Honours even and ban escaped in weekend of Sheffield Steelers v Belfast Giants high drama

Mason Mitchell in action during Sheffield STeelers match against Belfast GiantsMason Mitchell in action during Sheffield STeelers match against Belfast Giants
Mason Mitchell in action during Sheffield STeelers match against Belfast Giants
Belfast boss Adam Keefe escaped a ban after making a "cut-throat" gesture towards match officials at the end of Saturday's game at Sheffield Steelers.

The Giants' coach was angered by the legitimacy of a Ciaran Long high sticking call, on Matt Petgrave, which he felt contributed to his side's 2-1 loss on Saturday.

Keefe's mood lightened considerably on Sunday when his team beat Sheffield 3-2 on the same Arena ice.

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A video clip of his abuse of officials had been sent to the EIHL, who could have suspended the 38-year-old Canadian - conduct of that nature cannot be tolerated in a family sport, especially as he is an assistant coach with Great Britain.

Face off between Sheffield Steelers and Belfast GiantsFace off between Sheffield Steelers and Belfast Giants
Face off between Sheffield Steelers and Belfast Giants

Instead, the League fined him and said: "The incident will be recorded on the team’s record for the remainder of the 2022/23 season, with Keefe classified as a repeat offender and subject to further tariffs if future incidents occur."

Keefe, who has been at Belfast since 2011, was back on the bench on Sunday as the reigning champions outplayed Steelers in the first 20 minutes.

David Goodwin had served a warning after just 15 seconds with an attempt on Matt Greenfield's goal, Matt Foley created uncertainty in the home defence every time he roamed forward, and too many personal duels were going the way of the Irish.

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Petgrave, booed by the Giants fans for his part in Saturday's high stick call, had three shots through traffic on a power play but Jackson Whistle stayed composed.

Colby McAuley gave the visitors a deserved lead with an audacious shot from the left wing at 18:51.

And 52 seconds later Goodwin shot home from the high slot for 2-0. Goodwin was on the mark again to widen Belfast's advantage.

Sheffield needed to up their intensity and mirror the kind of commitment and bite shown by Belfast players like Will Cullen. Happily, that sense of urgency returned.

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Tomas Pitule tapped home a power play goal at 26:56, Mason Mitchell started agitating and Brett Neumann backhanded home a second at 34:27.

Sheffield dominated the last period, while Giants did their best to manage their thin lead.

Belfast had the help of the crossbar - which rebounded Sebastien Piche's slapshot. Whistle did the rest, pulling off some fine saves to take the points.

On Saturday, the teams had matched each other stride for stride.

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Sheffield narrowly edged the number of shots on goal but Whistle kept the puck out.

Belfast drew first blood though, through Steven Owre at 24:50 Steelers hit back through Pitule, assisted by Brandon McNally, a fair scoreline given the tit-for-tat play.

The 6,184 audience then witnessed that controversial turning point. Ciaran Long sat out the high-sticking minor, which Keefe later labelled a phantom call, an incident that prompted the coach to make the odious gesture.

Brett Neumann polished off the power play featuring Danny Kristo and Petgrave, at 50:16. Skipper Jonathan Phillips doesn't take to many roughing calls but had to sit a soft one out at 58:41 leading to a nervous six on four power play with 1:19 remaining. Sheffield hung on for maximum points.