RYAN Finnerty was full of admiration for his Sheffield Steelers team after their 5-1 demolition of defending Elite League champions Belfast Giants at the Odyssey Arena on Friday night.
But the Steelers head coach warned his players they were only halfway there on a weekend which will see the league’s top two lock horns once again on Saturday night.
The Steelers may have been heavily outshot 38-18 on the night, but they made their chances count more often, former Giants’ forward Colin Shields leading the way for the visitors with a hat-trick, while Steelers’ captain Jonathan Phillips struck the other two goals.
The result leaves the Steelers three points ahead of second-placed Belfast – who have three games in hand – ahead of Saturday night’s rematch.
After a tight opening period, three goals in 10 second-period minutes put the visitors in a commanding position from which they never wavered.
Phillips got them underway at 29.08 before GB team-mate Shields made it 2-0 just over three minutes later and then doubled his tally at 38.37 to make it 3-0.
Although Darryl Lloyd pulled one back for Belfast on the powerplay at 45.08, Phillips’s second strike in the 52nd minute and Shields’s hat-trick strike on the powerplay just over a minute later ended any hopes the home side had of a comeback.
While clearly delighted with his team’s performance, Finnerty was keen to urge caution ahead of Saturday’s renewal of hostilities.
“We played a great road game and stuck to our systems – when we play our game we are very hard to beat,” said Finnerty.
“Every player played their part and played hard for us tonight. Inside the room are some pretty beat up bodies that put everything they had on the line. I’m very proud of them.
“We have picked up some injuries tonight and we will spend the next 12 hours mending bodies, resting and preparing for another battle.
“Colin Shields had a big night coming back to his former home team, Jonathan Phillips was a true captain and Tylor Michel was outstanding.”
While the goalscorers took most of the plaudits, Finnerty stressed the important role played at the other ened of the ice by goaltender John DeCaro.
“Johnny made huge stops for us again – especially early on,” added Finnerty. “He kept us in the game and we built off the foundations he laid.”