SHEFFIELD STEELERS got their title defence underway in winning style when downing former coach Ryan Finnerty’s Braehead Clan 5-3.
Two goals and four points in total from man-of-the-match Ben O’Connor proved crucial after the hosts allowed the Scottish rivals a way back into the game despite going in 4-1 ahead at the end of the second period.
Former Belfast Giants forward Craig Peacock quickly reduced the deficit on the restart at 41.55 before the Steelers ran into penalty trouble, losing David Phillips (slashing) and Zack Fitzpatrick (holding) on minor calls, allowing the Clan powerplay to take just 23 seconds to produce the goods through Matt Beca.
Chances came and went at both ends but – crucially – it was O’Connor who produced the telling finish at 55.02.
Earlier, the Steelers had gone ahead in the fifth minute through Robert Dowd, who showed great composure to fire home a rebound off Michal Zajkowski.
Corey Cowick to leveled at 11.34 and although the Steelers were narrowly outshot in the first, they went in ahead after Mathieu Roy cut in from the right to fire high past the right shoulder of Zajkowski at 18.09.
It was the second period that belonged to the Steelers and – effectively – where the game was won. With Kyle Wharton in the box on a holding minor, O’Connor fired home a one-timer for his first of the night at 26.32 to make it 3-1.
Just over four minutes later, Andreas Valdix added a fourth goal when he was quickest to react to a rebound from Dowd’s initial shot and, although Braehead rallied impressively, the hosts just had enough to get over the line and get their campaign up and running.