Sheffield Steelers 3
Dundee Stars 1
UNLIKE football, when an ice hockey club gives a ‘chairman’s vote of confidence’ to his coach, he generally means it.
“I have complete confidence in my manager” is soccer-speak for: “He’s on his way out.”
Not so in hockey, and definitely not so at Sheffield Steelers. Hopefully.
Before the weekend, coach Ryan Finnerty’s side had lost three out of four games and recent home form against teams like Edinburgh Capitals and Fife Flyers had been largely disappointing.
Saturday night brought with it the opportunity to enchant the fans with pre-Christmas cheer.
Sadly, though, they needed a last-second goal from Rod Sarich to make the game against Dundee safe.
The first period was a collection of errors and disjointed play, and it was only after d-man Matt Stephenson scored in the second session, that an element of confidence began to bloom.
While they monopolised the game, (39-17 shots) it won’t have soothed the concerns of the fans that owner Tony Smith referred to in the programme notes, people who had told him: ‘We are never coming again, wrong players, rookie coach, bad management...’
In his article, Smith defended Finnerty saying “He is the guy I chose to lead this club.”
Later, in an interview with The Star, Smith elaborated.
“Finner and myself have had a few chats just recently,” he said, adding that the main theme was: “We need to up the game.
“But what I wrote was a genuine vote of confidence. I put Finner in that place and am going to keep him there. That is the bottom line.
“He’s here until the end of the season - I won’t let Finnerty go this season. Everybody knows we’ve not got it right, there is something wrong with the club at the moment and we’ve got to find out what it is.
“Guys are working hard; I am told everybody is fit, but we’ve not got it right. We have got quality and ability but we don’t always put it together.”
In Saturday’s win, Sarich was drafted on to the wing in place of rib-injured Ashley Tait.
Sarich came close and Jason Hewitt blazed wide of an open goal, but despite two power plays and almost complete possession of the puck, the team couldn’t engineer a goal.
Stars defended as stoically as their fellow countrymen, Edinburgh Capitals had done the previous weekend.
And they could have caught Steelers on the counter attack on more than one occasion.
Players like Jeff Legue and Drew Fata lost the puck cheaply and, one of Steelers’ uneventful Power Plays, Stars caught Sheffield out on a 2-on-1 attack as if to underline the disarray.
Stephenson’s wrist-shot opened the scoring at 20;53, a similar goal to one he scored seven days earlier.
But a sensational long- range shot from Scotsman Tristan Harper whistled past John DeCaro, from centre blue line for 1-1. Steve Goertzen doesn’t always impress offensively, but he collected a puck on his skate, manoeuvred it to his back-hand to score the winner, Sarich adding his at the death.
Steelers had to kill a 51-second 5-on-3 penalty to ensure they got the two points.
The scheduled away game at Dundee, last night, was postponed after Steelers’ bus broke down at Gretna Green, of all places. Steelers say they will work together with Stars tomorrow to re-arrange the fixture.