Belfast Giants 1
Sheffield Steelers 2
(On penalty shots)
JOHN DeCaro lived up to his billing as the man who can win the title for Steelers by playing a major part as the champions collected their first two points of the season.
Only one of the Giants’ 30 shots went past him as Ryan Finnerty marked his debut game as Steelers player-coach with a shoot-out victory at the Odyssey Arena, with DeCaro unbeaten in the game-deciding penalty competition.
Before that DeCaro showed why he has been talked about in such glowing terms since signing for Steelers, first keeping Giants out during a first period 5-on-3 power play as Mark Thomas and Rod Sarich sat in the penalty box.
DeCaro then produced an amazing second-period to keep his team in the lead - which had arrived via a Matt Stephenson power-play goal (4:15.) The final destination of the league trophy may end up the winner of the series between these two sides - so the win in Northern Ireland was a splendid start to campaign.
“We knew John DeCaro was going to be a key player for us and he showed us the goalie he is,” said Finnerty. “We ground out the win; sometimes you’ve got to do that.“It’s a game we could well have lost. If Belfast had come out in the first 10 minutes and been able to score on their power plays then we would have, but the guys stuck with it. It’s a good two points.””
Steelers survived that second-period onslaught - during which they only managed five shots - but Mark Garside’s goal at 50:29 forced the game into overtime, followed by penalties.
After Mike Ramsay had given Steelers the perfect start DeCaro saved Jeff Mason’s shot before forcing Derek LeBlanc to shoot off-target. That left Steve Birnstill to net the game-winner.
Steelers felt the benefit of arriving in Belfast early for the season opener. After being unable to skate in Sheffield all week they were on the ice on Friday and again on Saturday morning.
“We are grateful to Todd Kelman for giving us the opportunity to skate when we got here,” said Finnerty. ““We wouldn’t have been competitive otherwise.”
Period scores: 0-1, 0-0, 1-0, 0-0, 0-1 (1-2). Pen mins: Belfast 8, Sheffield 14 PPs: Bel 0/7 –She 1/4. Shots on: Murphy 26 –DeCaro 30.