Sheffield Steelers clinch Finals spot after win over Latvian side in Denmark
Sheffield Steelers have progressed through to a potentially lucrative Challenge Cup final series - maybe at their own rink.
On Sunday in Denmark, they won a nerve-shredding 4-2 win over Kurbads Riga, with an empty netter from Ben O’Connor only confirming the win with four seconds left.
They go through as second placed team in the three-member qualification group.
Steelers’ owner Tony Smith has now got to go to work to bring the finals stage to Sheffield Arena.
He has already had behind-the-scenes talks with SIV about using their main home facility for training on January 11 and then two Continental Cup games a day over 12-14.
Smith believes the performance from Steelers in Denmark and the pedigree of other British teams in Europe like Cardiff Devils and Nottingham Panthers could influence the IIHF in bringing the tournament to Yorkshire.
“I can’t think there will be many Arenas to compare with Sheffield, so we are optimistic” he said.
Steelers completed the qualifying group with a far from easy win over Riga on sunday afternoon. Jonas Westerling, Mathieu Roy, Levi Nelson and O’Connor’s empty netter were the crucial strikes in a game which followed an earlier win over Danish hosts Rungsted and Friday’s 7-1 mauling from Minsk on the same pad.
Saturday’s penalty shot win over host club Rungsted was Sheffield’s first win in 83 games via a shootout - and it set up Sunday’s key qualifier, which now gives Sheffield the chance of mirroring what Nottingham Panthers achieved in January.
Paul Thompson, Sheffield coach, said he felt the tournament had been Champions Hockey League standard - the level above the Continental Cup.
“I have been in this competition five times and I have never seen the standard this high” he told The Star.
“On Friday, everybody was panicking (after they lost to Minsk) but we just focussed on the next game and we were cool, calm and collected.
“We were 3-0 down on Saturday (against host team Rungsted) but came back with an unbelievable effort. I have to say our fans were as outstanding as our team. The Danish officials said they had enjoyed record beer sales!”
Steelers return on Monday evening and the players will be given time off to recover from the exhausting schedule