Ice Hockey Play-Off Final Analysis: Sheffield Steelers 2 Coventry Blaze 4 - ‘Soft goals’ deny Adams men a double

Sheffield Steelers show their disappointment after Playy Off Final defeat to Coventry Blaze
Sheffield Steelers show their disappointment after Playy Off Final defeat to Coventry Blaze
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So Steelers slumped to their second ‘cup final’ defeat of the season...well, get over it, Sheffield fans.

Following this club has never been anything other than a roller-coaster ride.

Steelers' Ben O'Connor

Steelers' Ben O'Connor

The 4-2 defeat to a spirited Coventry saw some of the worst hockey Sheffield had played all year. Yes, it was lousy timing. But they still came back from 4-0 to 4-2 to make a fight of it.

And, at the end of the day, any rival fan - and there was plenty of jealousy on show at the Nottingham Ice Centre - would have given the Play Off trophy away for the League title won by Gerad Adams’ men.

The coach admitted his side was outplayed at times and gave away “incredibly soft goals.”

But he reminded supporters that they had an “extraordinarily successful season” to look back on.

Darrell Hay after defeat to Blaze

Darrell Hay after defeat to Blaze

Captain Jonathan Phillips added that maybe the team had been mentally fatigued with all the ‘must-win’ games of recent months.

Right from the start, Steelers couldn’t get a rhythm going; they could have been three down in 10 minutes.

Old school Blaze dumped the puck, won it behind the net, and carved a chance for Steve Goertzen, who looped it over the net. Yet Blaze dominated the puck, forced a second opportunity and the former Steelers’ captain made it 1-0 at 3;01.

Coventry, who overcame Belfast in Saturday’s shoot-out, are a counter-attack team; they are adept at cashing in on any mistakes. And there were plenty.

When Mark Thomas slipped the ice opened up for Ross Venus to shoot. Mike Forney lost possession, serving up a chance for Jereme Tendler. Russell Cowley nipped in behind Rod Sarich to test Josh Unice. Venus fired another wide when Ben O’Connor was caught out of position. O’Connor’s pass was then intercepted and Tendler hit Unice’s blocker. And so it went on.

This was scary stuff: not only were the champions leaky defensively, but their forwards were seeing little of the puck in dangerous places.

I expected a re-grouped Steelers to turn the game around in the middle period. How wrong could I be?

A rebound off Unice’s leg was easily dispatched by Tendler for 2-0 at 20;29. Then a horror mistake by Mark Thomas - losing the puck near the half way line - saw Venus add a third.

Unice’s confidence looked shot and he rebounded a harmless-looking drive to another ex-Steeler Ashley Tait who made it four - three in Sheffield’s net in 10 minutes.

Matches involving Blaze can be low scoring affairs - they notched just 13 in their previous eight games. Yet top scorer Ryan O’Marra could have potted a fifth when he arrived late in the play.

Where was Sheffield’s normally unimpeachable first line? It was down to third-liner Jeff Legue to conjure up a threat or two to Brian Stewart.

A highly-unusual goal - akin in football terms to Charlie Adam’s 59-yard shot for Stoke at Chelsea the day before - got Steelers off the floor.

Mathieu Roy had kicked the goalie’s stick from under his feet as it lay on the floor and as Stewart went to grab it, the player, now back in the neutral zone, walloped the puck into the empty net.

Stewart complained, but the goal stood, at 43;26. Roy was back in his usual place in front of goal four minutes later to direct another puck home for 2-4.

Cale Tanaka missed a penalty shot - so an unlikely Steelers comeback seemed on the cards.

Adams pulled Unice off for the extra skater with three minutes to go, but too much had been left to do in too little time.