FOR the third week running, Steelers leaped over the ‘easy’ hurdle - but ploughed straight into the big one.
While the championship is a marathon not a sprint, time is running out for Ryan Finnerty’s men, if they are going to pass the finishing line first.
In a city where Jessica Ennis reigns as one the world’s great athletes, the ice hockey champions would do well to watch how Ennis targets her top rivals and then outworks them.
That’s not been the case at the Arena recently. On February 21, Sheffield beat Fife Flyers, but lost on either side of that game to stronger teams in Braehead Clan and Nottingham Panthers. This weekend, they lost a ‘must-win’ game to Belfast Giants and then squeezed a modest one-goal win over Hull, their most likely Play Off opponents.
If Steelers are to snatch an unlikely success from the jaws of title defeat they’re going to have to act smartish; only eight league games remain.
And that will also require them to win both matches in Belfast, as well as two games in hand. Week after week, it’s getting tougher for Finnerty; easier for Belfast.
On Saturday, Finnerty’s squad went without injured goalie John DeCaro in an offensive line up. Yet they couldn’t conjure up many decent efforts in a sterile first period. Hull’s Jereme Tendler - cleared to play again after suspension for failing a drugs test - had five chances on excellent back-up goalie Geoff Woolhouse.
There were too many passes which Rays repeatedly intercepted. Tendler had two break aways after Jason Hewitt and Rod Sarich lost possession. One of his efforts struck the post.
Sarich had been creative from the back and Steelers are a better team when he’s on the ice. But it was another player who has spent weeks on the sidelines, Neil Clark, who was the decisive factor. He drove the net allowing Mike Ramsay to score (22;23.) Three minutes later, Clark’s innovation teed up Nick Duff to net. After that, Hull grabbed control and were aided when Woolhouse was hit in the neck by the puck. Shortly afterwards Dominic Osman fired across him for 2-1.
Yet Steelers had Woolhouse, exclusively, to thank for the win. He defied Hull in a session they outshot the home side 22-10. Tendler rattled the cross bar to add to his failed attempts to score.
Finnerty admitted: “It was terrible; one of worst games played in a long time.
“Hanging on for a win like that was unacceptable. We didn’t execute, it was borderline lazy, we were second to pucks, became passive and went into a shell. If it wasn’t for Geoff we could have lost.”