RYAN Finnerty pulled his team back to a clean sweep over Coventry Blaze yesterday as Sheffield Steelers clawed their way back to a 5-3 win.
A minute after his side went 3-1 down he dropped the gloves with Matic Krajl and sparked a remarkable turnaround. Four minutes later Sheffield were in front and keeping on the coat tails of Belfast, who had their own comeback in Nottingham.
The game got off to a blistering start and effectively stayed at that pace. Blaze were better with their puck possession than many recent effort, and were quick to fire pucks to the net.
The top line of Shea Guthrie, Robert Farmer and Owen Fussey caused maximum havoc, with the other units more than doing their bit.
For Sheffield’s part they were quick on the break and fast to get the shot away. They were playing without Colt King, benched after a daft penalty the night before that threatened the Steelers victory.
Both goalies were busy, but a wonder save from Peter Hirsch, kicking his leg in the air while lying on his back, set the Skydome alive. Moments after that stop, Guthrie went on a trademark blistering run, went round the back of the net, Fussey fired across the net and Farmer tipped it in.
Blaze should have taken more chances, but denied Matt Stephenson from point blank range before a one timer from Mike Ramsay flew in the net, after the Steelers forward was set up from behind the net by Jeff Legue.
Guthrie, Fussey and Farmer all came close with tips before Blaze’s continued pressure paid off – a Matt Soderstrom shot leading to the puck being worked around the zone.
It fell to Farmer who blasted home into a gaping net, and the former Sheffield player nearly had a hat trick after another burst of play moments later. Tensions rose, and at the end of the second period Stephenson tangled with Soderstrom in an angry on-ice exchange.
Fussey made it 3-1 after good work by Bryan Jurynec on the boards won the puck for Blaze, but then Sheffield got motoring.
Steelers kept recycling the puck and Jason Hewitt, with his back to goal, tapped into an empty net to spark the revival.
Thirty seconds later Sheffield surged down the ice and Jeff Legue forced into into the Coventry net.
And two minutes later another long pass saw Hewitt give a drop pass to Neil Clark who fired into the low corner to give Sheffield a 48.31 lead.
Coventry were shell-shocked and moments after Peter Nylander blasted over, Mike Ramsay swept down the wing, faked, beat the defender and scored without needing the accompanying Luke Fulghum.
“They are a better team and a bigger club. It doesn’t come easy to say it, but it’s a fact,” said Blaze coach Paul Thompson.
“They are a championship club and we are a mid-table club and they showed that tonight by taking chances when we made mistakes.”
n Saturday saw Coach Ryan Finnerty recall Canadian winger Neil Clark to the line-up.
With Ashley Tait out injured that, in itself, was perhaps not a surprise, but the choice of import who was removed to make way for him certainly was.
It seemed likely, given the fact Saturday’s game was at home, that Finnerty would pick a defenceman to sit out.
All eyes were on Chad Huttel, the energetic but raw 23-year-old American.
Yet Finnerty dropped his newst acquisition, Nick Duff - which must send a signal to the 10-season professional that he must pick his game up.
Huttel and Clark both repaid their coach with goals, Huttel tucking in a wrap around in just two minutes. Shea Guthrie levelled for Blaze but Clark, rusty but effective, put the home side ahead.
It was another Steeler import, Colt King, who was to give Finnerty a headache.
He took a penalty and then a game misconduct for abusing referee Moray Hanson.
Guthrie tied the game up again, and it was Mike Ramsay who settled the issue with a late goal.
Of King’s penalty, Finnerty said: “It was indisciplined. We all spoke before the game and said don’t anyone even talk to the referee, he loves giving the misconducts out. Then that happens, as a coach you feel like pulling your hair out.”
On Clark, he said: “You have to give it to Neil, its hard coming back into a team after a long lay off.
“When you come back after injury you feel you have time to bed in, but for him he had to perform right off the bounce, and he did, he was great and he took his goal so well. “What an important goal that was.”