Injury worries pile up for Steelers

SHEFFIELD STEELERS stayed in touch with their Elite League title rivals after salvaging their weekend with a hard-fought 3-2 win over Coventry Blaze.

Of greater concern to player-coach Ben Simon though, will be his team's growing injury list as he approaches a busy festive period, although the fact they are faced with only one game next weekend against struggling Newcastle Vipers may provide some comfort.

The latest victim to be left on the sidelines was defenceman Steve Munn, who suffered a concussion during Saturday's 3-2 defeat at Cardiff Devils. He missed last night's home triumph over Coventry and may be out until the Boxing Day encounter with arch-rivals Nottingham Panthers.

Forward Joey Talbot was also rested against Coventry after being hurt in a mid-ice hit in Cardiff. He and Munn join an injury list already populated by free-scoring centre Jeff Legue (finger), who may also be out until the festive period, and captain Jonathan Phillips (knee) who isn't expected back until the end of January.

British forward Jason Hewitt must also be rated as doubtful for next weekend after injuring his foot when bravely flinging himself in front of the puck during the second period.

Tom Squires was also missing against Coventry after being called away to represent Great Britain Under-20s and his former Sheffield Steeldogs team-mates Ryan Johnson and Lee Haywood were once again called on to help out their more illustrious neighbours.

Simon is unlikely to use his growing injury woes as an excuse, though, and admitted he was pleased to have taken two points to remain in touch with title rivals Belfast Giants, Cardiff and Nottingham.

"You don't want to go through any weekend without getting any points, so that was our goal after the Cardiff game," said Simon.

In both games, Steelers managed to let a two-goal lead slip, something they paid for dearly in Cardiff but which they were able to recover from against the defending league champions at Sheffield Arena.

The crowd in South Yorkshire were already in celebratory mood and swelled in numbers after former Steelers favourite Ron Shudra had been inducted into the British Hockey Hall of Fame before face-off.

The mood improved after two goals from Neil Clark saw Steelers enjoy a relatively comfortable time in the first two periods before Greg Chambers halved the deficit at 49.47 when firing home his own rebound off the boards.

Coventry were soon level through Russell Cowley only for former Blaze favourite Ashley Tait to pop up to fire home through traffic from 12 yards out at 55.52 to seal the win for Steelers.

Clark and Tait were on target the night before - both on the powerplay - as Steelers got off to a bright start in Cardiff, something Simon had called for ahead of the trip to South Wales.

But Steelers' 2-0 first period lead was halved when Tyler Michel found the net at 24.46. And as the home side pressed, they got the equaliser through Brad Voth 44.40, his goal coming shortly before being handed a game misconduct.

Out-shooting the visitors 17-7 in the final period it was perhaps no surprise when Scott Matzka scored what proved to be the game-winning goal at 52.19.

"We've let two-goal leads slip quite a few times recently, in Hull and in Cardiff and again against Coventry," added Simon. "So, yes it is a concern as we have to make sure we stay focused for 60 minutes and we haven't done that lately.

"I was very happy with the start in Cardiff – it's a very tough building to play in. I felt we battled hard and for some reason we had a lapse, a bit of a lull and they were able to come back and we had a couple of injuries and, at the end of the day, we just ran out of gas."

With Nottingham winning 11-5 at Edinburgh Capitals on Sunday night - gaining swift revenge for Saturday night's 5-4 defeat in the same building - Corey Neilson's side regained second spot in the league table, replacing Cardiff whose win over Steelers had seen them move in behind Belfast for just 24 hours.

Panthers are now five points behind the Giants with two games in hand, with Cardiff two points further back but having played two games less than Nottingham.

The Steelers find themselves fourth, level on points with Gerad Adams's side but having played a game more. After a terrible weekend for Coventry - they also lost 3-1 at home to Hull Stingrays - Paul Thompson's side remain fifth, but are now eight points adrift of Sheffield with two games in hand.