SHEFFIELD, U.K. – The Sheffield Steelers had a superb weekend by recording three wins in three nights against some tough opposition in Cardiff, Coventry and Hull.
The Steelers first played host to the Cardiff Devils at the Motorpoint Arena on Friday evening in Challenge Cup action.
The teams had previously met three times this season in league action with the South Wales side taking two wins and Sheffield the other.
The opening period saw both teams share chances in a hard-hitting high tempo display. The Devils came close early on with the influential Mac Faulkner striking the post with a good effort in the eighth minute.
The only goal in the opening period would go the way of the hosts when they were gifted a powerplay opportunity as Devils’ defenceman Mark Smith sat out interference minor.
Steelers impressive defenceman Drew Fata then rifled home a shot from the point for his third goal of the season at 19:34 to make it 1-0.
The Devils stepped it up in the second period and were soon on level terms when Ben Davies fired home at 22:01 to make it 1-1.
The Devils raced ahead to a 2-1 lead three minutes later when Tyson Marsh blasted home a shot from the blue line at 25:24 to give the visitors the lead for the first time in the game.
Both teams pressed and the hosts soon restored parity courtesy of Shawn Limpright who fired home a low wrist shot as he raced in down the right wing to make it 2-2 at 29:51.
The Steelers soon regained the lead when former NHL’er Steven Goertzen netted a nice wrist shot effort from the right wing, to give his team a 3-2 lead at 31:17 with the goal being Goertzen’s fifth of the season.
Cardiff pressed but couldn’t find a reply in a period in which they out shot the hosts 14-8.
In the fiftieth minute the Steelers towering NHL’er Tom Sestito endeared himself further to the Sheffield fans as he levelled Devils mouthy forward Devin DiDiomete with a powerful bone crunching hit on the boards.
Four minutes later the visitors tied the game up thanks to Stuart MacRae who was at the end of a Phil Hill rebound to make it 3-3 at 54:00.
No further scoring followed ensuring that the Challenge Cup game would be settled in extra time.
Just under a minute into overtime and it were the hosts who would have the first real chance as Devil’s goaltender Phil Osaer had to stand firm to deny a Steven Goertzen effort.
Former Devil Tylor Michel also came close with an effort of his own, only to be denied by the terrific Phil Osaer.
The clock ticked away with no further scoring, meaning that the game would be decided by a penalty shootout.
Both Phil Osaer and John DeCaro of Cardiff and Sheffield respectively, pulled of some big saves in the shootout, with the decisive goal being scored by the Steelers Drew Fata with his fine top shelf wrist shot, ensuring that the Steelers would take the victory and the two points on offer.
The Steelers travelled to the Midlands on Saturday evening to face the Coventry Blaze in league action, with the South Yorkshire side dominant throughout, keeping the hosts to just 14 shots all game, while the visitors piled 43 on Peter Hirsch’s net.
Sheffield soon opened their account courtesy of Tom Sestito as he was on hand to tap home a close range effort after a Drew Fata slapshot on the powerplay at 3:27 to make it 1-0.
Ten minutes into the first period Shawn Limpright had the opportunity to extend the Steelers lead as he was given a penalty shot after being hooked back on a breakaway.
Limpright failed to convert his chance, as he couldn’t muster up a shot worthy of beating the Blaze’s Danish international goaltender Peter Hirsch.
Coventry’s own NHL’er Matt Beleskey came close for the hosts as he rifled a shot over the goal on a Blaze powerplay in the fourteenth minute.
The Steelers maintained their dominance in the second period, and the Blaze’s minimal efforts were kept at bay by the in-form Steelers netminder John DeCaro.
At 31:57 Steven Goertzen doubled the visitors advantage when he shot low 5-hole on Hirsch after a great pass from Tylor Michel to make it 2-0.
Just under a minute later after a line change the Blaze’s pantomime villain Benn Olson purposely skated into the Steelers Jason Hewitt which then caused Tom Sestito to seek remonstration.
Olson instigated a fight with Sestito much like he has this season by jumping the Steelers forwarded and picking up the instigator penalty.
The bout was spirited and Olson took the honours, as Sestito was reluctant to throw punches at Olson’s ever-present helmet during the fight.
Sheffield pressed looking to extend their lead further and came close before the end of the period with Shields and Meyers forcing good saves from Hirsch.
The visitors started strongly in the third period once again with Sestito almost netting with a nice tip-in effort.
At 49:46 Sheffield netted their third of the night after Lee Esders was on hand to fire home an Ashley Tait shot that fortuitously rebounded off the post to the trailing Esders to make it 3-0.
The clock ticked down in the final period, one that the Blaze only managed one shot on goal. The Steelers once again travelled home with the two points from the Midlands.
The Steelers were on home ice once again, and playing their third game in as many nights.
A capacity crowd was on hand at Ice Sheffield to witness a fast tempo and exhilarating game with Sheffield eventually claiming a 4-2 win, completing their six point rout over the weekend.
Steelers back up netminder was given the start in the Challenge Cup fixture, and he didn’t disappoint, showing why he is arguably the best back up goalie in the EIHL.
Stingray’s goaltender Ben Bowns had to be alert early as he saved well from fellow countryman Ashley Tait in the fourth minute. Bowns went on to have an impressive game, showing why he has garnered the praise and recognition that he rightly deserves.
At 10:01 Colin Shields found Jeff Legue with a nice breakaway pass with the Steelers #11 calmly slotting the puck past Bowns with a neat backhand move to put the Steelers 1-0 up.
The second period was just three minutes old when the weekend’s talking point occurred.
Steelers tough guy Tom Sestito finished a hard hit on the Rays’ Andy Ward with the Hull player falling awkwardly into the plexi glass, and having to leave the game on a stretcher with a suspected concussion.
Referees Paul Staniforth and Mike Hicks deemed the hit to be worthy of a match penalty for a check to the head.
The Steelers have today announced that they are appealing the decision with the League and are awaiting an outcome.
The hit on Ward then caused Rays’ enforcer Ryan Hand to seek retribution with Sestito and the two dropped the gloves in front of the Steelers bench with Sestito claiming the upper hand. The linesmen then came in to separate the combatants with Hand then throwing some over the top lefts catching Sestito.
Hand was assessed the instigator penalty on the play and would be ushered off to the dressing room for the remainder of the period.
After the commotion had died down, Sheffield extended their lead courtesy of Colin Shields who fired home a nice shot on the powerplay, after a great pass from Jeff Legue on the play at 32:09.
The Steelers could have extended their lead further if it wasn’t for the net minding heroics of Ben Bowns once again.
The Rays’ got their lifeline when Tylor Michel turned over the puck in the neutral zone, which lead to a 2 on 1 for the Rays, with Matty Davies converting nicely from a Cale Tanaka pass at 36:50.
The visitors had chance to level the game just moments later with Sheffield born Chris Sykes failing to convert on a breakaway.
The Stingrays came out the gates early in the final period when silky smooth Latvian Janis Ozolins netted a nice backhand effort on the powerplay to tie the game up at 42:05.
The Rays’ could have taken the lead in the forty-ninth minute with Ozolins rattling a mighty slapshot off the crossbar, giving the Steelers food for thought.
The Steelers pressed and soon got their go-ahead-goal with Matt Stephenson rocketing home a shot from the point on the powerplay at 53:02 with Legue and Shields picking up assists on the play.
Sheffield then added the fourth and final nail to the Stingrays coffin at 56:55 on the powerplay when Rod Sarich fired home after a scramble in front to make it 4-2.
Man Of The Match awards were given out to Jeff Legue for his 1+3 performance, and to the impressive Ben Bowns.
Steelers Head Coach Ryan Finnerty offered his thoughts after the game, “ Overall I was delighted with the three performances, when you get to game three it’s more about the result than the performance to be honest,” Finnerty said. “I think the weekend is a turning point. Guys have realised that if we continue to play that well we will limit teams to fewer chances and create scoring opportunities of our own,” Finnerty added. “The penalty to Tom was the one down spot, I thought at the time it was a tough call. I have the DVD with me and I’ll go home to watch it. The good news is that I am told Andy Ward is OK, he took a nasty knock but I thought Tommy eased up and just finished his check. As I say we will look at it again in the cold light of day later,” Finnerty explained.
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