THE Sheffield Steelers Elite League title challenge ended in Belfast last night.
Needing to win both games on their road trip to Northern Ireland to stay in the race, Steelers lost, handing the championship to the Giants.
The Steelers were rocked early on when Belfast, backed by a 7,000 strong crowd, scored twice in the space of 30 seconds. Ex-Steeler Robert Dowd crashed home the opener at 5;18 and that was quickly followed by Jon Pelle’s second.
The stunned Steelers couldn’t get a foothold in the game, with Jeremy Rebek and then Pelle going close to making it 3-0 before Sheffield finally woke from their slumber.
Steve Birnstill and Jeff Legue both fired rubber at Giants goaltender Stephen Murphy as the play began to switch to the opposite end of the ice.
The Giants thought they had scored a third on a breakaway when Dowd was sent clear by Craig Peacock.
He did put the puck into the net, but instead referee Mike Hicks awarded a penalty shot. Dowd tried to tempt John DeCaro into making the first move, but when the goaltender stood tall he failed to register even a meaningful shot.
That miss looked like it could be a turning point when Steelers finally managed to put something on the scoreboard a couple of minutes later. Legue ripped a shot from the right circle over Murphy’s shoulder at 18:33 to really make a game of it.
The Steelers had some jump in their play at the start of the second period. Mike Ramsey’s shot flew over the bar before the first powerplay of the game brought sustained Steelers pressure. Luke Fulghum’s shot brought a great save from Murphy, Jeremy Rebek slid to block another shot and Murphy then made another big block from Legue.
Hopes of the Steelers pulling off a famous victory to keep their title hopes alive faded at 33:19 when Hoffman again used his 6ft 5 frame to barge his way through the defence and he set up Aaron Clarke to finish.
The game – and the title – was won with 15 minutes to go when on a Giants powerplay Paul Deniset pounced on a rebound from a Hoffman shot to hammer the puck past DeCaro.
The Giants were on another powerplay when captain Rebek iced their celebration cake in the closing minutes with the fifth goal.