There is no shame in losing to a top Swedish side even if we are repeatedly told the quality gap between UK hockey and that on the continent is diminishing.
But there were embarrassing side-issues attached to the 5-2 Steelers’ home defeat at the clever hands and speedy feet of HV71. They both surrounded the venue rather than the team:
* A new car parking policy and price hike had many fans fuming before they set foot in building;
* The newly-painted yet mucky-grey ice surface looked not just slushy but outright dangerous, with at least one big hole appearing.
Sheffield Arena’s pad provision was pretty dire and will doubtless trigger criticism from the Champions Hockey League, who wanted the game to be a showpiece TV event across Europe.
Coach Paul Thompson called the ice surface “a sham...the worst I’ve ever seen here” - but refused to use that as a reason for the defeat which all but mathematically rules the side out of qualifying.
Instead, he was exasperated at five penalties which were ruthlessly exploited by HV’s Power Play experts. Especially as they matched up-five-on-five.
“You don’t see them taking undisciplined penalties. That was disappointing” Thompson said.
Steelers failed to convert two early Power Play opportunities.
But HV’s special teams again handed out a painful lesson, skipper Chris Abbott firing low under Ervins Mustukovs at 12;28, as Tyler Mosienko sat out for holding.
Zack Fitzgerald took the kind of temper-driven off the play penalty his coach hates at 13;39 and it took the Swedes all of three seconds to add a second, Martin Tornberg backhanding in.
Their lead was halved by Rob Dowd’s one-timer from the high slot, at 14;55.
Jonathan Phillips, who wants to score a few more this season, had a decent chance at 23;00 but poked the puck wide. Dowd wafted at a mid-air puck but failed to connect.
Goalie Mustukovs pad-stopped a Mattias Tedenby penalty shot, awarded after he’d been flattened on route to goal by Ben O’Connor. Such a moment could have energised the home side.
Would it be the turning point?
But, four seconds into the last period, O’Connor misdirected the puck out of the rink and received a delay of game penalty from which Temmu Laine scored for 1-3 (40:26.)
If ever there was a goal which took the wind out of Sheffield’s sails, it was this.
Heads dropped. The body language was that of a beaten team.
“We stopped playing and felt sorry for ourselves” admitted the coach.
Davey Phillips’ crosscheck behind the goal triggered a PP goal by Abbot (46:22.)
Levi Nelson’s revenge boarding was followed by a John Armstrong trip, and it was no surprise on the 5-on-3 when Tedenby slotted home.
With nine minutes left, and the game over as a contest, the scoreline threatened to be a huge embarrassment for the 4,471 fans. But Dowd converted Steelers’ own PP goal 54;56.
Steelers, who summoned up just 14 shots on goal as against the visitors’ 43, had again paid the penalty..for too many penalties.