An old school rivalry and a sold out stadium brought in the New Year with a bang! In what was the highest ever attended game at Altrincham Ice Rink, 2,351 people managed to people squeeze themselves into the building. As the new-found discipline from Manchester, which has seen them draw just 22 PIM’s in four games, proved decisive in how the match would be decided (sorry to those baying for blood).
Manchester Storm vs Sheffield Steelers (01/01/19)
After news broke that hometown netminder Declan Ryan would be leaving the club, to take up a lectureship role in Northampton, following the conclusion of this match his place behind the boards will soon be taken up by fellow Mancunian, Luke Owen-Wilson. The club captain, Dane Byers, was fit for this occasion and as a result young forward Chance Braid would be the healthy scratch.
Import and veteran goaltender, Matt Climie was restored between the pipes after Jackson Whistle was given the nod just two days prior. The Steelers would be without David Phillips (injury), Justin Buzzeo (injury), Brandon Whistle (illness), Eric Neiley (scratch) and Brad Day (scratch).
The start to the game from the visitors, was not dissimilar to the infamous George W. Bush military tactic commonly known as “shock and awe” (which was largely deployed in the US invasion of Iraq) when the Sheffield Steelers found themselves deservedly 2-0 up after only 74 seconds. A quickfire double from Anthony DeLuca sent shockwaves through the home fans as the Yorkshire sides recent dominance, in this fixture, looked set to continue. The rampant start from the Steelers saw wave after wave of attack and the two goal advantage was a fair reflection on the game, at this point. However, a hooking penalty assessed to Ryan Martinelli at 6:35 afforded the Storm powerplay an early look. This opportunity was quickly converted on courtesy of a precise wrister from Mike Hammond, following some excellent forechecking from Luke Moffat and Dallas Ehrhardt. Although, the one goal advantage, for Sheffield, appeared to be secure until a moment of magic from dual-national Dallas Ehrhardt (aka Mr. Bow Tie Man) sent the Shelter into a frenzy. The basketball turn of going “coast to coast” is most appropriate for my attempted description of the game tying goal, as the unmistakable blueliner scored one of the best individuals goals of the year (seriously checkout the highlights). Ehrhardt picked up the loose puck in his defensive zone and skated through the neutral zone uncontested, with a gentle shift of the puck onto his forehand enough to outpace the back-skating Ben O’Connor. The ever-impressive Mark Matheson sensed the danger and immediately attempted to close the shooting angle down, but Ehrhardt instinctively shifted the puck between his skates and lifted the puck into the roof of the goal on the backhand, a monumental moment that nearly lifted the Shelter’s roof. This play typifies the uptrend in Ehrhardt’s offensive abilities, which has earned him a place on the top powerplay unit. The scores would remain level at the first intermission, despite Sheffield firing 22 shots on goal and for the most part outplaying Manchester. Although, it must be noted a good number of these were on puck dumps, only really possible on the small-ice, which slightly inflates the overall total.
The second period started in the same vein, as the Steelers jumped out to an early lead and DeLuca completed a splendid hatrick inside 22 minutes. The young Canadian appears to be benefiting from sharing a line with more senior players, Josh Pitt and Jordan Owens, as his optimistic blueline wristshot knuckled passed the Storm goaltender and handed the Steelers another lead in the game. In truth, chances were very limited in this stanza as both teams began to shorten their bench towards the second intermission, in an attempt to ensure nothing would be given away. Yet, the growing advantage in the shotcount continued with the Steelers up 38:27 after 40 minutes.
A cagey and tense start to the final period saw the visiting side reduce their forechecking pressure, to a 1-4 trap, in an attempt to negate the dangerous counter-attacking style of Manchester. As a result, it would take another powerplay for Manchester to be able to tie things up (a powerplay that went 2/3 on the night), when Dane Byers was first to a juicy rebound and somehow managed to hack the puck between Climie’s pads. The large home and away support rallied around their gladiators as the atmosphere grew to a crescendo, it was almost as if everyone in the rink recognised the importance of the next few minutes. An acknowledgement that proved decisive, when the Storm captain was directly involved again, as he won the offensive draw that teed up Linden Springer’s booming slapshot. A bobbling puck and onrushing forward don’t usually create goals, but in this instance it would be the perfect recipe. The puck knuckled through the air and comfortably beat Climie, in the Steelers goal, as the Storm would take the lead for the first time in the game with 10:47 left in the game. Now chasing the game, Sheffield decided to increase the forechecking pressure and continually looked to activate a blueliner whenever possible. This aggressive approach would however prove costly when Della Rovere failed to control the puck and Evan Richardson jumped on the mistake. The Hammond-Richardson-Long line was buzzing all night and the deadly combination of Richardson and Long put the game to bed, with Long now scoring 5 in his last 4 games.
An impressive showing on Saturday, in the away loss against Sheffield, evidently spurred the Storm on this occasion, as they managed to secure a first league win over their fiercest rivals since their rebirth. The reduction in ill discipline, which has plagued the roster, appears to be more than just a phase, as Ryan Finnerty knows the importance of playing games at even-strength, if this franchise is to make the play-offs. The decision to scratch Chance Braid for this encounter was the correct one, as the youngster has struggled to make an impact in recent weeks, and MacMillan and Auger appear to better complement the ever-present third line centre, Shane Bakker. However, injuries to a few players which will be assessed this week, most likely give Braid another opportunity to impress and earn a spot in the line-up. A strong showing from the Storm blueline was a pleasant surprise, as the vastly improved Steelers were mostly kept to the outside. Yet, the importance of this win cannot be understated and could well spur this team onto a winning streak.
MOM’s: Dallas Ehrhardt (Storm) & Anthony DeLuca (Steelers)
SOG’s: Storm 35 & Steelers 50
Feature image: All Sports Photography