RYAN Finnerty hailed the character of his Sheffield Steelers team as they overcame the odds to edge out Cardiff Devils 3-2 after a dramatic penalty shoot-out in South Wales.
The South Yorkshire club had begun their weekend with a 2-2 draw in their first Challenge Cup match of the season against Coventry Blaze at Ice Sheffield.
The absence of forward Neil Clark (ankle) and young import defenceman Chad Huttel from both games left the Steelers short-benched all weekend but, particularly in the 3-2 win in Cardiff, it didn’t show.
Two goals in less than a minute saw Finnerty’s team take advantage with Rod Sarich’s 27th-minute strike being followed by a first Steelers’ goal for the ever-improving Lee Esders at 27.03.
Phil Hill halved the deficit for Cardiff just over four minutes later and it wasn’t until there were less than two minutes remaining in the third that Scott Dobben struck for the home side to ensure overtime was needed.
When that couldn’t separate the two sides, it was left to Mike Ramsay to score the only goal from eight penalty attempts in the shoot-out to deservedly earn the visitors the extra point.
“This was a huge character win and it told me so much about this team,” said a delighted Finnerty, following a second competitive return of the season to his former club.
“We came here a couple of weeks ago and didn’t compete and deservedly lost. Tonight we showed that we had learnt that lesson.
“You can’t come here and be out-worked, if you do you lose. We put the injuries on the shelf and played hard from shift one. We took our chances and, at the other end, (goaltender) John DeCaro was huge.”
Finnerty reserved special praise for Esders, a player not expecting to see that much ice time after his summer switch from Hull Stingrays.
“Lee scores his first goal for the club - a huge one,” added Finnerty.
“What is happening to him shows what we are all about. He is being rewarded with more ice time and tonight powerplay time. That’s because he listens, he understands and he is doing the little things right. The guys love him. He is a credit and becoming a bigger part of our team every day.
“We give you nothing here, you have to work for it and you have to earn it. Lee is doing just that.”
Saturday’s point in Group B of the Challenge Cup was also earned the hard way by the Steelers, with Sarich’s 50th-minute strike cancelling out Owen Fussey’s 47th-minute goal for Coventry.
After a goalless first period, Finnerty struck first for the Steelers at 26.41 with Luke Fulghum levelling five minutes later.
RESULTS - Elite League: Cardiff Devils 2 Sheffield Steelers 3 (SO), Coventry Blaze 2 Belfast Giants 5, Dundee Stars 3 Hull Stingrays 1, Nottingham Panthers 3 Braehead Clan 0.
Challenge Cup, Group A: Edinburgh Capitals 8 Fife Flyers 3.
Saturday - Elite League: Fife Flyers 2 Cardiff Devils 4, Hull Stingrays 3 Belfast Giants 4, Nottingham Panthers 7 Edinburgh Capitals 3,
Challenge Cup, Group B: Sheffield Steelers 2 Coventry Blaze 2
IN the English Premier League, Sheffield Steeldogs recovered from Saturday’s 3-0 defeat at Guildford Flames with a 4-2 win over Basingstoke at home 24 hours later.