JEFF LEGUE confirmed his decision to return to Sheffield Steelers was the right one after he scored the championship-winning goal to beat Cardiff Devils 2-1.
Legue left Steelers after seven seasons following last year’s Elite League play-off triumph in Nottingham under head coach Gerad Adams, hooking up with neighbouring Sheffield Steeldogs in the English Premier League.
But he jumped at the chance of a return to the UK top-flight when the opportunity arose just before Christmas and he proved to be the man of the moment in front of a packed Motorpoint Arena.
“I’ve won it before but when it comes down to the last game and you have to lay it all on the line like we did tonight, it’s pretty special,” said Legue.
“I’m just so glad that we were able to get the job done. It was very hurtful when we lost that Challenge Cup Final here a couple of weeks ago and we were determined not to let that happen again.”
Steelers had gone into the game just 24 hours after a dramatic 4-3 overtime win in Nottingham and knowing a win would be enough to secure a first regular season title since 2011, when then player-coach Ben Simon led the club to success again on the final day of the season, pipping Cardiff by virtue of having more regulation wins.
Second-placed Cardiff, two points adrift with a game in hand, and Braehead Clan were the other two teams involved in the title race, but Legue’s game-winner makes all other results redundant.
Not surprisingly, given the magnitude of the occasion, both teams started slowly, although Cardiff began to enjoy more of the possession and looked more threatening going forward.
And it was the visitors who broke the deadlock when Carl Hudson’s shot from the right-hand side flew traffic and past the unsighted Josh Unice in the Steelers net at 10.39.
The Steelers had pulled themselves level before the halfway point when, after some intense pressure in the Cardiff zone, Jonathan Phillips’s miscued shot was parried by Ben Bowns only for Robert Dowd to react the quickest and lift the puck into the roof of the empty net at 27.19.
A measure of how much teams didn’t want to give the other any kind of advantage, was obvious in the lack of penalties being handed out, Colton Fretter’s holding call in the 39th minute being the first one.
Knowing they needed to take two points back home from South Yorkshire if they were to stay in contention for the title race, Cardiff stepped up the pressure in the third. But the next goal - the game-winning goal - came from the other end.
Legue worked space for himself by cutting in from the right-hand side, but his shot was parried out to the left by Bowns. But Phil Hill qas quick to fire the puck back towards goal and, after a deflection off a Devils defender, the puck fell to Legue who poked it home to send the home crowd into raptures.
“It’s all down to the players they battled extremely hard tonight,” said Adams afterwards,
“But I felt we were the best team in the league all year.
“It means a lot to bring the championship back her, the last time I won it was here as a player and I’m just so pleased for the Smiths (the owners) and everyone connected with the club.”
Adams and his players will have to wait until Sunday night before finding out whether they will meet either Fife Flyers or Hull Stingrays in the two-legged first round of the play-offs next weekend. Hull travel to Coventry while Fife host Braehead, wsecond seeds in the post-season having already won the Gardiner Conference, but looking to pip Cardiff to the runners-up in the overall league standings.
Prior to the game, there was an impeccably observed minute’s silence for Steeelers’ fan Amy Usher, who sadly lost her battle with cancer earlier in the week.
The club’s media manager, David, Simms, along with Neil Edwards and Elliott Hall, had arrived at the Arena earlier in the day having finished a gruelling 83-mile sponsored walk over three-and-a-half days to raise money for the Weston Park Cancer Charity, who had been treating Amy. So far they have raised around £20,000.
There will be further fund-raising effort on Sunday when more than 200 fans, staff and players will take part in the SSSC “5 Weirs Walk” starting from Ice Sheffield at 10am
Funds raised will be donated to the Purple Butterfly Rooms, Weston Park Cancer Charity and the SSSC.
For details on how to donate to the Weston Park Cancer Charity log on at https://www.justgiving.com/simmsey-and-friends/