Six years after their previous trip to the Playoff Finals in Coventry, the Sheffield Steeldogs again lost in the semi-final but left with heads held high after a great performance.
Sheffield took on the Basingstoke Bison who were league and playoff champions in the South.
Having lost two cup games to them earlier in the season, the Steeldogs went in to the game as underdogs but determined to leave it all on the ice.
It was a tense, hard-fought game where scoring chances were limited. Steeldogs competed well in the opening period but were outshot by 11-5.
Sheffield’s speed continually troubled Basingstoke and when Ash Calvert set Milan Kolena away, the Slovakian forward fired a laser beam past Skinns to put the Dogs 1-0 up at 29:00.
The Bison had more chances and within 5 minutes Aaron Connolly equalised and the two sides remained level after two periods.
That left a final period with everything to play for and at 48:01 Connolly put his team in front for the first time. With two power play opportunities Basingstoke looked to seal the deal but Kolena broke away and was dragged down. He got up to take the penalty shot but just failed to elevate the puck enough to beat Skinns. And then on the next shift Greg Wood had a further chance but was denied by a poke check.
Zimozdra was pulled for the extra attacked but after a couple of good looks, Connolly took the puck down the ice to complete his hat-trick and a 3-1 win. The Bison went on to beat Telford 4-0 in the final.
Steeldogs assistant captain Tim Smith said: “We felt as if we were in control of the game and played to our tempo and plan. We had Basingstoke on the ropes and they were huffing and puffing. We took the 1-0 lead and then we were hit by their goal, which was unfortunate.
“Throughout the game we took the puck to them, they just had that little bit of quality that saw them edge ahead. For anyone watching the game, it would have been great to watch, fast, end to end hockey and swings in momentum. It’s just so tough for us that we played like we did but had nothing to show for it at the end”.
There is no time for the team to relax as on Wednesday night, the Swindon Wildcats will be at iceSheffield for the first leg of the National Cup final, and Smith believes the team will be ready to go; “We have to come out ready to go for it, which I know we will.
"We will be ready for one more challenge. Having won the league, we’ve come up short in the playoffs, we have to go all out and we have to give everything in these next two big games. The lads certainly have their eyes on it now, starting with a strong game at home”.
The first leg of the National Cup Final is Wednesday with a 7:30 face-off.