The Steelers Perspective: Merry Christmas Everybody

It’s been the busiest time of the season for all hockey clubs; and the Steelers are no exception to the rule. Since we last left the Steelers season, the club have played six games in ten days, garnering a decent return out of them. Let’s look back on those games right now.

The run of games began the Wednesday before Christmas with the second leg of the Challenge Cup quarter-final against Guildford. With the opening leg ending all square at four goals apiece, the tie was evenly poised with the winners set to face Rich Chernomaz and his Nottingham Panthers in the final four. Could Steelers get the better of a side that had seemingly got their number this season; home and away?

They made the perfect start, opening the scoring with less than five minutes played when Ben O’Connor netted his 6th of the season since re-joining the Club in late October. The lead though didn’t last long, a shade under four minutes when the inspirational John Dunbar tied the scores. Yet keeping in with the goal fest, Steelers edged ahead again 36 seconds after Dunbar’s strike when Robert Dowd continued his hot streak in front of goal to fire his 12th of the season past Chris Carrozzi in the home goal. Flames were back on parity with just 10:05 played, Calle Ackered (who is probably the EIHL’s stand out import offensive defenceman) on target.

The scoring in that opening period didn’t end there, Kruise Reddick putting Paul Dixon’s Flames ahead on the night and on aggregate at 15:47. Both teams created chances in the middle frame, but it was the Flames who scored the only goal in it when Jamie Crooks (in for Kevin King) netted past Matt Climie at 28:39. A bit of breathing space for once in the tie but Steelers under Tom Barrasso, are a team that will never give in, and they reduced the margin early in the final period when Tanner Eberle netted his 8th of the season. Jesse Craige put the Flames two ahead again with just over six minutes left in the game but Eberle again reduced the margin to a single goal with 2:36 to go. Could Steelers tie the game? Alas not, and Steelers Challenge Cup campaign ends for another season, it’s now 15 seasons since they last won it, whilst the Flames make their first Challenge Cup semi-final.

By a strange quirk in the fixture listings, the same two sides were in action in Steelers’ last home game before Christmas and Flames were on the board early doors with Craige and Brett Ferguson both on target before the game clock had ticked past seven minutes. It stayed that way until the middle part of the second period when John Armstrong, who was making his second home début, halved the Flames lead. Steelers kept pushing, but it took a moment of brilliance to haul them level. The unlikely source of Josh McFadden provided it, meandering his way down the right wing like a knife through hot butter before applying the coup de grace for his 3rd of the season. Anyone’s game now, and the majority celebrated with just 24 seconds to go when McFadden and Evan McGrath combined to set up Josh Pitt for his 17th of the campaign to send the points the Steelers way.

A testing trip back to Renfrew followed the day afterwards, and once more Steelers made an horrendous start – shipping three goals in the first 21 minutes. Dowd’s 13th of the season reduced the margin to 3-1 before Matt Beca’s first of the night re-established the three goal lead with one period left. Beca scored his second and Clan’s fifth in the opening minute of the final period before Steelers scored two goals in the space of 43 seconds to reduce the deficit to 5-3, Jordan Owens with his 6th of the season (and first league goal in two months) and O’Connor with his 7th of the campaign. Another Glasgow comeback on the cards? Well that was extinguished with just over three and half minutes to go when Clan’s Brendan Connolly scored his second of the night to seal the deal for Pete Russell’s men.

In need of some Christmas cheer, Steelers headed into the home and home games against the Panthers with the Boxing Day game this year being held in the Lace City. After a scoreless opening period, the EIHL’s top scorer Alex Guptill put the Panthers ahead but Steelers levelled in the early stages of period three thanks to “Captain Fantastic” Jonathan Phillips’ 5th of the season. Defenceman Jaynen Rissling put the Panthers ahead once more but Mark Matheson finished like a forward to haul the Steelers back to 2-2 with his 9th of the season on the powerplay. Jackson Whistle was imperious all game, and the teams couldn’t be separated after 65 minutes play so we went to a penalty shootout. Panthers broke the deadlock thanks to an audacious effort from Justin Kovacs in round two but Dowd levelled with a superb finish in the third round. Whistle continued to stand tall, and it took another classic finish, this time from Anthony DeLuca to give the Steelers the extra point.

mcfadden.jpgJosh McFadden Photo – Credit: Dean Woolley/Sheffield Steelers

24 hours later, these two hockey heavyweights faced off again in the second part of the “Christmas Classic”. The rejuvenated Evan McGrath put Steelers ahead with his 7th of the season but an unassisted effort from Guptill levelled it. Panthers went ahead thanks to Alexandre Bolduc but Steelers ensured it would be all to play for when Armstrong finished well from close range. Guptill’s second of the game edged Nottingham ahead again but Steelers snapped back to 3-3 43 seconds after that Guptill when Pitt notched his 18th of the season. Then came the go ahead goal and what stood up as the game winning goal too, and it was some goal from McFadden; his 4th of the year. Intercepting a pass from Kovacs in the neutral zone, the defenceman advanced forward and then unleashed an absolute howitzer that ripped into Michael Garnett’s net. The points were secured at 54:23, McGrath tipping in his 8th of the season and second of the game from a Pitt helper.

The latest “War of the Roses” concluded Steelers hockey for 2018, and those that present were treated to another goal laden game. Storm took the lead shorthanded when Ciaran Long converted Mike Hammond’s pass but 44 seconds later, another Matheson powerplay strike (this time diverting Jonas Westerling’s slap pass past Matt Ginn) levelled it. It was Mad Dog’s 10th of the season. Long’s second put Storm back in front but former NHLer Aaron Johnson’s blueline effort made it 2-2 at the end of that opening period, it was Aaron’s 4th of the campaign. Dowd pounced on a rebound in the middle period to put the Steelers 3-2 ahead with his 14th of the season, and that was extended to 4-2 when McGrath scored his third in two days (9th of the season) early in the third.

Storm wouldn’t go away lightly and reduced it to 4-3 with a Luke Moffatt strike with the Steelers defence caught out. DeLuca, who was apparently on his way out a few weeks ago, produced a great solo effort for 5-3 with his 2nd of the season but Rob Linsmayer hauled the Storm back to 5-4. There was still over 11 minutes left at this point, but the nerves were finally settled when O’Connor sent Westerling scampering clear to fire into the empty net (Ginn had been sacrificed for an extra skater) with 53 seconds left; the diminutive Swede’s 3rd of the season.

A winning end to 2018 for the Steelers, which hauls them to the giddy heights of 5th in the 2018-19 standings. They are just four points behind fourth placed Fife, and after such a horrendous opening month, things appear to be a lot brighter. The defence is still a bit on the leaky side, coach Barrasso even acknowledges this, but they could be the team that has a big say in the title race even if they aren’t going to be challenging for it. Life is certainly not dull in South Yorkshire at all.

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