Three games in three nights is a tough ask for any ice hockey team. When you face that challenge without your captain or your coach it becomes even harder.
And so it proved for Sheffield Steeldogs, who lost 4-2 to Hull Pirates 4 (6-6 on aggregate, Hull won on penalty shots) the same score to MK Lightning 4 and 3-0 to Basingstoke Bison 3.
With Coach Greg Wood banned from the bench and the vast experience of Ben Morgan missing from their defence following an injury, it proved to be too great a challenge.
The long weekend started with Friday night’s second leg of the Bradfield Brewery Cup, a game they took a two-goal advantage in to.
After a flat start, the Steeldogs came in to the game in the middle period and goals from Arnoldas Bosas and Ashley Calvert put them 2 up on the night and four on aggregate. Hull struck back quickly and tied it up at 2-2 in under three minutes.
The wheels came off for the Dogs when Sam Towner scored short-handed at 47:03. Sheffield tried to hang on but Cizas scored to tie it up at 6-6 and send the cup in to overtime.
Steeldogs pushed hard and Donatas Kumeliauskas hit the post but no one scored. In the penalty shoot out, Pirates net minder Lakosil stopped everything and Jason Hewitt’s team took the cup by the narrowest possible margin.
Coach Wood was clear on how close things had been; “We were in a strong position, we were four goals up. The overall performance in the cup was very good, we dominated five out of the six periods in that game. The one period we let ourselves down and made mistakes which cost us. There were three individual errors and if we can eradicate those, we’ll be in a much better place”.
Saturday’s game in Milton Keynes pitched the Steeldogs up against the second best side in the EPL and with the team further depleted by Kirk and Shudra joining up with the Steelers.
They worked hard and didn’t make life easy for the Lightning who took the lead in the first before making it 2-0 at 21:36 but Stanislav Lascek was showing a great mix of ability and hard work and scored two goals to see the Dogs level before 25 minutes.
Things got harder for Sheffield when Tim Smith limped out after taking a puck to his ankle and then Tom Relf had to be helped off after a check to the head left him concussed.
They kept going, kept battling and it took the Elite-league bound Lightning until 53:17 to score what would be the decisive goal.
Wood got a fans-eye view of the action; “It’s tough watching your team while you are sat in the stands. I was really proud of the guys, they were doing all the little things really well, we were solid in our own end, we stuck to our systems really well. We limited the errors - they had to beat us.
Milton Keynes are a very good team, they have a lot of depth in their roster and we took them right to the last couple of minutes. On another night bounces could have gone a different way and it could have been a different result”.
The visit of Basingstoke on Sunday seemed like a game too far but another display of heart and character meant the Bison took more than half an hour to find their second goal. The Steeldogs offence couldn’t solve the riddle of net minder Tomas Hiadlovsky.
The coach was pleased with his team’s efforts; “It was a game of two halves. In the first half there was nothing in it between the two teams. When their second goal went in, it kind of broke our back. Energy levels dropped and we were chasing two goals - and Basingstoke is a tough team to chase.
“Three games in three nights is a tough ask and made even tougher when you look at our defence. Tonight we lost Smith again, Bell was hurt, we had no Morgan and no Relf. We are relying on the two young boys, Lewis Baldwin and Tom Barry, both who had fantastic games”.
Steeldogs will hope to have some of those missing players back for Saturday when the newly crowned league champions, the Telford Tigers come to iceSheffield (7:30 face-off).