SHEFFIELD STEELERS comfortably swatted aside any fears about facing regular thorn in the side Coventry Blaze with two comprehensive victories at the weekend.
Last season, Coventry had Steelers’ number on a regular basis but the Steelers quickly forgot those experiences when registering a 6-1 win in the Elite League at the SkyDome Arena 24 hours after Saturday night’s 9-5 triumph over the same opponents in the Challenge Cup.
Sunday night’s clash was effectively over by the end of the first period after the visitors hit five past their hosts without reply.
The Steelers were no doubt buoyed by the fact that their nemesis from the past couple of seasons - goaltender Brian Stewart - was missing from the Blaze line-up through an injury sustained in the previous night’s encounter.
Defenceman Christoffer Björklund opened the scoring in the third minute before a quick-fire double from John Armstrong in the fifth and sixth minutes further extended the Steelers lead.
Markus Nilsson got in on the act a minute later at 6.08 to ensure the home crowd remained silent before Mathieu Roy added a fifth in the last minute of the period.
There was early hope of a comeback for the hosts when Liam Stewart got them on the board just 13 seconds into the second period, but there was nothing more they could do, Armstrong completing his hat-trick at 39.28 before a goalless third period.
Saturday’s clash - Steelers last game in the Challenge Cup group phase, was a more topsy-turvy affair before the quality and depth of the hosts - playing without Tyler Mosienko for the first time following his shock exit on Friday - told in the end.
The match was memorable for another reason too when teenager Liam Kirk scored his first goal in a Steelers shirt, the youngster being one of two players along with Cole Shudra to embark on apprenticeships with the club in the summer.
After meeting up in the Support25 charity match earlier in the week in aid of former Blaze star Adam Calder, the clash at Sheffield Arena was crucial to both sides for differing reasons.
Steelers could boost their chances of finishing top of Group B while Coventry were desperate for points to keep their tenuous qualification hopes alive, going into the game three points adrift of Manchester Storm.
After a cagey opening few minutes, Colton Fretter opened the scoring for the hosts in the 10th minute, only for former Steelers’ defenceman Jim Jorgensen to level at 13.46. Fretter quickly restored Steelers’ lead just over a minute later with Roy doubling the hosts lead just 13 seconds afterwards.
That was how it stayed until just over three minutes into what turned out to be a breathless second period when Garrett Klotz again pulled the visitors level, before Stewart put them in front for the only time on the night at 25.48.
Within two minutes, though, the Steelers were level through Levi Nelson;s powerplay strike with Kirk’s first EIHL goal coming just over two minutes later to put his team ahead. Again the Blaze came back, this time through Matt Marquardt’s penalty shot at 33.15, but the Steelers would end the period on top once again thanks to Mike Ratchuk’s 40th-minute strike.
Two goals in the the 48th minute from Luke Ferrara and Jesse Schultz put the game beyond doubt, although Blaze still insisted on having a say when Marc Cantin made it 8-5 on the powerplay at 52.37. Soon after, Armstrong - perhaps as a warm-up for his hat-trick the following evening in Coventry - completed the scoring by making it 9-5.