later with veteran forward Brad Leeb having the decisive touch after a goal mouth scramble at 10:05 to make it 1-1.
In the sixteenth minute the Steelers almost edged ahead as Tylor Michel forced a good save from the Blaze’s Danish international goaltender Peter Hirsch.
No further scoring followed ensuring the Steelers went into the period break the happier of the two teams after outshooting the Blaze 12-7.
The Steelers came out strongly in the second period and at 22:45 they took the lead courtesy of fan favourite Tylor Michel, after he skated in from the right wing and cut in front of the net and roofed a shot top shelf past Hirsch to make it 2-1.
Both teams exchanged chances in a more evenly contested second period with the Blaze coming close in the 36th minute after a Brad Leeb slapshot tested Steelers netminder John DeCaro.
Both teams came out strongly for the final period, and like the middle stanza, it would be the Steelers who were to score next thanks to Simon Ferguson who fired low past Hirsch back post after a 2-on-1 break with Steelers Captain Jonathan Phillips, to give the team a 3-1 lead at 45:39.
The Steelers pressed and gave themselves breathing room as Jeff Legue netted the teams fourth goal, when he netted back hand 5-hole past Hirsch after a great play from defenceman Danny Meyers to pave the way for the goal at 46:44.
The Steelers stepped it up a gear in the final period and had the majority of possession with the Blaze well and truly on the back foot.
Tempers flared at 55:41 when Steelers agitator Shawn Limpright and Blaze defenceman Mike Egener traded blows in front of the Blaze goal.
As Limpright was skating back to the bench, Blaze enforcer Benn Olson made a beeline for the Steelers forward and jumped the player punching him whilst he was down on the ice.
Steelers’ lynchpin defenceman Drew Fata took exception to Olson’s cowardly act, and as the Blaze defenceman was leaving the ice, Fata offered him the chance to drop the gloves at centre ice.
Olson duly obliged and both players fought in a long and spirited bout with Olson claiming a point’s win in a close fight, but Fata won the respect and adoration of his teammates and fans alike at the Motorpoint Arena.
The game was all but done when the visitors grabbed a late consolation goal courtesy of Dustin Cameron who fired a wrist shot through traffic which found the back of the net at 56:25.
The clock ticked down ensuring the Steelers claimed a 4-2 victory and two vital league points after an impressive and well-deserved victory.
The Steelers took to home ice once again 24 hours later in a grudge match against old foes the Nottingham Panthers.
A bumper crowd in Sheffield threw caution to the wind battling against the elements to watch the most anticipated match of the New Year so far.
The Panthers got off to the perfect start and were on the scoreboard after just 58 seconds courtesy of Captain Jordan Fox who fired into an empty net, after John DeCaro failed to clear a puck from behind his goal, to gift the visitors a 1-0 lead.
The Steelers restored parity at 07:50 courtesy of Tylor Michel with his second of the weekend when he fired home through traffic on the powerplay to tie the game up at 1-1.
The Steelers came close to taking the lead just moments after with forward Steve Goertzen forcing a good save from the Panthers impressive netminder Craig Kowalski.
The Panthers countered and took the lead at 8:37 thanks to towering forward Bruce Graham who fired home a one-timer after being unmarked due to some sloppy Steelers defensive play to make it 2-1.
The Panthers came out strongly for the second period, one in which they outshot the hosts by 12-3.
The Panthers dominated and could have widened the margin with shots from Jonathan Weaver and David Ling forcing John DeCaro into action.
The Steelers levelled at 28:31 when Steve Goertzen chased down a loose puck on the boards in the Panthers zone, and his centreing feed found Shawn Limpright in front of goal who made no mistake and put the puck past Kowalski to make it 2-2.
The Steelers almost took the lead in the 32nd minute with Scott Champagne coming agonisingly close against his former employers, only to be denied by a great save from Kowalski.
Both teams came out for a more evenly contested third period exchanging chances early on at the ‘House of Steel’.
The first of these chances fell to David Beauregard who was hoping to impress on his return to the team.
At 52:54 the Panthers took the lead in somewhat controversial circumstances as David Clarke sticked fellow Great Britain international Mark Thomas in the face allowing him to have the freedom of being all alone in front of the net to fire high past DeCaro.
Referee Tom Darnell and his two linesmen failed to see the incident, but it didn’t go unnoticed from a strong proportion of the Arena crowd. Clarke later apologised to Thomas in the handshake line for the incident.
The fortuitous and undeserved goal took the wind out of the Steelers sails with David Ling taking advantage and netting the visitors fourth goal beating DeCaro with a strong wristshot past his blocker at 56:17.
At 57:43 the highly anticipated bout between Panthers forward Kelsey Wilson and Steelers agitator Simon Ferguson got the fans on their feet with Ferguson starting strongly with a flurry of left hooks cutting Wilson open next to his right eye.
Wilson finished the fight well and got the take down as Ferguson lost his balance earning a solid score draw for the two combatants.
The Steelers pulled John DeCaro in favour of an extra attacker and despite a late fight back the Panthers held firm and took the 4-2 victory and the all important two points.
Steelers Head Coach Ryan Finnerty offered his thoughts after the game,” I feel for my players right now, they deserve better. They battled throughout and gave me everything they had. Twice we bounced back after an unfortunate start that saw Nottingham take the lead after a miscommunication between Johnny and the D. That happens and we didn’t let it get to us,” Finnerty said.
“We have a huge Challenge Cup game now on Wednesday. It’s a welcome distraction, the boys will bounce back I’m sure,” Finnerty added.
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