Sheffield Steelers 4 Braehead Clan 5 (Sunday)
Sheffield Steelers 13 Edinburgh Capitals 2 (Saturday)
THE ELITE League programme ended last night with Sheffield having to acknowledge and reflect on an 11 point gap between them and Elite title winners Belfast Giants.
After the misery of the weekend before last, the demand for two clean wins from coach Ryan Finnerty was not a directive deemed negotiable by the players.
Saturday saw a 13-2 massacre over an impoverished opponent - but it was not Sheffield’s fault that Edinburgh Capitals are not a competitive element of the division.
They can, after all, only beat those put in front of them.
Last night though, in a sterner test, Steelers lost to a goal three seconds from the end.
It wasn’t the way they’d have hoped to have rounded off, in the sport’s main tournament.
It had taken them just 25 seconds for star centreman Jeff Legue to open the scoring.
Sheffield had enjoyed most of the puck but couldn’t add to the tally before Jade Galbraith - a possible signing for the deposed champions - levelled at 15;46.
The new line of Legue-Luke Fulghum-Jonathan Phillips looked lively as Sheffield went in search of second period ascendancy. Yet it was defenceman Chad Huttel who provided the ammunition for two Steeler goals in 47 seconds.
First the American darted in from the corner and teed up Phillips to shoot past the excellent Mike Will. Then his slapshot was touched in by fellow d-man Matt Stephenson.
But Steelers still could not shake off the Scots.
Adam Walker came out of the penalty box to race clear down the right flank and flash a shot past John DeCaro.
While Legue’s impish back-hander confounded Will for 4-2 for Steelers at 44;21, all was not right.
Clan had gone up a gear and began to control the game. Too often they skated unopposed into Sheffield’s zone.
The Scots seemed brimming with confidence and ideas, while the home side had gone flat.
Huttel and Steve Birnstill were unable to contain two Scottish raiders approaching DeCaro’s crease with ten minutes left and Mike Bayrack scored.
Suddenly Sheffield looked panicky and weak defensively and Clan profited from a Power Play as Ryan Campbell equalised. Could Sheffield now exert themselves and regain a lead they had thrown away?
With three seconds to go Legue’s line, unable to score, chased back into their zone just in time to see Mike Wirll scored the winner. A disappointing end to a season which had promised so much - but has yet to deliver.
Birnstill commented: “They came at us hard in that last period and it wasn’t how we should have played. But we will be ready for the Play Offs.”
n On Saturday night, the gulf between Steelers and Edinburgh was exposed with a pretty ridiculous scoreline of 13-2. If ice hockey was football, Caps would be relegated and players and managers would be losing their jobs. But it isn’t - and you have to hand it to the Scots, they keep fulfilling their fixtures in a 10-team league in which they permanently reside next to bottom or bottom.
They finished the programme in ninth. On either side of them at the foot of the table are other Scottish teams, Fife Flyers, bottom, and Dundee Stars.
It appears only Clan, of the clubs north of the border, have anything like the investment to do well in this division. On Saturday, Legue featured in eight of the goals against Caps as he clocked up 3+5, Mike Ramsay also netted himself a hat trick whilst Fulghum recorded a five point haul (2+3) as did Phillips (1+4).
Wingers Colt King, Tom Squires, Ryan Finnerty and d-man Rod Sarich added the others.
Geoff Woolhouse turned back 27 shots in nets but conceded to Bari McKenzie and Sean Menton.
Coach Finnerty took little pleasure from inflicting such an embarrassment on another side but said he was pleased with the workrate that had been exhibited.