Tanner Eberle's delight as hat-trick helps Sheffield Steelers hit the top after victory over Coventry Blaze
Tanner Eberle is savouring his first ever professional hat-trick, one which took Sheffield Steelers to the top of the EIHL table.
And after the game, he admitted it had taken him a bit too long to score one, the best part of a decade in fact, - but his trio against Coventry Blaze in a 7-2 win was worth waiting for.
Eberle hadn't played hockey for 14 months of the Covid lockdown and admitted he'd been slightly off the pace in Steelers' opening two matches.
But his drive and ambition on Wednesday night, twinned with his chemistry with Robert Dowd and Josef Mikyska, delivered him three well-deserved goals.
The 27 year old said: "I think my last hat-trick was even before junior!
"I have had a lot of two-goal games in my career and a lot of chances...I don't know if it is overthinking but I just never got it done so I was pretty excited.
"A lot of it is mental, you can think about it too much and make it harder for yourself. Everything just aligned for me."
Coach Aaron Fox said Eberle and the rest had played a "fast up tempo game" and had challenged themselves after mistakes committed on the Nottingham pad the previous weekend.
Of his team he said simply: "I love our group."
Steelers had dominated 19 minutes of the opening 20, yet only had a slender lead over Blaze.
Eberle opened the scoring firing past Cole Shudra's attempted block at 5:52.Liam Kirk - who went into the match having fired almost twice as many pucks on goal as any other Steeler and was rewarded with a first line promotion - engineered a chance, as did Dowd and Kevin Schulze.
The outstanding Adrian Saxrud Danielsen then broke up a Blaze raid on the left flank and in the resulting surge Dowd was presented with an easy tap-in.
With Sheffield camping in the offensive zone and winning the one-one-one battles, more Sheffield goals seemed inevitable.
Yet a counter attack saw Coventry expose a gap behind Josef Hrabal, Tristan Keck setting up Mike Hammond with 39 seconds left of the opening session.
Two minutes into the next period, Sheffield seemingly rectified the situation, Kevin Schulze's shot through goalie Shane Owen's legs was going wide but Sondre Olden propelled it back over the line from an acute angle.
Churchfield left a space above his near post shoulder and suddenly Coventry were back in it again (3-2) - and there was a momentum shift for a short spell as the game was stretched.
It was something of a relief for Steeler fans watching the stream when a sublime pass from Olden set up Kirk for 4-2 at 33:09.
The web audience were treated to plenty of offence, with Ross Venus hitting a post and Dowd and Kirk just failing on breakaways.
Steelers' fifth was a blow for Shudra - it was his stick that a hopeful punt from Eberle went off and in and the 5-2 scoreline now afforded some proper perspective, at 42:41.
And old warhorse Jason Hewitt stroked in number six with a rebound before Eberle wrapped up his hat-trick.