Crazy Nights – A weekly Steelers perspective

With apologies to KISS; the first rock band I ever listened to at the tender age of five.

It’s certainly been a crazy time for us Steelers supporters. Another new signing, the Challenge Cup draw, a home goal fest and the extension of an unwanted record. All of these packaged into one week. It’s never dull at all these days. Welcome to my thoughts of the Steelers week that was, thoughts which are not those of the club itself or its staff.

Steelers started this week with yet another new signing, the signing of forward Anthony DeLuca. DeLuca had been plying his trade with Thetford Mines Assurance in the LNAH; where one of his team-mates was Marc-Olivier Minar who iced for Dundee last season – a team I’ll touch on later. The forward had a stellar junior career, racking up 101 goals and 209 points in 202 games which hints that he knows where the net is. He also had almost a point a game in the Metal Ligaen, the Danish League, last season where Panthers centre Mark Hurtbuise was a team-mate. At just 23 years old, he certainly fits the bill that Tom Barrasso is looking at young and hungry players as he continues to reshape the Steelers squad for his liking.

Rimouski Oceanic v Gatineau OlympiquesAnthony DeLuca – Picture courtesy of hockeysfuture.com

Shortly after the signing news, we had the excitement that was the Challenge Cup draw. I didn’t watch it myself, was busy working in my day job with sorting out small business technical problems. Steelers were seeded fifth which meant they could be picked by anyone, which meant we could have yet another meeting with the Panthers despite being in the same qualifying group or testing trips to Cardiff or Belfast who were the top two seeds. As it was, we got paired with Guildford. Not easy but if the team plays to their potential then it’s a winnable tie. I certainly wouldn’t have had this thought if we had been drawn with the Devils (despite their recent blips in form) or Giants.

So onto the weekend, and what a crazy hockey weekend it was for us…hence the article’s title.kiss

Those guys sang about “Crazy Nights” and it was definitely one of those on Saturday when we hosted the Flames. The most recent game in Surrey had seen the Flames edge it by the odd goal in five which marked an improvement for the Steelers after they had been hammered 5-1 earlier in the campaign at the Spectrum. What we experienced in Sheffield can be simply encapsulated in one phrase: “goal fest”! It was like defences took a night off which started with an immaculate tribute to those lost in wartime conflicts.

Brett Ferguson hadn’t enjoyed his last trip to Sheffield but he certainly enjoyed this one as he gave the Flames an early lead with a blue line blast which whistled, pardon the pun, past Jackson Whistle at 3:26. It got even better for him and the good contingent of away fans just before the eight minute mark, the forward holding off Steelers’ Tanner Eberle to light the lamp for 2-0. Eberle, whose energetic performances have been a contributory fact to the Steelers recent upsurge in form, had gone close before that second goal: seeing his effort strike the post. It was definitely not what most had seen coming.

Steelers shipped a third at 15:34 and what a horrible goal that was to concede. A terrible line change whilst on a powerplay gave Evan Janssen all the room he needed on the right wing to skate in and then pick his spot with no Steeler near him and Jackson Whistle. A response was needed, and we got it 53 seconds after that Janssen strike and with just 12 seconds left on the actual powerplay: Evan McGrath scoring his third goal in his Steelers career with a shot from the right circle that sent Chris Carrozzi’s water bottle into orbit. Flames were rattled, and when Jesse Craige took a seat for holding – the Steelers powerplay went to work again. 43 seconds in, it paid dividends. Aaron Johnson setting up the rejuvenated Stefan Della Rovere who backhanded a superb effort low at Carrozzi’s stick side to make it 2-3.

That’s how an entertaining opening period ended, but what would we see next? We only had to wait 54 seconds for the next goal, and for my fellow CTP beat writer Mike (great to meet you in person mate) it was the Flames who were celebrating as Ian Watters snapped his first of the night. It became 2-5 at 24:38 when a puck thrown on net was touched on by Kruise Reddick and seemed to squeak in via the skates of Mark Matheson and Whistle. It was the cue for Barrasso to replace the starting netminder with back-up Brad Day but that only was just temporary as Whistle returned back less than two minutes. Clever coaching to save the time out and use it to have a few words with the starter.

The goals kept on coming. Robert Dowd scored his first of the game with a blueline shot that found its way home and then the irrepressible Eberle got his reward for staying with the play to make it 4-5 on the night at 37:24 after GLT confirmed a good goal. Steelers had the confidence going forward but at the back it was becoming a bit of an Achilles heel and Flames scored what turned out to be the game winner with eight seconds left in that middle period. With McGrath serving a slashing minor, the dangerous Flames powerplay went to work, Steelers switched off and Watters was alone in front of Whistle to net.

Could Steelers get back into it? Yes they could as they scored their fifth of an insane game when Dowd got the vital touch to divert the puck beyond Carrozzi from an initial Davey Phillips effort at 45:23. After that Steelers looked for a sixth but couldn’t find a way through whilst Whistle denied Flames more goals with saves from John Dunbar and Ferguson; the former denied by a superb Superman save. Game over, 6-5 to Guildford but bags of entertainment in a game.

eberletTanner Eberle: In the goals again (Pic: hockeyinsideout.com)

Barrasso, as honest as ever, admitted in his post game presser that Steelers had gotten away from the game plan and defensively let themselves down. I couldn’t agree more, he certainly is not a coach that hides and if we don’t perform: he admits it. So less than 24 hours on, the team were on the long bus ride to the City of Discovery and to face a man who can’t buy a win against us: Omar Pacha. With Matt Climie making his first Steelers start, Steelers made the perfect start when Josh Pitt scored after just 31 seconds. Stars though levelled four and half minutes later when former Coventry defenceman Shawn Boutin found the top bean but that was as good as it got scoring wise as Climie was equal to everything else that Dundee threw at him as they outshot the Steelers in the game.

Midway through that opening period, Steelers grabbed a second through Jordan Owens (yes him whose namesake plays football for Crusaders in Northern Ireland) and when Owens himself was in the box a 2+10 boarding call, the shorthanded experts struck again with skipper Jonathan Phillips on target. 3-1 at the end of the first, not bad considering they had only seven shots on Sjögren. A fourth came in the second period, Eberle with the vital touch on a Ben O’Connor effort to beat the Swedish goalie on the powerplay. Could Steelers continue to turn the screw? Well Pacha obviously thought not as he said in a period break interview that “Steelers were tired and Stars would be all over them in third.” Cue egg to be wiped off your face Omar as those words haunted you in a tight final session which saw the Steelers add two more thanks to a O’Connor powerplay strike and Ryan Martinelli adding his second goal of the season, ensuring that the unwanted record now moves to 0/28 and not slowing.

All in all a two point weekend for Tom Barrasso’s Steelers, could have been a maximum four, yet they now go into a tough couple of away games in Glasgow and Fife in the week ahead.  They might be 8th, 12 points behind a rampant Belfast but the gears are turning and the tunnel which at once looked pitch black is starting to eek streams of light. Barrasso is starting to make an impact, Steelers fans like me are hoping this will continue for the remainder of this season and the future. This season is certainly providing more twists and turns than Lionel Messi. Strap yourself in, it’ll be entertaining but emotionally draining as well.

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