Sheffield Steelers back in contention after win at Cardiff Devils
Somewhere on a chilly road, along the 200-mile journey to Cardiff, the feeling grew on the Sheffield Steelers' team bus that they were not going to lose again to the Devils.
The reigning champions had been mastered on all five previous league matches by the league leaders, but three of them had been by a single goal.
Sunday was about proving a point to the League- especially as Sheffield had slipped out of character against Braehead Clan the night before, losing in overtime.
And, inspired by a superb Colton Fretter performance in Wales, Steelers moved within four points of the table-toppers with a game in hand, with a 4-3 win.
Steelers were assertive from the off, none more so than Fretter who was in bullish mood.
But Devils then had their own spell of pressure, and converted a chance falling to Scott Hotham at 4.49.
Sheffield captain Jonathan Phillips, who has had some horrible luck near goal recently, equalised against his old club though, from a Luke Ferrara feed at 10;07 and that spurred on greater effort with John Armstrong making it 2-1 after a play featuring Mike Rathcuk and Davey Phillips.
When Fretter netted his fifth goal in seven matches, a 3-1 lead looked a sound base for the travellers. But Cardiff have been at the top of the table for a long time, they didn’t panic and Layne Ulmer reduced the arrears at 26;39.
Fretter could have wreaked more damage but the home goal Ben Bowns rarely has even an average game against Steelers and there was no more scoring in the middle period.
Yet the winger was to have his say again, making it 4-2 at 45;16 giving Steelers a two-goal advantage for the second time.
With Levi Nelson in the penalty box, Cardiff withdrew their goalie for a six-on-four, Andrew Hotham shooting past Ervins Mustukovs with 97 seconds remaining. But Steelers clung on.
*Sheffield showed a collective loss of form to suffer their 11th league loss of the season on Saturday, at iceSheffield.
The went behind 2-0 to Braehead Clan, both preventable goals, before levelling through Fretter and Andreas Valdix.
But Matt Beca, who had assisted on Clan’s earlier goals, got the winner 19 seconds into overtime, a deserved two points for the Scots and the end of a four-match Sheffield winning streak.
Coach Paul Thompson said the team had to “stop carrying four or five guys.”
That instruction was certainly heeded. The coach had two words for his team after the Cardiff win: “Absolutely outstanding.”
Sunday 22nd January
Cardiff Devils 3 Sheffield Steelers 4
Dundee Stars 0 Coventry Blaze 4
Edinburgh Capitals 2 Manchester Storm 1
Nottingham Panthers 2 Fife Flyers 3 (PS)
Wednesday 25th January
Challenge Cup semi final 1st leg
Nottingham Panthers v Sheffield Steelers – 7.30pm
Saturday 28th January
Braehead Clan v Fife Flyers – 7.00pm
Cardiff Devils v Nottingham Panthers – 7.00pm
Coventry Blaze v Edinburgh Capitals – 7.00pm
Manchester Storm v Dundee Stars – 7.00pm
Sheffield Steelers v Belfast Giants – 7.00pm
Sunday 29th January
Dundee Stars v Braehead Clan – 6.30pm
Edinburgh Capitals v Manchester Storm – 6.00pm
Fife Flyers v Cardiff Devils – 6.30pm
Nottingham Panthers v Coventry Blaze – 4.00pm
Sheffield Steelers Belfast Giants – 5.00pm