Steelers’ Elite League hopes take Giant setback

Chad Huttel, Sheffield Steelers, with Geoff Woolhouse in the background.
Chad Huttel, Sheffield Steelers, with Geoff Woolhouse in the background.
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Sheffield Steelers 2 Belfast Giants 4 (Sunday)

Sheffield Steelers 3 Hull Stingrays 0 (Saturday)

Steelers have six games in hand over leaders Belfast Giants - but they are going to need them all after being outplayed by them last night.

Sheffield were short of leaders and engineered far too few shots on goal as the Irish controlled the play.

The champions’ most potent players Jeff Legue and Mike Ramsay were invisible as the returning Rob Dowd and his pals dominated this four-pointer.

How Steelers fans would have liked a player like Mike Hoffman; he made it look like men against boys at times.

Ryan Finnerty’s team probably won’t be as bad as this again - they can’t be if they have any pretensions of retaining the title.

Last night’s game was two hours late in starting after Giants’ plane to East Midlands airport was delayed. But if there was any travel-weariness it wasn’t obvious.

Ex-Steeler Dowd was on a one-man mission to score, he hit the post and had three decent efforts on goalie John DeCaro.

Sheffield had to kill a couple of early penalties. But they emerged unscathed and a decent Nick Duff mid-ice hit on Adam Keefe seemed to shift the momentum.

Steelers’ opening goal was an usual affair. Defenceman Matt Stephenson lost the puck and Sheffield looked vulnerable, but they won it back attacked, Luke Fulghum hitting a one timer off a pass from Tom Squires. Squires had only been on the ice as Ashley Tait had hobbled off with a left ankle injury.

Dowd was not to be denied and buried the puck two minutes into the second session - one Belfast utterly dominated.

Jon Pelle and Hoffman created danger whenever they were near goal, Pelle striking the post and the 6ft 4ins Hoffman clattering the crossbar.

Steelers went ahead at 32;09 when Colt King poked over the line, though there was some dispute whether it had crossed.

Belfast didn’t deserve to be behind and when Finnerty was sent to the penalty box, American d-man Jeff Mason equalised.

Player coach Finnerty and opposition coach Doug Christiansen had a heated verbal spat as the teams walked back to their dressing rooms.

Finnerty’s mood won’t have been lightened by the fact his line was on the ice when Dowd and Craig Peacock danced around their forecheck to deliver a goal for Pelle.

Worse was to come. Hoffman skated wide around Mark Thomas and fired over the defenceman’s despairing dive for 4-2 at 44;21.

Still time to come back - but only if you are playing well.

And they weren’ they didnt’t.

Back-up goaltender Geoff Woolhouse was the star of the show on Saturday as he turned back 30 shots to chalk up his second clean sheet of the season.

His stoic resistance ended what little chance Hull had of preventing Sheffield recording their 10th straight victory. Goals were distributed evenly over each period.

Defenceman Matt Stephenson roamed forward as early as the fourth minute to open the home side’s account.

And Jeff Legue notched the club’s 130th goal of the campaign in the final minute of the second session.

Hull kept the score at that until optimism got the better of them.

They pulled off Christian Boucher for an extra skater and Luke Fulghum despatched into the empty net at 59.39.