GERAD Adams declared it “mission accomplished” after his short spell as Sheffield Steelers’ head coach ended in triumph in Nottingham last night courtesy of a 3-2 overtime Elite League play-off final win against Belfast Giants.
Adams was drafted in to replace the axed Doug Christiansen in February when owner Tony Smith decided the team needed a new direction after a disappointing campaign.
With play-off success firmly on the agenda for both owner and coach, it was defenceman Drew Fata who delivered the triumph when he fired home just 94 seconds into overtime after being neatly teed up by captain Steven Goertzen.
Afterwards, attention turned to Adams’s future at the Steelers and whether he would return for the 2014-15 season.
Both he and Smith said talks would be taking place this week, but it’s expected the Steelers’ will make an offer to Adams to return next season and try and add more silverware to the Steelers’ trophy cabinet.
“When I first came in me and the guys spoke about being in this game, in this rink, on this day, and we have accomplished our goal,” said Adams.
“I think we did what we had to do to win, we didn’t dominate and without our goalie Frank Doyle I wouldn’t be standing here talking like this.
“We’ll have to see what happens about my future at the club, but anyone who wants to come to our league should want to play or work for the Steelers because the club’s approach and the way they get behind the players is absolutely first-class.”
Steelers – who had edged out Braehead Clan by the same scoreline in Saturday’s semi-final – twice had to come from behind before Fata’s winning strike, but it was not until after a first period short on clear-cut chances that the first goal arrived, the Giants’ Cody Brookwell finding a way past Doyle at 24.24 thanks to a couple of deflections.
It was not long before the Steelers were level, however, Jason Hewitt’s shot only being parried by Stephen Murphy into the path of Phil Hill who gleefully tapped the puck into the empty net at 27.36.
The Giants then enjoyed their best period of the match and poured forward on a number of occasions as the Steelers found themselves stretched.
Evan Cheverie, Brookwell and Chris Higgins all went close, but Doyle was able to rise to the challenge on each occasion. But he could not prevent Belfast getting their noses in front again through former Steelers’ forward Colin Shields at 29.48, the GB international back-handing in after a neat pass in front of the net from Dustin Whitecotton.
Kevin Saurette - who scored Belfast’s winner in their 1-0 semi-final win against Fife Flyers the day before - then went close, while Chris Higgins and Brookwell also forced a busy Doyle into saves.
But then the momentum began to swing the Steelers’ way, with Adams’s team enjoying some pressure of their own.
Nathan DiCasmirro, so impressive against Braehead 24 hours earlier, forced Murphy to make a good save low down to his right, but it was some neat play by defenceman Chad Langlais in the 38th minute that got the Steelers level for a second time.
After spinning around near the blue line to keep play active, Langlais fired a shot into traffic in front of the Belfast net, where Robert Dowd’s clever tip left Murphy with no chance.
After Higgins took a tripping penalty at the end of the second, the Steelers enjoyed a two-minute powerplay at the start of the third and nearly went ahead through a Stefan Meyer tip and after Dowd forced Murphy into a save Doyle was called upon once again at the other end when his outstretched left boot denied Jeff Mason.
A mistake by Fata handed the puck to Cheverie but he could only shoot over the pipes when one-on-one with Doyle, who then produced a stunning point-blank save from the Belfast No 9.
Three minutes before the end of regulation captain Steven Goertzen had a great chance to possibly win the game, but he couldn’t quite get enough on it leaving Murphy with a comfortable save.
Overtime arrived, but it wasn’t long before the match was settled. Goertzen worked his way into the Belfast zone down the left before turning inside to slip the puck to an unmarked Fata, who took a split second to steady himself before firing high past Murphy’s left glove and into the net, in the process earnimg himself legendary status among Steelers’ fans andleaving Belfast to contemplate their second successive play-off final loss.
“Since I came in, everyone has been fantastic,” added Adams.
“It’s been really great for me in the sense that when I came in, I did so with a certain philosophy and approach and everybody from the players to the owner kind of got on board with that.
“It’s a great feeling when everybody is pulling in one direction.”