Sheffield Steelers’ journey in the Challenge Cup hit a few bumps in the road over the weekend.
Saturday’s 4-3 loss at Nottingham Panthers resembled an encounter with a pothole...a one goal loss there was not considered to be a major setback.
But Sunday’s 5-3 home defeat to Cardiff Devils, represented more of a sink-hole opening up under the club.
Sheffield looked decidedly second best at times and deserved little from the group game.
The season’s first meeting of the rivals provided an energetic, mistake-laden first period in which the home side took a 26 second lead.
Mathieu Roy worked the puck down low and John Armstrong found space to plant the puck past Ben Bowns.
Young Liam Kirk’s first shift - he was getting more ice time with knee-injury victim Levi Nelson out - ended in disappointment, he was on the ice as Andrew Hotham circled round the net to feed Mark Richardson, for 1-1, at 4;11.
Steelers regained the lead in peculiar circumstances. On a four-on-four play, Christoffer Bjorklund twice lost the puck, but won it back to trigger and assault which Armstrong polished off at 8.30.
Cardiff, who had beaten Coventry 6-3 the night before, had their share of the puck but failed to carve out many decent chances.
Roy had three chances to score in the middle section- you’d have backed him to get one of them.
But the three that went in, all sailed in the home net.
The game and the Arena crowd had seemed subdued, but Cardiff Devils cashed in, with Layne Ulmer sweeping home from close-range.
Just 86 seconds later the Welsh took the lead, Gleason Fournier bringing the travelling fans to their feet
A 0-3 middle period was delivered when on-form Joey Martin exposed Steelers’ rearguard again.
It had been a stunning reversal of fortunes and one which sent coach Paul Thompson for his laptop, so he could show a video horror show to his faltering team in the second interval.
Sheffield had to get on the board, and fast.
However, when Zack Fitzgerald was caught by a bad bounce on the red line Jake Morissette slotted in a fifth for Devils.
Cardiff were making intelligent use of the puck and were trapping well in the neutral zone.
But it seemed game-on again when Ben O’Connor’s low shot from the blue line narrowed the score to 5-3.
However it served only to hit a wasps’ nest with a stick - Ulmer hitting the underside of Mustukov’s bar.
On Saturday, Thompson was “frustrated” by the amounts of breakways his team coughed up in the middle period at Nottingham a session which proved critical in the eventual 4-3 loss, their first domestic loss of the 2016-7 campaign.
His team were “not responsible for our actions on our own blue line...and that lost us the game.”
“Offensively, the final pass of his forwards was not crisp enough,” he added.
Panthers twice built up two goal leads, and held on for the Challenge Cup group points.
Mike Ratchuk, Anders Franzon and Roy scored Steelers’ goals.
David Clarke, Alex Nikiforuk, two, and Chris Lawrence got past Ervins Mustukovs.
Sunday 25th September
Coventry Blaze 3 Nottingham Panthers 5
Edinburgh Capitals 3 Manchester Storm 2 (PS)
Challenge Cup Group A
Braehead Clan 2 Belfast Giants 3 (PS)
Dundee Stars 2 Fife Flyers 0
Challenge Cup Group B
Sheffield Steelers 3 Cardiff Devils 5