Lessons to be learned as Steelers become League’s second best

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Hull Stingrays 4 Sheffield Steelers 3 (Sunday)

Belfast Giants 5 Sheffield Steelers 2 (Saturday)

RYAN Finnerty could not deliver the league title he promised owner Tony Smith when he took over coaching duties at Steelers.

That’s the reality as Belfast Giants celebrate a deserved Championship title.

But it doesn’t tell the whole story.

Finnerty, a rookie coach, arrived at a club stumbling from yet another financial catastrophe.

The pair worked within a budget that did not include any of the season ticket money which normally keeps the club afloat.

They kept things stable and, on the ice, competitive. Sheffield ended up second best in a two-horse title race.

Should Steelers be proud of runners-up position? Possibly. Will they be? No.

Across its 20 years, the club has always had a come-first mentality. Being championship bridesmaid is normally the preserve of Nottingham Panthers, not the Steelers.

Next season, changes will be made. For a start, the club won’t have the distraction of the 20-years ‘Festival of Hockey’ event, which, in many respects last August, was a flop. Nor will they take part in any unwinnable European tournament which serves only to clutter up the domestic fixture list.

Finnerty may think twice, also, about having more imports available than rules allow. Sitting north American imports out must breed resentment.

New players will come in. Will the club, for instance, go after the League’s top scorer Jade Galbraith, from Braehead Clan?

They will probably have a much better chance of that than securing the return of Rod Dowd, the player who left and helped Belfast wrestle the title off his old employers.

But the main thing they must alter is the mindset when playing the top teams. Against Belfast, they lost four times, winning twice, via penalties and overtime.

Against Panthers, they lost twice in the Challenge Cup, and lost four times in the league.

So plenty to think about as the club heads to the Play-offs and the summer recess.

On Friday, the title dream was buried under a 5-1 avalanche at Belfast, a score Panthers had twice inflicted earlier in the campaign.

On Saturday, it was a 5-2 loss. Steelers had taken the early initiative with Colt King scoring - but a 4-1 middle period collapse sealed their fate.

Craig Peacock, Jeremy Rebek, Gareth Roberts and Jon Pelle all scored in six minutes of the re-start. And while Mike Ramsay got one back, Giants ensured they had the last word with another Peacock effort, sending 5,386 Irish fans home happy on St Patrick’s Day.

Last night, Jereme Tendler gave seventh-placed Hull a (shorthanded) lead over Steelers which Neil Clark wiped out with a goal at 23;09. But the third period saw Sylvain Cloutier give the lead a second time to Stingrays and Tendler add to his earlier effort.

Derek Campbell added another short-hander.

Jeff Legue and Steve Birnstill narrowed the margin late on.

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