Ice Hockey: Sheffield 8 Belfast 0 - Steelers close the gap with slaying of Giants

Ben O'Connor celebrates after scoring v Belfast
Ben O'Connor celebrates after scoring v Belfast
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Steelers trimmed the gap between themselves and second-placed Belfast with a stunning 8-0 win at Sheffield Arena.

There are still six points between them, but Paul Thompson’s men have two games in hand on them.

Matt Marquardt gets stuck in after injury to Andreas Valdix

Matt Marquardt gets stuck in after injury to Andreas Valdix

Whether that will be enough to challenge for the title, with 18 League games left, is debatable.

But at least Steelers showed their mettle on Sunday after under-performing 24 hours earlier.

Steelers, who lost 5-2 at Milton Keynes, enjoyed one of the best period’s of their season in the opening 20 minutes.

Andreas Jamtin, restored to first line centre after suspension, made up for lost time making a goal for Liam Kirk at 4:08. Jackson Whistle had a good sight of the shot and should have done better in Giants’ goal.

Paul Thompson leading from the front

Paul Thompson leading from the front

Just 26 seconds later, Ben O’Connor skate across the circles and planted in number two.

Belfast looked nothing like a second-place team and conceded a third from Levi Nelson.

And, much to the Arena fans delight, their number one target for abuse, Spiro Goulakos, lost the puck on the power play and Jamtin skated unopposed on Whistle, beating him with a delicious finish.

Whistle wanted to go off, but permission was denied.

Jonathan Phillips v Belfast Giants

Jonathan Phillips v Belfast Giants

Sheffield, with Colton Fretter out injured, tried to exploit gaps in Belfast’s rearguard as the Irish poured forward.

And they succeeded when O’Connor scored a short-handed, second cracker, skating hard up the left flank and roasting

Whistle with a slapshot at 27;07.

Sheffield’s d-men were on song.

Mark Matheson looked like adding to the tally and O’Connor was looking for a hat-trick.

Joonas Ronnberg fitted in seamlessly on the blue-line on his latest return to Sheffield and shutout star goaltender Ervins Mustukovs produced a string of decent saves to deny Belfast a way back.

Belfast’s travelling fans deserved better and they had to watch Matt Marquardt despatch the sixth of the night at 41:33.

While the visitors harried and fore-checked they just didn’t have any offensive ryhthm.

Not surprisingly, Whistle came off with eight minutes to go.

His replacement Andrew Dickson was then beaten by the THIRD short-handed goal of the night, swept in by Jonathan Phillips.

Then it was 8-0, with Marquardt adding the final touch,

Saturday was a different story.

Coach Paul Thompson was threatening to axe players after Sheffield lost 2-5 at Milton Keynes.

His angst came because of indiscipline, a problem which already had the roster undermanned because of existing suspensions.

He felt the game turned because of unnecessary penalties - singling out Nelson’s highstick double in the second period on which MK scored.

“You cannot kill seven or eight minors, like we are doing” he said.

“We have to be smarter and if guys aren’t going to be smarter, they maybe we will look to move them away.”

He added: “We did enough to get something out of the game, but once again it’s’s always the same one or two players...there is just no need for it.”

MKL, who scored three Power Play goals, built up a 2-0 lead through Guillaume Doucet and Kevin King, but achieved parity through Liam Kirk and Nelson.

But then the away goals dried up, as Lewis Hook, King’s second, and Francis Verreault-Paul (empty netter) rubbed in their superiority.