I know one thing is for certain whether it be a past, present or future season…you never have a quiet week when you’re a Sheffield Steelers supporter. Even the close season is never duller than ditchwater, there’s always something happening. This week was no exception as the rollercoaster of emotions took more and more twists. Read on…
It began last Tuesday when the Club announced the departure of former Clan and Flyers forward Brendan Brooks. I’ll touch on this and another departure later in the article as it deserves a paragraph to itself. Well, fast forward then 24 hours and the Steelers were on the road to Guildford for the second meeting this season between the two sides. The previous one had seen the Flames run out comprehensive 5-1 winners but Steelers this time gave a better account of themselves and it took a powerplay blast from Calle Ackered, what a gem of a signing he has been for Paul Dixon, to give the Flames the points by the odd goal in five.
Move forward again another 48 hours, and I’m on the tram after finishing another shift at work when it breaks that Ben O’Connor is leaving his Swedish club Leksands IF. Cue to me making a mad dash that has never been seen before since November 2015 when I must have run the length of Copenhagen Airport to get a connecting flight to Manchester and board with literally seconds to spare. Write an article, which can be read here and time it just perfectly so it coincides with the official club press release. What a boost this signing is for us Steelers supporters, yes there are a few who think we’ve made a bad move with this, as BOC brings everything to the table. He’s a player that would walk into any Elite League team, the other members of the “Big Four” were interested it was rumoured to say but as Ben alluded to later: “Sheffield is my home, I’ve got a house here…” How can anyone not excited when a proven GB internationalist signs for your club?
Saturday, game day and the Panthers in town. However, getting to the arena, the buzz wasn’t around like you thought it might be. Steelers iced the same line-up as they had at Guildford bar Kieran Brown who was with Blackburn on NIHL duty and the obvious addition. Panthers were out to spoil the homecoming though, and took an early lead with just 3:20 played when Luke Pither was given room to walk in and pick his spot beyond Jackson Whistle. It could have been a worse opening period than it actually was if Whistle hadn’t denied fellow GB internationalist Robert Farmer twice on breakaways despite the home side having more rubber on Michael Garnett.
In fact that was the story of the game; for the majority of it that is. Garnett, who made 24 appearances in “The Show” for the now defunct Atlanta Thrashers in 2005-06, was definitely the busier of the two goalies although Whistle was standing tall whenever the Steelers needed him. It was going to need either a moment of madness or brilliance to defeat the Panthers goaltender, who was having his best ever game in a Panthers uniform at the House of Steel. Steelers continued to press, the third period was relentless, but could their luck change? The dam had to break, and break it did with just 3:15 left in the game when Mark “Mad Dog” Matheson ripped one from the top of the right circle and over the shoulder of Garnett to send the water bottle airborne. It was no more than the Steelers deserved for their persistence and Jordan Owens also deserves credit for the brilliant screen which meant Garnett never got sight of the puck.
Jordan Owens: Playing a pivotal role
No further scoring happened after that, so we headed into 3 on 3 overtime which for Ben O’Connor was the last thing he really needed after his last game in Leksands the night before had also gone the same way. Tom Barrasso went with speed at the start as he figured this way would unlock the Panthers again, choosing O’Connor alongside Justin Buzzeo and Josh Pitt. The two forwards proved to be a wise choice as they combined well for the game winner just 30 seconds into the extra period. Trading passes like a well oiled machine, they broke down the right wing for Buzzeo to cut in and drive towards Garnett. Garnett managed to get a stick to halt Buzzeo’s charge but Pitt was there in support and put the loose puck away for his 10th goal of the season. The majority celebrated whilst a large portion of the away support left the away blocks as if there was a fire drill going off. Two well earned points and another step in the right direction.
Still there was time for more surprises post-game as Barrasso confirmed that forward Chris Lawrence would be leaving the Steelers with immediate effect. This coupled with departure of Brooks earlier in the week, shows that Barrasso is now getting a better idea of what he expects from his side. The Head Coach confirmed in a post-game presser with Peter Spencer of BBC Radio Sheffield that he is looking at “younger, faster players” as he continues with his rebuild. Whilst it appears that Brooks was released to free up more on the playing budget, Lawrence’s exit has been stated that it’s down to fitness concerns. One can only wonder what will happen next, and who else might be for the chop if they don’t fit in with TB’s plans.
But as this man once sang: