It’s been another week with the Steelers that has had people wondering what is going to happen. From a thriller in the Challenge Cup, a reverse in the EIHL and then the announcement that one of last season’s roster is returning to the reshaped Steelers. It’s certainly got the tongues wagging again.
We left proceedings last week ahead of the Challenge Cup quarter-final first leg at home to Guildford Flames. Guildford have certainly had the best of the encounters so far this season, with the Steelers struggling to solve the puzzle home and away. However, the games have been close (bar the 5-1 mauling the Flames handed out in September) and we knew we could expect goals and in abundance should the offence on both sides catch fire if you pardon the pun.
Steelers were unchanged from the side that produced an amazing comeback win in Dundee just days previous, which meant Matt Climie was once again preferred to Jackson Whistle in goal whilst Davey Phillips and Eric Neiley remained sidelined with their respective injuries. If Steelers hadn’t prepared themselves for a fast start from the visitors, they soon knew about it when Evan Ritt opened the scoring for Paul Dixon’s side with just a shade over 2 minutes played. Steelers responded and levelled when leading scorer Josh Pitt scored his 16th of the season to ensure the sides would go into the first period break level.
It was a second period of dominance for the Steelers as they looked to go into that second leg with a healthy advantage. They took the lead early in that middle period thanks to Tanner Eberle, and that lead became 3-1 when Anthony DeLuca scored his first since joining the club in his ninth game. Were Steelers to break the hoodoo? Yet it all got interesting when Flames Brett Ferguson reduced it to 3-2 just 30 seconds before the second period finished. Flames obviously gained heart from that and were back on parity when power forward Ian Watters banged in their third just 37 seconds into that final period. All to play for.
The majority of the crowd in the Fly DSA Arena were stunned when Jesse Craige put the visitors 4-3 to the good with 7:50 left in the game. Could Steelers find a way back into it? They seemed to have missed a golden chance when they failed to take advantage of Jordan Abt’s double minor for high sticks but were given one last chance in the final minute when Ritt took a seat for delay of game. The clock ticked on, and with just eight seconds left in the actual game, the comeback kings did it again. GB internationalist Robert Dowd continuing his impressive goalscoring streak with the game tying goal, and leaving the tie firmly in the balance going into tomorrow (Wednesday)’s second leg at the Spectrum.
Saturday would see the Steelers back in Elite League action and host a Coventry Blaze side for the second time after winning that incredible game on Freesports on Hallowe’en. Climie got the start for the third game in a row, whilst Blaze had Czech netminder Miroslav Koprivà making his second début for the club after re-signing in the middle of the week and replacing the recently released Miika Wiikman. It was a scoreless but tight first period but Blaze turned the screw in the following two periods as Steelers were subsequently shut out on home ice for the first time this season.
Defenceman Chris Joyaux gave Danny Stewart’s team the lead at 28:31, which stood up as the only goal in the contest as we entered in the final stages. Swede Jonas Westerling had a goal waved off as the officials adjudged the puck hadn’t fully crossed the line (in fact Koprivà had pulled off a tremendous save) which sent the bears flying. The gamble was then taken to sacrifice Climie for an extra attacker but this time there wasn’t to be a dramatic equaliser as Thom Flodqvist found the unguarded cage to secure the winner on his first Blaze start.
Moments after the final buzzer, Steelers supporters were welcoming back a popular player. Canadian centre John Armstrong was announced as returning to the club that he had left in the summer for an EBEL adventure which eventually turned sour for him. A signing that should give Tom Barrasso more options and the team much more size and presence in their offensive production. Armstrong has apparently signed a 18 month deal on his return to orange. He will make his second début for the club in the second leg of the Challenge Cup quarter final.