If ever there was a defining moment in a club’s history, this was it.
Sheffield Steelers, plunged into mourning last Thursday with the death of young fan and cancer victim Amy Usher won the Elite League title by winning their last two games.
Amy, who was born on the 21st, loved that number - her favourite Steeler had worn that shirt. So it was fitting that the match ended at 21:21 on the digital clock. That the win against Cardiff Devils was 2-1. And it all happened on March 21.
Amy’s sister Beth said she’d felt the spirit of her sister amongst the outpouring of good will and empathy for her family at Sheffield Arena.
And coach Gerad Adams said the League title victory was a tribute to the Wath woman.
“It has been an emotional time as Amy was a special part of the club. She she played her part,” he said.
Steelers had won the League for the first time in four years and Adams reflected: “It feels incredible. I thought we were the best team all year and we definitely proved that by finishing in first place. The players’ attitude has been spot-on all year so it is well deserved and I’m really happy for them.”
He said the club had survived a bad period over Christmas, but with two injured imports, they’d battled hard and “won games they should not have.”
Steelers had to beat Cardiff to be sure of the title and they did just enough to do that, in a gritty, close-fought duel.
Steelers were strangely ineffective in the first period, as they had been on Friday in Nottingham. They went behind at 10;39 when d-man Carl Hudson fired low past Rod Sarich into Josh Unice’s net.
Andrew Lord could have posted a wrap-around and Unice stopped a decent effort from Andrew Hotham.
Cheeky Cardiff fans were signing “champions” at this point, especially as Ben Bowns was looking on form in their net. Colton Fretter, Jeff Legue and Mike Forney all had efforts, but generally Sheffield were hesitant to shoot.
Sheffield had more zest after the break and pressed the visitors, Jeff Legue and Sarich could have equalised. The breakthrough came at 27;19 when Rob Dowd wheeled and shot home. There then followed a fans’ charity ‘Teddy bear toss’ which killed some of the momentum that Steelers had built up.
There were three let-offs for Steelers, with Jake Morissette, Joey Martin and Joey Haddad all failing to bury the puck. But Dowd’s line with Jonathan Phillips and Tyler Mosienko ran Devils ragged in the final 20 minutes. The whole side concentrated on defending the puck - and made the most of the few opportunities coming their way, with Jeff Legue banging in the winner.
That was for Amy.
* The line-up for this season’s Elite League playoff quarter-finals is complete.
Elite League winners and last season’s playoff champions Sheffield Steelers will face Fife Flyers, while Gardiner Conference winners Braehead Clan take on Hull Stingrays.
Erhardt Conference winners Nottingham Panthers go head-to-head with Coventry Blaze and Challenge Cup champions Cardiff Devils will play Belfast Giants.
Quarter-final ties take place on a two-legged basis. There will be no overtime or penalties after the first leg, but overtime and penalties will be used if scores are level on aggregate after regulation time in the second leg.
The four winners from the quarter-finals progress to playoff finals weekend, being held at the National Ice Centre in Nottingham on 4th and 5th April.
Quarter-final line-up (playoff seeding in brackets)
(1) Sheffield Steelers v Fife Flyers (8)
(2) Braehead Clan v Hull Stingrays (7)
(3) Nottingham Panthers v Coventry Blaze (6)
(4) Cardiff Devils v Belfast Giants (5)