WHILE Sheffield Steelers and Nottingham Panthers picked up a victory apiece from their traditional festive double header, the real winners from the weekend were current Elite League leaders Cardiff Devils.
On Saturday night, Paul Thompson’s team had swapped places with their East Midlands counterparts after winning 2-1 at home in front of a 9,000-plus crowd.
But the Panthers regained second place when clinching instant revenge at the National Ice Centre 24 hours later, enjoying a 5-3 victory in front of the live TV cameras.
In the meantime, Andrew Lord’s Cardiff were able to stretch their lead at the top of the overall standings to five points over Nottingham thanks to successive wins over Coventry Blaze.
The Steelers sit a point further back from Nottingham, with Belfast Giants having now drawn level on points with the South Yorkshire club after a 4-3 win in overtime at Braehead Clan.
And while admitting his team gave away ‘soft’ goals in Nottingham, Steelers’ head coach Thompson was more frustrated with the officiating than anything else – claiming some calls from referee Tom Darnell and his team left him “utterly confused”.
“I’m not frustrated with our third period performance, I thought we came back and really had some good chances to claw our way back in,” said Thompson.
“I’m more disappointed with some of the decision-making tonight than anything else. I don’t understand it and I’m totally and utterly confused.
“When their fifth goal went in, a lot of teams would have buried their heads but we didn’t, we clawed our way back in and I like that in our attitude
“We split the weekend but we just feel a little bit aggrieved that we didn’t get the rub of the green on a couple of the calls today.”
On Saturday, Steelers – who welcomed captain Jonathan Phillips back to their line-up – fell behind to an eighth-minute strike from Panthers’ Logan MacMillan.
Steelers’ long-serving defenceman Rod Sarich levelled matters at 15.57, weaving his way through the Panthers’ defence before firing in from a tight angle and somehow squeezing the puck through former Steelers’ No 2 goalie Dan Green at his near post.
Then, with Nottingham’s Geoff Waugh served a hooking call, Rob Dowd fired home what proved to be the game-winning goal on the powerplay at 36.08.
Read our Boxing Day report on Steelers v Panthers HERE
“We split the weekend but we just feel a little bit aggrieved that we didn’t get the rub of the green on a couple of the calls today.”Paul Thompson, Sheffield Steelers’ head coach.
The following night, Steelers went into the return match at the NIC without leading forward Mathieu Roy and, like the previous night, fell behind to an early goal when David Clarke fired home from the left wing past Marek Pinc at 1.32.
Dowd equalised on the powerplay at 11.42, only for MacMillan to restore his side’s lead shortly before the first interval.
Two unanswered goals for the Panthers in the second effectively sealed the game, Cam Janssen making it 3-1 at 32.57 before Clarke added his second - a powerplay effort - just over a minute later.
It got worse for Sheffield early in the third when Sam Oakford’s first of the season made it 5-1 at 42.06, although there was brief hope of a comeback from the visitors when Levi Nelson pulled one back within a couple of minutes.
Unfortunately, when the Steelers did strike again - through Jason Hewitt - there were less than four minutes remaining, the Panthers holding on for a deserved victory.
Sheffield Steeldogs enjoyed a comfortable 4-1 victory to heap further misery on English Premier League newcomers Hull Pirates.
Player-coach Greg Wood’s team were already 3-0 ahead through Andrew Hirst, Arnoldas Bosas and Tom Squires before bottom club Hull grabbed a reply on the powerplay through Nathan Salem at 53.28.
Bosas then scored an empty-netter with just 46 seconds remaining to ensure a seventh win in eight league outings for the visitors.