WHILE the road to and from Belfast may have been a long and arduous one, Sheffield Steelers’ player-coach Ryan Finnerty cannot fail to have been pleased at returning to South Yorkshire with two points.
Heading into Saturday night’s Elite League opener against the Belfast Giants at the Odyssey Arena, nobody would have been surprised had the hosts – already many people’s favourites for the regular season title – overcome the defending champions.
But after a hard-fought battle, which presented both teams with numerous chances to settle it in 65 minutes, it was the visitors who eventually prevailed 2-1 after a penalty shoot-out.
While their immediate ‘reward’ may have been a 10-hour journey back via coach and ferry on Sunday, first-season coach Finnerty knows will take great pride in a job well done in a rink few teams enjoy any success in.
Newly-arrived defenceman Matt Stephenson fired the Steelers ahead on the powerplay in the fifth minute and that was how it stayed until midway through the third period when Mark Garside capitalised on some good work by fellow Brit Craig Peacock to level the scores at 50.29.
Overtime couldn’t divide the two sides and, in the shoot-out, newcomers Mike Ramsay and Steve Birnstill were the visitors’ heroes, while Steelers’ impressive netminder John DeCaro denied Jeff Mason and Derek LeBlanc.
“There’s no doubt, it’s a great result,” said Finnerty last night.
“Considering we didn’t have that much ice time last week to work on our systems, we were able to go through things quickly and it was good to see that the players bought into what we are trying to do.
“I wanted us to outwork them and I felt we did in the crucial areas. We perhaps took a few too many penalties, but it was frustrating with some the calls we got.
“We got pucks deep and I felt that we created lots of problems for their D-core. Our goaltender also had an excellent game, and while there’s plenty of things to work on, you’ve got to be happy with taking two points out of Belfast.”