RYAN Finnerty admits the international break brought about by Great Britain’s Olympic qualifying bid in Japan next weekend has come at just the right time for his “beat-up” Sheffield Steelers team.
Six Steelers’ players will make the trip to the Far East with Tony Hand’s squad, with Rod Sarich being forced to pull out on Saturday due to a groin injury.
But it’s the battered and bruised status of his imports rather than his British contingent that has led Finnerty to welcome next weekend’s break with open arms, giving his players additional time to rest and recover ahead of their return to action on November 16.
“This has come at a great time for us – we need this week off,“ said Finnerty. “We ’re a pretty beat-up hockey club and we’ve got some guys who need some rest.”
Given the condition of his squad, two spells of overtime – both successful – was probably the last thing Finnerty wanted.
Saturday’s 5-4 win in Dundee courtesy of Tylor Michel’s game-winner was followed by another sudden-death decision at home on Sunday when a Tom Sestito strike saw off Nottingham Panthers 4-3 in the Challenge Cup.
In front of a 6,000-plus crowd, Ashley Tait gave the home side a ninth-minute lead before Panthers’ Anthony Stewart levelled with his first of the night at 18.50.
Brandon Benedict put the visitors ahead after tapping in a rebound at 23.04 but, within three minutes, Steelers were ahead after Steve Goertzen levelled on the powerplay before Jason Hewitt finished off a swift breakaway by firing high past Craig Kowalski at 26.07.
An unmarked Stewart swept home his second on the powerplay at 50.59 which, despite a frantic last five minutes, ensured overtime was required where NHL forward Sestito increased his cult status among fans with his fifth goal of the season.
“They looked a lot fresher and they outworked us in that first period and that’s unusual for our team,” added Finnerty. “But we addressed that and I’m just proud of the way our guys battled back.”
On Saturday, Sami Ryhanan grabbed himself a hat-trick for Dundee, but it wasn’t enough to deny the Steelers whose goals came from Jeff Legue, Sestito and Hewitt before Michel’s overtime winner.
“I was frustrated with the way we played in Dundee,” said Finnerty.
“That was a team that was there for the taking and I thought that had we turned the screw a bit more when we had them at 3-1, instead of letting them come back into the game so quickly, it might have been a different outcome altogether.”