Sheffield Steeldogs found themselves with a rare one game weekend – made all the more unusual with that one match being a friendly.
However when it’s Sheffield versus Manchester, things are never particularly friendly!
The game - a 5-4 victory for the South Yorkshire outfit - was the first leg of the War of the Roses challenge and the Steeldogs took the trip to the Deeside rink looking to maintain their winning run following five straight wins.
It was a much changed line-up with Coach Greg Wood and Ashley Calvert both ruled out by injuries and also missing Korhon, Squires, Haywood, Sedlar and Pattison.
This gave Spartans net minder Brandon Stones an opportunity along with academy player Joe Colton, plus more ice time for Tom Barry and Charlie Thompson
The game didn’t start well for the Steeldogs, as a near full strength Phoenix team kept them away from Phil Spanswick making his first start in goal for Tony Hand’s side.
When Robin Kovar was dragged down, referee Brooks awarded a penalty shot and despite a brave effort from Stones, Kovar converted.
Phoenix remained in front until the Steeldogs got a powerplay opportunity; Andy Hirst burying the puck to carry on his scoring streak. The home side came roaring back with three goals in seven minutes which must have had Steeldogs fans fearing the worst, down 4-1 with a period still to play.
Maybe Manchester thought it was all over, but the final period was very different including a lightweight battle between Tom Barry and Jacob Heron. Sheffield’s passes finally began to hit the tape; captain Ben Morgan set up a Cole Shudra strike before Shudra set up Arnoldas Bosas to make it 4-3.
In to the final five minutes the Steeldogs showed no signs of slowing down. Bosas’ second of the night levelled the scores before Tim Smith netted to give them a lead heading in to the second leg on December 28th.
It may not have counted towards the league standings but the character shown helps explain why the Steeldogs have now won 6 in a row and will be full of confidence for the visit next Saturday of the other form side in the EPL, the Basingstoke Bison
Coach Wood took many positives from the performance: “I’m really pleased with the result, we put out a much younger team and I wanted to give everyone a chance to play and they all applied themselves really well.
“I am absolutely over the moon with the result - a 5-4 win over Manchester is a great outcome. A trip to play the Phoenix is never easy and the manner in which we won was really nice. Although we were trailing 4-1 at the end of the second period I didn’t have to say an awful lot in the locker room, I just said that I wanted to keep the game close for the second leg of the War of the Roses and that it was in our hands to do it.
“I was so pleased to be able to give some of our younger players much more ice time tonight and Cole Shudra thoroughly deserved the man of the match award. Add in Joe Colton who was playing his first game for us tonight, he made contributions on his line and played solidly – he’s a good skater. We had Brandon Stones in the net and he was fantastic, he had hard luck with a penalty shot that just went under him, but made some good saves when called on”.
Goal scorer Andrew Hirst was pleased with his nights work; “I enjoyed the game, I’m scoring again and I feel confident. I feel like I can score in every game at the moment. To beat Manchester always feels good, even if it wasn’t a league game. We want to beat them in the second leg, so we are half way through the game really.
“We have confidence as a team at the moment. Whatever game we are playing, whether it is a War of the Roses or a league game we want to keep the win streak going as each win gives us momentum for the next game. We play Basingstoke and Guildford next weekend and we go into them being a team in form”.