PAUL THOMPSON praised his Sheffield Steelers team for rising to the challenge on Friday in what he believes might prove to be a season-defining win at Manchester Storm.
Trailing 4-1 at the end of the second period at Altrincham Ice Arena, the Steelers’ head coach issued his players an ultimatum in which he challenged them to “die or grow”.
A little over 25 minutes or so later – after Levi Nelson had scored an overtime winner to complete an exhilarating comeback – Thompson had his answer.
“I said to the team at the end of the second ‘who is going to step up here?’” said Thompson, who as a result of the 5-4 win saw his team move back up to second in the overall Elite League standings, six points back from leaders Cardiff Devils with two games in hand.
“I told them that it was a definitive moment in our season and that we could either die or grow.
“And we grew and I’m overjoyed with the end result.
“You just need to find a way to win and sometimes, while it is not always the performance that you are hoping for, it’s about the result and we got that here.”
Bottom club Manchester – who visit Sheffield 24 hours later in a quick renewal of hostilities – will wake up on Saturday morning still utterly dismayed to have taken just a point from a game they were in control of after 40 minutes.
Paul Phillips opened the scoring for the home side at 8.41, which is how it stayed until just under two minutes into the second period when Jason Hewitt levelled for the Steelers, who were without key forwards Mathieu Roy and Colton Fretter.
But, in a period of play that Thompson later described as “madness”, the Steelers conceded three goals in just under four minutes.
Adam Harding restored the home side’s lead at 22.14 before – only 35 seconds later – Patrik Valcak made it 3-1.
Just over two further minutes had elapsed before Valcak grabbed his second, this time on the powerplay with Zack Fitzgerald in the penalty box on a cross-checking call.
After Thompson’s choice words at the interval, the Steelers rallied and eventually reduced the deficit at 45.15 through British defenceman Ben O’Connor.
It became a one-goal game when fellow D-man Russ Moyer struck 27 seconds later, but the Steelers had to wait until there were only 100 seconds remained before they levelled when O’Connor’s second took the game into overtime, where Nelson made it 5-4 to secure the extra point.
The hosts were adamant the goal was scored from a high stick but, after a brief delay, the win was confirmed, dealing Storm player-coach Omar Pacha and his players a hammer blow.
Thompson says he is hopeful Roy will recover in time from his injury in order to face Storm when the two meet again in Sheffield (7pm).
“There may be a chance Mathieu will jump back in on Saturday,” said Thompson. “These are the sort of games that you want him in, when there are a lot of loose pucks around the net because, with his hand and eye co-ordination, he jumps on them.
“They’re a difficult team to play here and while we have been pretty successful against them all year, none of them have been easy games.
“Like us, they are pretty banged up but we’ve got a little more depth and I think that showed.
“Sometimes when you think that you are dead buried, you need character and we kept going, we kept pressing and we kept finishing our hits.
“But you have to give them credit because they were down to three D-men at one point I think and their group never quit either.”