EIGHT months ago, Nottingham Panthers strolled home from South Yorkshire with an understandable swagger after humiliating hosts Sheffield Steelers 8-0.
Not only did it cause Paul Thompson and his players serious embarrassment in front of their own fans, it ended their Challenge Cup hopes, the Panthers going on to complete a one-sided 10-0 aggregate semi-final win the following night at the National Ice Centre.
On Saturday night at Sheffield Arena, it was payback, the only blot on the night for the Steelers being a goal scored in the final second of the game by the visitors’ Brad Moran to ruin Ervins Mustukovs’ hopes of a deserved shutout.
As it was, the Steelers had to settle for an 8-1 victory, but it could have been much more.
Head coach Thompson was understandably delighted with his team’s performance.
“I thought to a man we were outstanding,” said Thompson. “It’s a shame Moose couldn’t get that shutout because when he was asked to come into the game he made the big saves which you’re going to have against a team as good as Nottingham.
“When we’re skating well and our transition is working well, we can turn a game like we did with those three quick goals in the first period. We’re not going to rub their noses in it because we know they’re a good club - but it is two big points against one of our biggest rivals.”
The Panthers may have been missing four first-choice players and opted for young Czech goaltender Jindrich Pacl instead of the more experienced Miika Wiikman but, for the first 10 minutes at least, this looked like being a typically-close contest between the league’s fiercest rivals.
That all changed after 11.33, however, when Robert Dowd broke the deadlock after tipping in Christoffer Bjorklund’s fierce shot on the powerplay.
Match-night announcer David Simms barely had time to get the scorers’ details out to the crowd before the hooter was sounding again just 25 seconds later, this time Colton Fretter firing home from three yards out.
Less than two minutes later, the crowd erupted when Mathieu Roy poked the puck home after Jesse Schultz’s initial shot had been saved by Pacl.
If the Panthers were shell-shocked going in at the first period break, they were left floored less than two minutes after the restart when Fretter fired high past Pacl to make it 4-0 with Steelers’ second powerplay goal of the night.
Just under six minutes later, captain Jonathan Phillips fed Mathieu Roy who was allowed to skate around to the front of the goal unopposed before firing home low to Pacl’s left.
Next was probably the goal of the night, Davey Phillips working well around the boards before the puck fell to defensive partner Ben O’Connor, who showed quick hands to weave his way through before back-handing home at 32.32.
We knew with their recent form that if we could get a quick couple of goals their heads would go and they would question themselves.Sheffield Steelers’ Ben O’Connor.
Understandably to an extent, the Steelers - for who Swedish forward Yared Hagos made a quietly impressive home debut – were not as dominant come the third period. But they were still able to heap further pain on their guests, Schultz deftly tipping in O’Connor’s rasping feed at 56.03 before the tireless Markus Nilsson got his just rewards for an energetic display at 57.23 when he drove towards the net before poking home past Pacl.
A sixth straight league defeat for Panthers had been confirmed long before then, with Moran’s last-second goal barely registering with the home crowd, who were too busy preparing to cheer a memorable performance by their team.
“That was typical Steelers, hockey - it’s what we’re all about,” said defenceman O’Connor afterwards.
“We had quick transition and lots of speed and we knew with their recent form where they had been a bit up and down that if we could get a quick couple of goals their heads would go and they would question themselves.
“And once we got that first, second and third goal we were relentless. In past, in other games, we have let teams back in. But we put the pedal down tonight and we didn’t let them breathe - that’s what we need to be like every single night.”
Steelers now head to Scotland on Sunday, looking to exact swift revenge on Dundee Stars, who beat them 4-0 on Tayside last Sunday.
Marc Lefebvre’s side are bottom of the standings after a disappointing start, but picked up a second straight win on Friday night with a 3-2 shoot-out win at Manchester Storm.