Welcome to my review of this weekend’s Sheffield Steelers games. The weekend saw the Steelers host Manchester Storm on the Saturday in Challenge Cup action, then make the trip down to Surrey and the Spectrum to face the Guildford Flames in Elite League action. Could they build on back to back to wins against Milton Keynes and Fife? Here’s my analysis..
Steelers were at home to the Storm in search for their first win of the Challenge Cup campaign. They were without Robert Dowd still but other than that, at full strength. Storm were missing offensive defenceman Félix-Antoine Poulin and playmaker Mike Hammond but still had the firepower that could cause the Steelers problems. Tom Darnell and Andrew Miller were the referees whilst Paul Staniforth and Nathan Carmichael ran the lines.
Storm could have opened the scoring in the first 25 seconds but it took a smart save from Jackson Whistle to deny as the visitors made a fast start. However that opening period ended scoreless despite both sides having plenty of chances and Steelers having to show some heroic penalty killing when Storm were on a 5 on 3; clearly the creation of Hammond was being missed as he definitely makes things tick for Ryan Finnerty’s team.
The goalies continued to keep the game scoreless until the tie eventually was broken at 28:50. Czech defenceman Jiri “George” Gula stepping into the play to wrist a superb effort over Matt Ginn top shelf; his first for the Steelers. Ginn then denied Justin Buzzeo and Evan McGrath as the Steelers looked for a second but they were still relying on Whistle to shut the door on the Storm who looked extremely dangerous. With 56 seconds left in the period, Storm levelled and it was a nightmare goal to concede for the home side. Steelers were on a powerplay but coughed up possession in their zone and eventually Luke Moffatt said thank you very much. 1-1 at the end of the second.
Three minutes into the final period, Steelers regained their lead. Great play from Jordan Owens saw him feed McGrath and he snapped an effort beyond Ginn, and again into the far top corner. Steelers powerplay was not functioning, which for a Steelers fan is something that has been a worry for a while, and Storm were never out of it. They drew level for a second time at 53:16, good interchange play from the visitors saw Ciaran Long fire the puck home. For a team goal, that was well worked. Storm then had more chances to win it but it was taking some acrobatic saves from Whistle to deny them.
Overtime couldn’t separate the sides so we went to a shootout, and it wasn’t the best one. Of the nine efforts, Rob Linsmayer of the Storm was the only one to score with an effort that went high over Whistle to give the Storm the extra point and put the Steelers really behind the proverbial eight ball in qualifying. A reality check for Steelers and more food for thought as they continue to struggle to impress this season.
Linsmayer’s winning penalty shot. Photo: Dean Woolley
So could the Steelers show redemption on the Sunday? They went into the Spectrum with the same line up that had lost the previous night but rumours circulating around the futures of certain players. Guildford hadn’t played since losing 3-2 at Coventry seven days previous so they were very fresh. Of their two import goalies, former NHL draft pick Chris Carrozzi got the nod from Paul Dixon with Travis Fullerton backing him up. Dixon’s decision to use both import goalies meant one player had to sit, forward Brett Ferguson being the one chosen.
As expected, the freshness of the Flames meant they had the best of the opening stages and thus it came as no surprise that they were the first on the board. Steelers defensive failings struck again as they failed to clear and Evan Janssen (no relation to Cam) threaded the puck through the five hole of Whistle at 7:56. Steelers came back in response, Ryan Rupert hitting the pipework and then the team having a 5 on 3 which proved unproductive.
The second period saw the teams trade chances again, and for the Steelers there was even more agony as Josh Pitt struck the pipework: the second time the Steelers had done so. Then at 27:28, Flames scored a second and once more Steelers only had themselves to blame. The visitors lost the puck possession in their own zone, Jez Lundin found Kruise Reddick and he dispatched the puck beyond Whistle. Just over three minutes later, it became 3-0 when Calle Ackered caused Whistle to commit, round him and then gleefully crash the puck home. It was enough to force Steelers into a time out as they looked to stem the bleeding. Yet there was worse to come in the final stages of the period, Ian Watters scoring a fourth for the Flames with 1:42 left in that period.
Steelers ran into penalty problems in the final period, and with just a shade over eight minutes left in the game the Flames went nap. With Aaron Johnson sitting a holding the stick minor, Flames created their chance and Reddick was on hand to take the feed from his sidekick Dunbar, who picked up his third assist of the night, and score his second of the game. After the goal, Whistle was taken off and Brad Day made his first appearance of the season as relief goalie. They did manage to break Carrozzi’s shutout with 4:56 left, Justin Buzzeo scoring his second of the season with helpers going to Chris Lawrence and Tanner Eberle. But that was as good as the scoring got and Steelers went down to a slick and efficient Flames 5-1 on the night.
So all in all, a pretty horrendous weekend for the Steelers and definitely a lot to work on. They face Manchester in the Storm Shelter on Saturday in the Challenge Cup, a game they have to win if they really want to make the knockout stages and then have the simple, okay I’m being sarcastic here, task of defeating a team known as the League Champions on the Sunday. The heat is definitely on!