FOUR times the Challenge Cup runners-up in the Elite League era, Sheffield Steelers may finally be on the road to ending their long wait to lift the trophy.
A 4-2 win over seven-time winners and defending champions Nottingham Panthers on Saturday took Gerad Adams’ team top of Group B, in pole position to give themselves a favourable seeding ahead of the two-legged quarter-final stages.
The overlong format which eliminates only two of 10 teams at the end of the group stage does little to enhance the competition’s reputation as the poor relation of the Elite League’s five prizes that are on offer.
But the Steelers certainly seem intent on lifting a piece of silverware which has taken up permanent residence at the home of Saturday’s visitors, who have now won it for the last five seasons.
Mathieu Roy led the way at the Motorpoint Arena with a three-point night, including the game-winning goal.
Steelers trailed Nottingham at 7.21 when David Clarke scored his first of two on the powerplay, although the home side were level just over five minutes later through Mike Forney’s strike made on the man advantage.
Colton Fretter made it 2-1 at 27.51, with Roy’s game winner coming via a tip on the powerplay at 48.35. Clarke’s second in the 57th minute - again on the powerplay - ensured some late nerves for the home side, although they were eventually dispelled thanks to Tyler Mosienko’s empty net strike with 12 seconds remaining.
“You want to win the group stages for a number of reasons,” said Steelers’ head coach Adams. “Firstly, it gives the team confidence; then add to that the seeding process because first place in our group secures the team that finishes fourth in the other group.
“We are progressing as a team, I see us getting better every week and us proceeding to the final stages of the Challenge Cup is important to us all.”
Hull Stingrays twice blew a one-goal lead in last night’s Gardiner Conference clash at home to Dundee Stars, before eventually going down 5-2.
Corey Tanaka gave Hull a 22nd-minute lead, before John Mitchell levelled two minutes later. Carl Lauzon restored the home side’s advantage at 27.24, but again the Stars got even, Bari Mckenzie scoring at 32.32.
An even third period saw the deadlock broken by former Steelers’ forward Chris Blight on the powerplay at 48.53, with further goals coming for the visitors from John Dolan and Rob Ricci.
Afterwards Stingrays’ frustrated player-coach Omar Pacha had trouble accepting his team had lost out yet again at home. They have yet to celebrate victory in front of their own fans after five games at the Hull Arena.
“To be 0-5 at home is unacceptable,” said Pacha.
“It is a tough situation we are in right now but we will see how we rebound against Sheffield in the Challenge Cup on Wednesday.”
“I felt we outplayed them for 45 minutes, but we fell asleep for a few minutes in the second period and they scored two goals and then we took a bad penalty. We didn’t respect the system and they made it 3-2.
“There are positives because we dominated for the first two periods but we didn’t play well in the last 10 minutes.
“You can dominate as much as you like, but we are not coming out with the two points.”
Elite League: Coventry Blaze 3 Braehead Clan 2, Hull Stingrays 2 Dundee Stars 5.
Challenge Cup, Group A: Edinburgh Capitals 1 Fife Flyers 2 (PS)
Elite League: Belfast Giants 5 Cardiff Devils 2
Challenge Cup, Group A: Dundee Stars 4 Braehead Clan 7, Fife Flyers 5 Edinburgh Capitals 1. Group B: Sheffield Steelers 4 Nottingham Panthers 2.