AS weekends go, it doesn’t get much better for Sheffield Steelers.
A maximum four-point return thanks to two wins over Hull Stingrays was enough to create slightly more daylight between Gerad Adams’s team and their Elite League title rivals, leaving them two points ahead of second-placed Braehead Clan with two games in hand on their Scottish rivals.
And to make the last two days taste even sweeter for Steelers’ fans was the fact that one of those title rivals – Nottingham Panthers – ended the weekend empty-handed following defeats to Fife Flyers and Cardiff Devils.
It means Steelers are very much in the driving seat ahead of their traditional Christmas double header with the Panthers, the first meeting between the two coming on Boxing Day at the Motorpoint Arena (4pm), 24 hours before they meet again in Nottingham.
It may have gone according to plan for the league leaders, but they were made to work hard for their victories by a Hull team who now find themselves in the bottom two and outside the play-off places.
In a repeat of Saturday night’s encounter in South Yorkshire, Steelers enjoyed a 2-0 lead in last night’s rematch in Hull thanks to strikes from Colton Fretter and Mathieu Roy, the second coming on the powerplay at 13.18.
Robert Dowd made it 3-0 with his ninth of the season at 26.31 before a rally from Hull made it a one-goal game.
Player-coach Omar Pacha opened his account for the season with a powerplay strike at 30.12 before Eric Galbraith made it 3-2 just over six minutes later.
But the Steelers doubled their advantage again when Roy grabbed his second of the night at 38.27.
As Stingrays pushed hard for a way back in, Carl Lauzon’s 57th-minute strike ensured the Steelers endured a nervous last three minutes but they held on.
On Saturday, Stingrays, at full strength for the first time this season, trailed 2-0 after 20 minutes through goals from Mike Forney and Danny Bois.
But two Cory Tanaka markers saw Stingrays tie the game up, with a powerplay strike (23.38) followed just under six minutes by a short-handed effort.
Jonathan Phillips restored Steelers’ lead at 33.33 and Phil Hill ensured the points for the home side at 58.07, with Bois adding an empty-net goal.
Afterwards, Steelers head coach Adams acknowledged how much of a battle his side had been given over two nights.
“That was a tough weekend for us,” said Adams. “Hull are an ever improving team that played hard on both Saturday and Sunday. They will take points off a lot teams in the second half of the year for sure.
“I was pleased how we played all night. We had some calls go against us and kept our composure throughout the game. Every player played their part.”
Adams’s counterpart Pacha was left frustrated at what might have been, ending the weekend without a single point so show for their efforts.
“It was disappointing and frustrating not to pick up any points this weekend,” said Pacha. “At times we played well and at times we did not follow the system and were not disciplined.
“We have not played particularly well this weekend but we have had two close games. What if we do execute the game plan? What if we do do the little things? If we do all the things we stress upon then good things will happen.”