High-riding Sheffield Steelers have a "world class" goalie

Sheffield Steelers owe much of this season's successes to the new players recruited both last Summer and during this campaign.
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In Sunday's 4-1 defeat of Coventry Blaze, the man of the match was the irrepressible Mitchell Balmas, and the most minutes-played went to influential defencemen Dominic Cormier and Colton Saucerman.

But there are core players from last season's line-up who should not be overlooked.

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Injury had robbed Brett Neumann of 15 games this season, but he returned from a debilitating shoulder injury and scored a short-handed goal which was to make it impossible for Blaze to re-ignite hopes of their own come-back.

And even opposition coach Danny Stewart had an accolade to bestow on Sheffield goaltender Matthew Greenfield, who repelled 27 of 28 shots for a 96.43 percent save rate, his best since shutting out Guildford Flames earlier this month.

Stewart said: "I thought Greenfield made a couple of really world-class saves there to keep it at 2-1."

Home coach Aaron Fox agreed: "Greener held firm like he always does."

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The win followed Steelers' first defeat in 13 games on Saturday, 1-4 at Cardiff Devils, a result which saw their advantage at the top of the table reduced to a still more-than-healthy-12 points.

Matt Greenfield man on a mission v Coventry Pic Dean WoolleyMatt Greenfield man on a mission v Coventry Pic Dean Woolley
Matt Greenfield man on a mission v Coventry Pic Dean Woolley

Sheffield had not lost two games on the bounce all year and weren't about to start at home to Blaze, who they had dispensed with in all league and Challenge Cup games up previously, scoring 26 goals in six previous games.

The Arena team took three minutes to go ahead on Sunday, once Mitch Cook had been called for hooking, Balmas executed a pass from Cormier.

A similarly productive start to the second period led to a 2-0 lead, Mikko Juusola deflecting Saucerman's effort.

Blaze got back in the game through unusual circumstances.

Brett Neumann looks for his moment to pounceBrett Neumann looks for his moment to pounce
Brett Neumann looks for his moment to pounce
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Two delay-of-the-game calls for Robert Dowd and Saucerman gave the visitors a five-on-three power play and Blake Thompson found a way past Greenfield at 30:42.

The 7,526 crowd were up out of their seats again just before the second break when Marco Vallerand despatched the second PP goal of the night, making Blaze's third period a much more difficult session to approach.

Neumann's short-handed goal was enough to put the game out of reach - the visitors paying the price for not being able to put a dent in Steelers' 87.50 percent penalty kill rate.

"Our special teams were the difference" acknowledged Fox.

Marco Vallerand and Mitchell Balmas enjoy the moment v Coventry Pic Dean WoolleyMarco Vallerand and Mitchell Balmas enjoy the moment v Coventry Pic Dean Woolley
Marco Vallerand and Mitchell Balmas enjoy the moment v Coventry Pic Dean Woolley

There are now just 14 regular EIHL games remaining for Sheffield fans to enjoy, as their team romps towards their first league title since 2015-2016, when Paul Thompson lifted the trophy on the final day of the season.

The Orange Army won't have to wait as long this time.