Frustrated Thompson demands better from Sheffield Steelers after heavy CHL loss in Salzburg

AS lessons go it was a pretty harsh one. But Sheffield Steelers have been here before.

UP AGAINST IT: Sheffield Steelers concede a goal at Red Bull Salzburg. Picture: Dean Woolley.
UP AGAINST IT: Sheffield Steelers concede a goal at Red Bull Salzburg. Picture: Dean Woolley.

An 8-1 defeat at the hands of Red Bull Salzburg on Saturday night will have brought back memories of a similar evening last season against eventual Champions Hockey League winners, Frolunda Gothenburg,.

On that occasion, the Steelers went down by 9-1 in their first-ever game in the competition. And while a win eluded them over the course of their four group games, the Steelers went on to prove that they could compete with their more illustrious European neighbours.

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On their return to the competition as Elite League champions on Thursday night, plenty of positives were taken from a 5-3 defeat at Frolunda’s Swedish League rivals HV71 Jonkoping.

STRIKE ONE: Christoffer Bjorklund, left, celebrates his second period strike with Guillaume Desbiens.

But the manner of the loss in Austria 48 hours later was – clearly – much harder for head coach Paul Thompson to accept.

His disappointment clear at what he described as an “embarrassing” loss, Thompson believed his team had taken a step back and undone all the impressive work against HV71 when, early in the third period, they were tied 3-3 with their Swedish hosts.

“Against HV71 I thought we took a step forward - even with the penalties we took there,” said a hugely frustrated Thompson after the Salzburg loss.

“But we took a step back against Salzburg. We embarrassed ourselves, we embarrassed the club and we embarrassed the fans who had travelled in their hundreds to come all the way out here to see us.

FRUSTRATED: Sheffield Steelers' head coach, Paul Thompson. Picture: Dean Woolley.

“I can accept losing to a better team, but I can’t accept gifting the way we are right now.”

The “gifts” that Thompson refers to are the “selfish” penalties he feels his players gave up too easily against the EBEL Champions.

As in Sweden, three of the goals conceded by the Steelers were while their hosts were on the powerplay. And while at 4-1 down at the end of the second period a comeback agains such class opposition was not expected, Thompson hoped his team would at least go out and win the third period.

But, giving away five minor penalties made that task virtually impossible, a third powerplay strike being among the four unanswered goals plundered by Salzburg in the final 20 minutes.

STRIKE ONE: Christoffer Bjorklund, left, celebrates his second period strike with Guillaume Desbiens.

With all hope of progression from Group P more or less gone, the Steelers are effectively playing for little more than pride in the two return matches, the first of which is in Sheffield next Saturday against HV71. Salzburg pay a visit to South Yorkshire just over two weeks later on September 11.

Clinching a first win in the competition before moving on to concentrate on their domestic Elite League campaign must be a massive motivating factor for Thompson’s team.

“I know I’ve got a good bunch of players here, but they didn’t focus enough against Salzburg,” added Thompson.

“When you’re under pressure you want to see character and you want to see your team bounce back and even if we didn’t get the result tonight, we wanted to go out there and win the third period. But we didn’t we went the other way and we have to learn from it.

FRUSTRATED: Sheffield Steelers' head coach, Paul Thompson. Picture: Dean Woolley.

“So I’m very disappointed with our attitude here. We’ve got a hell of a lot of work to do between now and next Saturday when we play HV71 in our building.”

As in Sweden two nights earlier, the match in Salzburg saw the Steelers start brightly, going into the first period break just the one goal adrift after William Thomas capitalised on the hosts’ man advantage at 15.35, courtesy of Zack Fitzgerald being in the box on a roughing call.

But two goals in as many second period minutes had the Steelers up against it.

A tripping call on Levi Nelson proved costly when Manuel Latusa made it 2-0 at 22.14 before Thomas grabbed his second exactly 120 seconds later.

The Steelers quickly rallied - like thay had done 48 hours earlier - and got themselves back in the game when cutting the deficit to two goals through Christoffer Bjorklund’s blast from the left-wing following a feed from Guillaume Desbiens at 26.02.

Steelers more than matched their hosts for the next 10 minutes and would have taken a lot of confidence going into the second period break if they had been able to keep the scoreline at 3-1.

But, at 37.58, a fourth goal arrived for Salzburg from Thomas Raffl.

Thompson’s wish to see his team win the third period was almost over immediately after the restart when Thomas got his hat-trick at 41.33.

It became 6-1 10 minutes later when Thomas made it four for the night with a close-range tip-in, a third powerplay goal coming just over three minutes later when John Hughes scrambled the puck in off Steelers’ beleagured goaltender Ervins Mustukovs.

The rout was completed just 21 seconds remaining on the clock when Alexander Pallestrang blasted past Mustukovs with a left-handed one-timer.

“We lost our discipline tonight - the powerplay goals tell the story and we just can’t do it against a team like this,” admitted Steelers’ captain Jonathan PHillips. “They’re too fast, they’re too skilled, they’re too strong. We needed to be perfect (to stand any chance) and we weren’t.”