Sheffield Steelers boss admits they have much to learn from new champions Cardiff Devils
These are the pictures which will haunt Sheffield Steelers and their fans long into the Summer.
Losing the League title was never going to be easy to accept.
But the hockey gods conspired that the handing over of the baton, to Cardiff Devils, was to happen at Sheffield Arena.
Cardiff have dished out more than their first share of defeats to Sheffield this season and they left the best to last, winning the game that mattered most in the series by the widest margin.
They emulated Steelers’ own 6-2 win over them, on the same ice six days earlier.
Devils had arrived at the Arena 35 minutes before Sheffield did - Steelers were returning tired and depleted after killing penalties most of the previous night at Belfast Giants.
But no excuses can be made overall; the loss of the championship was hardly a surprise.
Devils are the best team, with the best individuals and best strategy. The task now for Steelers is to close the gap between the clubs. It is not that wide. But it is wide enough.
On Saturday, the visitors dominated, outshooting the hosts, without Mike Ratchuk and Yared Hagos, 36-23.
Mark Richardson served notice of intent with goal in just 26 seconds and Patrick Asselin put them further in the driving seat at 13;27.
Ben O’Connor gave the majority of fans in the 6,724 crowd some hope but Joey Martin replied at 14:08.
The last period was an efficient 3-1 success for the new champions, Sean Bentivoglio, Andrew Lord and Patrick Bordeleau (short handed) doing the damage, rendering Geoff Walker’s strike a mere consolation.
It was 2-6, but the statistic that matters is that Cardiff had secured the championship with three games to spare.
Sheffield coach Paul Thompson said: “We have to be magnanimous in defeat.
“While the scheduling has been lousy for us in games against Cardiff this year, we have to hold our hands up and say they have been the better team and it is our job now to look at what they did right and adapt what we can.”
The coach admitted: “We have struggled to score against them away and we have got to get grittier in that area.
“Their penalty kill has been exemplary - in fact special teams have been a crucial factor in their successes over us.
“It has been coming for two years, under Andrew Lord and this year they have got it right in every area. He has done a great job. Every team including us will be looking at their blueprint and seeing what was successful for them.
“The League is constantly evolving and our club will not be standing still.”
* The only Steeler to win anything at the weekend was a former one Brad Cruikshank, (2008-10) who netted 57,366.00 Canadian dollars (£34,612) in a Saskatoon Blades Hockey 50/50 draw.