Steelers feed off cup dismay to fire their way to league title

Sheffield Steelers celebrate their fourth Elite League championship. Picture: Dean Woolley.
Sheffield Steelers celebrate their fourth Elite League championship. Picture: Dean Woolley.
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WATCHING the Cardiff Devils celebrate winning the Challenge Cup at the Motorpoint Arena two weeks ago was not a pleasant experience, admitted Sheffield Steelers’ Jeff Legue.

On Saturday, the Steelers’ harnessed that frustration to ensure the most prized piece of silverware in the UK top flight did not also slip from their grasp when they beat Cardiff 2-1 to clinch a fourth Elite League regular season championship.

And it was Legue who scored what proved to be the title-winning goal, confirming his decision to return for a second spell to the club at which he had previously spent seven seasons was the right one.

“Losing that final was not pleasant and it was always going to provide an added incentive to make sure we didn’t miss out on the league – not that we needed much incentive,” said Legue.

“You never like to see another team celebrate winning a trophy in your building so we were determined to make sure it was us that celebrated this time.”

Legue left the Steelers following last year’s Elite League play-off triumph in Nottingham under head coach Gerad Adams, hooking up with neighbouring Sheffield Steeldogs in the English Premier League.

But he jumped at the chance of a return when it arose just before Christmas and proved to be the man of the moment in front of the 7,000-plus crowd.

“It really doesn’t get any better than this,” he added. “I knew coming back was the right decision – it was a no-brainer. This is a great team.”

Steelers had gone into the game just 24 hours after a dramatic 4-3 overtime win in Nottingham and knowing a win would be enough to secure a first regular season title since 2011, when then player-coach Ben Simon led the club to success again on the final day of the season, pipping Cardiff by virtue of having more regulation wins.

It was the visitors who broke the deadlock on Saturday when Carl Hudson’s shot from the right-hand side flew traffic and past the unsighted Josh Unice in the Steelers’ net at 10.39.

The Steelers pulled themselves level at 27.19 when, after some intense pressure in the Cardiff zone, Jonathan Phillips’s miscued shot was parried by Ben Bowns only for Robert Dowd to react the quickest and lift the puck into the roof of the net.

Knowing they needed to take two points back home from South Yorkshire if they were to stay in contention for the title race, Cardiff stepped up the pressure in the third. But the next goal came at the other end at 45.06.

Legue worked space for himself by cutting in from the right-hand side, although his fierce shot was parried out to the left by Bowns. But Phil Hill was quick to fire the puck back towards goal and, after a deflection off a Devils defender, it fell to Legue who poked it home to send the home crowd into raptures.

“It means a lot to bring the championship back here,” said head coach Adams. “The last time I won it was here as a player and I’m just so pleased for the Smiths (the owners) and everyone else connected with the club.

“The players have been magnificent and totally deserve this.”

Prior to the game, there was an impeccably observed minute’s 
silence for Steeelers’ fan Amy Usher, who sadly lost her battle with cancer earlier in the week.

The club’s media manager, David Simms, along with Neil Edwards and Elliott Hall, had arrived at the Arena earlier in the day having finished a gruelling 83-mile sponsored walk over three and a half days to raise money for the Weston Park Cancer Charity, who had been treating Amy.

So far they have raised around £20,000.

Funds raised will be donated to the Purple Butterfly Rooms, Weston Park Cancer Charity and the SSSC.

Steelers will face Fife Flyers in the first round of the play-offs next weekend.

Hull Stingrays finished the regular season in seventh just above Fife after beating Coventry Blaze 2-1 after a shoot-out at the Sky Dome Arena last night.

They will face Braehead Clan in the post-season.

“We have beaten Braehead home and away this season so we know we can do it,” said Hull player-coach Omar Pacha. “I am really looking forward to it.”