The end of the Elite League regular season bring with it the inevitable question: where did it go wrong for Sheffield Steelers?
Last night’s loss to Belfast Giants brought the curtain down on a frustrating League season which promised much but yielded only third place.
Such a podium position would be welcomed at some clubs. But not your Steelers.
So an inquest into the League season that fizzled out would have to centre on:
n Inconsistency: This side is capable of destroying champions Nottingham Panthers (9-4) yet they lost twice at home to Edinburgh.
n Jeff Legue: The initial idea was to avoid having to rely so much on this gifted centreman. But that’s pretty much what Sheffield have had to do.
n Fitness: Owner Tony Smith questions team conditioning, coach Ryan Finnerty does not. Cory Pecker, though, joined the squad out of shape and Drew Fata sometimes appears to carry too much timber.
n British players: Were Steelers’ homegrown players a match for Nottingham’s? Why did point-a-game Colin Shields not fit in?
n Firepower: Rob Dowd has been watching from the stands recently. How Steelers could do with him coming back to join the team’s five other 20-goals-a-season forwards. It’s a pity Simon Ferguson arrived late in the season, he would have joined that group. So would Jordan Krestanovich, had Steelers managed to prize him from Braehead. Goals were hard to come by.
n Should rookie coach Ryan Finnerty stay? Play Off performances will determine this. But whatever criticism he’s had, Finnerty did upgrade the team’s import quota from last year’s Ramsay-Huttel-King-Birnstill group. He was unlucky with ‘Chubby Pecker.’ And while a new coach would not necessarily guarantee you silverware, (and no, Mike Blaisell is not available) continuity, personal development and trust in the existing team leader might. Finnerty is a young coach learning all the time - some of it from bitter experience like the last few weeks. I say: Give him another shot.
Last night, the Arena bade a sour goodbye to hockey for another season. The fans saw a bad tempered event in which Ferguson put Sheffield ahead after three minutes. Belfast bit back. Kevin Saurette, signed from German club Kaufbeuren in December, fired past John DeCaro. Steve Goertzen nipped around the goalie to back-hand in for 2-1.
Again Giants got back in it, ex Scimitars forward Matt Towe making it 2-2. Confidence eroded and Noah Clarke despatched a penalty shot winner at 45;40.
n Steelers had to hang on to record a routine win over Hull Stingrays on Saturday. Former Steeldogs’ netminder Ben Bowns was withdrawn in the last minute as Hull pressed. They couldn’t find an equaliser and went down to their 35th loss of the season.
It had been an interesting start to a scrappy game, with Legue netting after 47 seconds. But Hull upset the odds going ahead through Jereme Tendler and Matt Davies. Two goals in three minutes got the game back into Steelers’ control, d-man Danny Meyers and Ferguson converting.
While Shawn Limpright scored a Sheffield fourth, it was uncomfortably close after the 36 minute mark, when Kurtis Dulle reduced the margin to 4-3.