IT’S been a while.
The last time Sheffield Steelers sat top of the Elite League standings was when they clinched the regular season title almost 12 months ago.
But, after Saturday night’s comfortable 5-2 win over Fife Flyers, the South Yorkshire outfit are once again the team to catch.
Cardiff’s surprising 6-1 thumping at the hands of hosts Nottingham Panthers on Friday night had left the door open for the Steelers to strike and they took their opportunity with both hands.
The Devils, who also lost to Nottingham 1-0 in overtime in Sunday’s Challenge Cup Final, still have a game in hand on the Steelers, who are now two points ahead.
But, with two of their four remaining games against Nottingham, plus a home encounter with bogey side Coventry Blaze and a last-day trip to Fife still to come, Steelers’ head coach Paul Thompson knows a fifth Elite League title is far from a formality.
But he was pleased to see his players’ efforts pay rewarded against Fife at Sheffield Arena.
“Fife are a good team, they’ve been in a good run of form and have turned a few teams over,” said Thompson.
“But we had a good luck at them beforehand and had a good week of practice. And when you’re not playing four games in seven nights or whatever it is, you can prepare a lot better because, when you are playing every other night or in back-to-back games, a lot of your practice time is taken up with recovery.
“So it’s nice to see that the hard work and the dedication that the boys put in during the week comes off.”
News of British forward Robert Dowd’s return to the Steelers’ line-up after 16 games out through injury had already provided a timely boost for the hosts.
Thompson had anticipated a positive response from Levi Nelson who was buoyed by his line-mate’s return and it was the 27-year-old Canadian centre who played a crucial role in front of the 7,470 crowd.
It was Nelson who broke the deadlock against a stubborn Fife when he pounced on the powerplay with just 12 seconds of the first period remaining.
Again on the powerplay, Nelson doubled the hosts’ advantage just 66 seconds into the second and, after Freddie Vestberg had made it 3-0, Nelson turned provider with defenceman Ben O’Connor for the returning Dowd to increase the lead further at 37.06.
For anyone in any doubt as to where the two points were heading, Tyler Mosienko’s powerplay strike at 43.58 settled matters, Fife grabbing a couple of consolation goals from Nico Sacchetti.