NOBODY said this was going to be easy.
As in the previous round of their Continental Cup adventure, Sheffield Steelers got off to a difficult start.
In Copenhagen, it was Yunost Minsk who were their conquerors, winning 7-1.
Yesterday, with Minsk the hosts for the round-robin final, the Steelers were soundly beaten again, going down 5-1 to Kazakhstan’s Nomad Astana 5-1.
The one silver lining for Paul Thompson’s team in all of this – as they prepare to face their Belarussian hosts this evening – is that they were able to bounce back in Denmark to qualify for this weekend’s final.
But they will spend the rest of the weekend without British forward Robert Dowd, who was forced off with a serious knee injury which threatens to keep him out long term – the last news Thompson wanted given he is already without key centre John Armstrong due to a broken finger.
Afterwards, head coach Thompson was quick to praise the attributes of Astana, but also quick to point out the failings of his own team.
The Steelers failed to capitalise on six minutes of powerplay time they were given in the second period, and were guilty of running into penalty trouble in the third when they conceded three goals.
“They are a fast, young, skating team, they are quicker than us,” said Thompson. “When you turn pucks over and give odd-man rushes, opportunities in the slot, they’re gonna bury.
“We had our chances and didn’t use them. We had power plays.
“Then in the third they had a five-on-three and bang bang they scored two goals. I’m disappointed. That’s how you get punished at this level.”
Astana took the lead in the second minute through Andrei Yakovlev and doubled their lead at 23.48 through Valeri Gurin.
Coming out just two adrift at the start of the third was an encouraging sign but, withy David Phillips and Andreas Jamtin in the pantlty box, Nikita Mikhailis pounced on the powerplay. Alikhan Asetov made it 4-0 in the man advantage at 42.48, Mikhailis grabbing his second of the night with Jonathan Phillips in the penalty box at 48.34.
Eric Neiley reduced the deficit at 54.54 but, by then, it was too little, too late.
When you turn pucks over and give odd-man rushes, opportunities in the slot, they’re gonna bury.Sheffield Steelers’ head coach, Paul Thompson