It’s troubled times in Sheffield that’s for sure. Whilst the Challenge Cup hopes were reignited on Saturday, Sunday saw more misery. Here’s my analysis of the weekend that has just finished.
Saturday night saw the Steelers make the short trip across the Pennines and into Cheshire to face Ryan Finnerty and the Manchester Storm. By all accounts from what updates I was getting, the match itself was a bit of a turgid affair. It took until the final 13 minutes for the scoring to happen, and it was the home side who broke the deadlock when a scramble around Jackson Whistle’s cage was eventually jammed home by Storm’s Luke Moffatt.
Steelers equalised with a strike from Josh Pitt, his 6th of the season after he circled around a Storm defender before snapping an effort past Matt Ginn in the home goal. Then it was a case of who would go on and win it, with each point gained being oh so important. With 15 seconds left, Steelers snatched it. Player/Assistant Coach Mark Matheson took possession and found Stefan Della Rovere, and he circled to find Steelers newcomer Brendan Brooks to jam in the game winner. An amazing start to his Steelers career for Brooks who had spent the majority of the previous day or two travelling to England.
The visitors on Sunday were the current holders of the EIHL title, Cardiff. Steelers were without Kieran Brown, Davey Phillips and Robert Dowd whilst the Devils were at just missing Justin Faryna. Could the Steelers spring a surprise on them? Well Steelers made a positive start, Aaron Johnson and Pitt both going close but Devils’ South Yorkshire born netminder Ben Bowns denied on each occasions. At 4:25 Devils scored, a pass across the crease and Whistle mistimed his poke check attempt to clear, leaving Stephen Dixon to score at the far post unmarked. Less than a couple of minutes later, it was 2-0. Craig Moore with a low shot in the far corner. Steelers were on the back foot already, and conceded a third at 7:37 when Layne Ulmer got the vital tip in front of Whistle to net on the man advantage as Steelers Jordan Owens sat a hooking minor.
Joey Haddad: Inspirational. Picture – cardiffdevils.com
You could sense a case of deja vu enveloping the Fly DSA Arena, as after a bright start Steelers had been punished by a fast skating and creative Devils side. Some fans were thinking; were their pre-game match predictions starting to head towards reality. Things got worse just shy of the eight minute mark, when Whistle was replaced by Brad Day. It was not known at the time but Whistle had been ill the night before and on game day with sickness and migraines. Yet thought on arrival at the rink he was ready to play, which there gets me thinking. If, as coach you knew that your number one netminder was ill, why did you agree with him that he should start? I would have said: “Sorry Jackson, your health comes first – I ain’t gonna risk it.” even if the goalie pleaded to play. What does that also say about Brad Day then? Does Thompson not trust Day, despite him having a stellar game in IAW in the closing stages of last season. Makes you wonder.
Bryce Reddick made it 4-0 to the Devils at 12:03, dispatching an effort beyond Day after Ben Blood’s initial shot had come out to him. However, Thompson still didn’t call a time out which I found a bit of puzzle. Call a time out to refocus the troops, stop the bleeding if you want to put it that way. But nothing of the sort happened. Was there a way back into it? Well a glimmer of hope came at 16:36, and a scrappy goal at that. Steelers decided to crash the net and the puck was eventually forced in by Pitt for his team leading 7th of the season. No further scoring happened after that, and the opening period ended 4-1 in the Devils favour. It had been a horrible period for the Steelers with Devils looking clinical and ready to pounce on any error.
The second period saw the Steelers a bit more into it with a few more chances just not going their way. Brooks hit the post and Justin Buzzeo hitting the side netting being two noted efforts. Yet Devils still looked dangerous to score more, and Day had to be alert to deny Ulmer a second goal of the night when the impressive Charles Linglet teed him up. Andrew Lord obviously wasn’t overly happy with his team and called a time out at 32:40 which with his side 4-1 up, seemed a touch weird. But he used it to great effect so he could get his team refocused and back on it. It had an effect as the Devils started to buzz again and they added a fifth at 34:11 when after a scramble, Joey Martin forced the puck in. There was still time for a sixth goal, and if I was Paul Thompson it was a horrible one to see my team concede. A shot from the blue line, padded away straight to a Devil and then a quick heads up pass to a team-mate who is unchallenged in the slot to score. Second of the night for Dixon, but Steelers just puck watched.
The game was over completely, Devils knew they had once more come into Sheffield and got their game plan right again. Andrew Lord certainly has a bit of a number on Thompson for sure. Some happiness for the Steelers faithful did come at 44:13, when skipper Jonathan Phillips blasted an effort past Bowns to reduce his home city’s lead to 2-6. All that Devils had to do was to see the game out and they did that with ease, which made the remainder of the game a bit of a non-event. The final buzzer was greeted with a chorus of boos as Steelers fans vented their frustration. For Tony Smith, that must be concerning as it’s clear the on-ice product is not working at all. Whilst for Paul Thompson, the heat is getting turned up and a win on Wednesday against Dundee is imperative else the unhappiness will continue. Troubled times indeed.