A LIVELY double header against Aalborg Pirates provided Sheffield Steelers with everything they were looking for ahead of their second Champions Hockey League campaign.
Paul Thompson’s team fly out early tomorrow ahead of games against two of Europe’s top teams in the shape of Sweden’s HV71 Jonkoping and Austria’s Red Bull Salzburg.
It was a baptism of fire for Thompson’s players in their first foray in the competition last season, although they quickly adapted to the higher speed and skill they faced when playing eventual winners Frolunda Gothenburg and Finland’s JYP Jyvaskyla, their other group opponents.
There will be no let-up in the quality of opposition this time around for the Steelers, but Thompson feels his team will be better equipped to deal with whatever is thrown at them later this week, their first test coming at HV71 on Thursday before heading to Salzburg 48 hours later.
A 4-1 win on Saturday followed by a 5-1 win 24 hours later were not the most important aspects of the weekend for head coach Thompson, who has been pleased with his team’s application since they came together last week.
“It was a great test f0r us across the whole weekend and I appreciate my old club Aalborg coming over,” said Thompson.
“It was a good workout for us. There was an edge to it at times from both sets of players and I don’t think there is anything that you can class as a friendly in this sport – you play to win, whatever time of the season it is.
“Going into Thursday against HV71, we won’t have had as much game time as we would have liked so it was good for the boys to get plenty of ice time.
“We got good soild goaltending, our backline looked good and we moved the puck well.
“And all four lines up front created well and I got what I was looking for from the players – they all worked hard.
“We’ve got a lot of travelling on Tuesday then we’ve got a couple of on-ice sessions before the game and we’re getting excited about the big challenge ahead.”
It was a packed Ice Sheffield on Saturday where Steelers’ fans got their first glimpse of the 11 new faces brought in by Thompson during a busy summer.
In a lively, fast-paced encounter the home side deservedly prevailed against a team Thompson coached in the Danish tip tier in 2014-15 before returning to the UK last year to take on the Steelers’ job.
Steelers got off to the best possible start with two quick opening goals, Jesse Schultz assisted by Tyler Mosienko and Anders Franzon to make it 1-0 before man-of-the-match Levi Nelson scored his first of the year in the eighth minute.
After a goalless second period – most notable for a mid-ice scuffle involving Steelers’ Mike Ratchuk and Davey Phillips – Franzon made it 3-0 on the powerplay.
But Aalborg kept playing hard and deservedly scored their only goal of the game at 55.15 through Lasse Jul Korsgaard.
As they pushed to reduce the deficit further, however, they paid the prioce for pulling their goalie when Markus Nilsson added a fourth goal into the empty net with 38 seconds remaining.
Last night saw little holding back from either side once again, with the visitors clearly intent on bouncing back from the previous night’s loss by taking the lead on the powerplay through Petre Queenville at 7.15.
The Steelers were soon level on their own powerplay at 12.12 with Ben O’Connor scoring following good work by Mathieu Roy.
The hosts were soon ahead early in the second through centre John Armstrong before Nelson scored for the second game running six minutes later.
Robert Dowd’s 51st-minute one-timer made it 4-1 before Valdix’s solo effort rounded off a satisfactory weekend for the hosts ahead the much bigger tests that lie in store in the coming days.