After enjoying a mixed weekend just gone, the Steelers headed into their latest round of fixtures outside the play-off spots but knew that they could remedy that if they managed to see off old foes Nottingham and Coventry. It was to be a weekend that the club had again hyped up the “play-off push” as the team headed into their final 15 games of the regular season – could they get their last chance at success reignited?
The weekend started with the visit of the Nottingham Panthers to the House of Steel. Panthers were ironically 18 years ago Steelers opponents when the famous of Lower Parliament Street Bench Clearance game took place, a game that is etched in the history of British Ice Hockey for evermore. Panthers took that game 6-4 but this season haven’t had the best of luck against a Steelers side which have flitted between sublime and awful throughout the season.
In front of a 8415 crowd in the Fly DSA Arena, and not the Fife Ice Arena as the online EIHL game sheet is led you to believe, Steelers welcomed back Canadian defenceman Josh McFadden to their line up after a three week injury absence. McFadden, of course, was the man whose blast in December stood up as the game winner between these two protagonists. Could he repeat the story?
Well the first period was a scoreless affair, and to be honest about it: Panthers could feel pretty aggrieved that it was as they had the best of that opening period as Steelers struggled to get anything going. Yet the second period was less than two minutes old when Steelers took the lead, skipper Jonathan Phillips crashing the net to fire through Mike Garnett’s five hole after some superb waiting and patience play by a superb Tanner Eberle. The lead didn’t last long though, former NHL forward Alexandre Bolduc firing bar down and in even though the goal light didn’t come on. A review confirmed it was a perfectly good goal.
Steelers were the better side in that middle period, repeatedly forcing the Panthers back and they thought they regained the lead when Jonas Westerling fired home. However, after a review it was washed out for goaltender interference. They did score a second soon after, Josh Pitt scoring at the back post and then getting wiped out by linesman Danny Beresford as he celebrated his team leading 21st of the season. Certainly got everyone talking that did. Another washed out goal, this time because the whistle had gone, and we entered the final period with a slender lead.
As good as Steelers were offensively in the second period, they were back on the defensive in the third as Panthers ramped up the heat. Steelers were, by this time, icing just five defencemen after Mark Matheson had picked up a suspected broken foot early in the game. However, to a man they stuck to their task and defended heroically as if their collective lives were firmly on the line. Jackson Whistle continued where he had left off, performing a series of superb saves and skipper Phillips blocked one with his backside. The insurance goal looked like it was never coming, and more like Panthers levelling it up. But with Garnett sacrificed, Panthers launched one last chance saloon, Steelers and Whistle denied it for the play to Eberle to smash into the empty cage from neutral ice a second before the final buzzer. It also extended Panthers sorry record in Sheffield this season, they being the only side that have failed to win here all season.
So on Sunday, Steelers headed into Coventry for another huge game in the play-off race. Coventry was the scene where Paul Thompson coached his last Steelers game back in September and where yours truly caught one of Scorch’s giant sausage rolls! Minus both Dowd and Matheson, Steelers made the perfect start with Eberle scoring inside four minutes and then Eric Neiley (whose line with Pitt and Eberle is showing serious promise) doubled it late in the first and added the third with a powerplay goal late in the second.
Blaze reduced the lead to one with two goals from ex-Nottingham Panther Alex Nikiforuk late on, his second coming on a 6 on 3 powerplay with Matt Hackett pulled for the extra attacker. However, Steelers secured a four point weekend when Westerling found the empty net with 2:03 to go whilst Eberle completed a “Gordie” with a fight with new GB internationalist Ben Lake. Yet the weekend could come at a high price with rumours seen on the local newspaper’s match report online with Steelers allegedly set to lose patience with the two-time Stanley Cup winner over a lack of agreement over a new deal. With the season just seven weeks from its regulation conclusion, there appears to be more drama around the corner in the Steel City.
Side note: It has to be said that Kieran Brown didn’t disappoint in his appearance against the Panthers. The 17 year old provided an energetic fourth line alongside Brandon Whistle and Westerling and could be a secret weapon that the Steelers can call on as the play-off race gets that bit more exciting. He certainly doesn’t shirk the battle against much well known names, more ice time will do him a world of good that’s for sure.