JUST over a quarter into the 2016-17 season and it seems clear that if Sheffield Steelers are to retain their Elite League title, they are going to have to do it the hard way.
A 3-2 defeat at leaders Cardiff Devils on Sunday night saw the home side stretch their lead at the top of the standings to 11 points over the Steelers.
But you would be foolish to write this Steelers team off, mainly for the depth of talent head coach Paul Thompson has at his disposal, along with the fact his club does have five games in hand on the Devils. Cardiff will certainly be the happier of the two teams on Monday morning though, having the points already in the bag.
A powerplay strike with just under two minutes on the clock from Gleason Fournier proved the difference, ensuring Cardiff have now won all three league meetings between the two sides this season.
Steelers’ captain Jonathan Phillips had earlier given his side a 24th-minute lead against his former club, only for Devils’ player-coach Andrew Lord to cancel that out within a minute on the powerplay.
Guillaume Doucet then edged the hosts ahead at 36.01 – with the visitors feeling there was a foul in the build-up – but a powerplay strike from Mathieu Roy evened matters out three minutes into the third.
A second successive cross-checking call on Steelers’ Zack Fitzgerald proved crucial late in the third, however, allowing Fournier to strike the game-winner shortly after.
On Saturday, any fears of falling victim to a strong Edinburgh Capitals side were swatted aside by an impressive Steelers’ performance, a 7-1 victory at Ice Sheffield cementing a 9-3 aggregate victory and a place in the semi-finals of the Challenge Cup.