PAUL THOMPSON hailed an “outstanding” effort from his Sheffield Steelers team after they returned home from their double-header weekend at Elite League title rivals Belfast Giants with three points.
A 2-1 overtime defeat on Saturday night gave them their first point but was enhanced when the defending champions responded in the best way possible just under 24 hours later at the SSE Arena with a 4-1 triumph.
It was no more than the third-placed visitors deserved, outshooting their hosts 44-33 to close the gap in the standings between the two of them to five points, with third-placed Steelers having three games in hand. There are also three more meetings scheduled between the two sides.
Another slight bonus came in the form of leaders Cardiff dropping a point through a 4-3 overtime defeat at home to Coventry, recovering to pip Braehead Clan 3-2 after a shoot-out last night.
“That’s a hell of a good hockey team we have just beaten” said head coach Thompson after Sunday night’s win.
“I think realistically we would have all taken three points against a club like this over the last two nights.
“On Saturday, we had a long travel day but I felt we competed really hard and were unlucky to come away with just the one point.
“We made some changes overnight and were rested up the battle ahead. Every player bought into what we were trying to achieve. Three of our lines scored five-on-five tonight. They were all outstanding.
“Jerry, Danny and I are three happy coaches tonight, our team gave us everything they had which is all we ask.”
Chris Higgins – overtime hero on Saturday for the hosts – gave his team the lead after 10 minutes following a strong opening from the home side, but it was the visitors who were to go into the first period break far happier thanks to two goals in just 35 seconds.
John Armstrong was first on the board at 19.20 following good work by Guillaume Desbiens and it got even better five seconds before the buzzer came when Yared Hagos found a way past Stephen Murphy.
The Steelers began to exert more control, fully aware they needed to take two regulation points home after the overtime disappointment the previous night and they extended their lead midway through the second period thanks to Mathieu Roy.
The Giants tried to find a way back in but Ervins Mustukovs repelled everything thrown at him, Colton Fretter capping a fine night for the five-time EIHL champions when he added an empty-net strike with 71 seconds remaining.
“We moved Marcus, John and Yared around and they all had points tonight,” added Thompson. “More importantly they all contributed to make the team better, I appreciate that as their coach. Totally professional.
I think we knew we couldn’t walk out of here tonight without the two points. There was a feeling all day that this was a job we had to get done.Paul Thompson, Sheffield Steelers’ head coach
“I think we knew we couldn’t walk out of here tonight without the two points. There was a feeling all day that this was a job we had to get done.”
On Saturday, after a long day of travel, the Steelers were ultimately left frustrated after Higgins’s overtime strike earned the hosts the extra point.
Two tight and edgy yet goalless periods set things up nicely for a tenacious third and so it proved, the Steelers going ahead at 50.26 through Fretter, only for former Steelers’ forward Colin Shields to level just 22 seconds later.