PAUL THOMPSON revealed his pride in his Sheffield Steelers team after they bounced back from midweek Challenge Cup misery to shut out rivals Nottingham Panthers.
Jonas Westerling led the way with a hat-trick for a Steelers side reeling from a 7-1 mauling at the hands of Cardiff Devils on Wednesday night, a result which saw them give up a four-goal lead from the first leg of their Cup semi-final to go out 9-7 on aggregate.
Thompson was determined his injury-hit team moved on quickly from that bleak night in South Wales, something they were able to do in accomplished fashion at the National Ice Centre.
“I’m happy for the players,” said the Steelers’ head coach. “We came back in on Thursday morning and there was a lot of emotion and hysteria about the bad loss in Cardiff, but we had to shut the door on that because we knew we had a big weekend coming up.
“What we had to do was look at the facts and in the last two games we’d played, uncharacteristically we’d given up 14 goals. And we just don’t do that, so we had to look at why that had happened.
“So we went out on to the ice, we talked about being positive, realising what had happened was a massive bump in the road and one that we had to ride and move on quickly from.
“And so we had a really good, focused practise on what we felt had let us down and we went into Nottingham . Moose (goaltender Ervins Mustukovs) was outstanding, the back end was fantastic again and Westy (Westerling) gets a hat-trick - the first in his career and there was some great penalty killing.
“It’s the third time we’ve shut Nottingham out in the last four games. I’m very proud of these boys and, hopefully, the fans that were there went home with a big smile on their faces.”
For a side already missing John Armstrong, Rob Dowd, Miika Fransilla and Colton Fretter through injury, plus Andreas Jamtin through suspension, the last thing the Steelers needed was another body on the sidelines.
But they lost Zack Fitzgerald for the night after 15 minutes when he was clattered by Nottingham’s Steve Lee, the Panthers’ defenceman earning himself a game miscounduct in the process.
That incident came in a goalless first period, although it didn’t take long for the visitors to break the deadlock when Swedish forward Westerling found the back of the net just 16 seconds after the restart.
Another keenly-fought period ensured there was no further scoring until the third, Westerling doubling his tally when he scrambled home a loose puck past Panthers goaltender Mike Garnett to score on the powerplay just 90 seconds in.
Four minutes later, Mathieu Roy’s shot was deflected into Westerling’s path, from where he buried the puck to complete his hat trick.
As a desperate Panthers - just two points adrift of the Steelers going into the game - tried to find a way back, head coach Corey Neilson’s decision to pull Garnett in favour of the extra skater with three minutes remaining backfired when Andreas Valdix took advantage of the empty net opportunity to seal the two points.
We talked about being positive, realising what had happened was a massive bump in the road and one that we had to ride and move on quickly from.Sheffield Steelers’ head coach, Paul Thompson
The Steelers - who travel to Guildford Flames on Sunday - moved up to fourth in the standings, but remain 14 points back from leaders and defending champions Cardiff, who enjoyed a 4-1 win at second-bottom Milton Keynes Lightning. Andreww Lord’s side host the Panthers on Sunday.
Results: Braehead Clan 3 Dundee Stars 1, Fife Flyers 2 Coventry Blaze 3, Manchester Storm 3 Guildford Flames 0, Milton Keynes Lightning 1 Cardiff Devils 4, Nottingham Panthers 0 Sheffield Steelers 4.