AS BOXING DAYS go, you could argue that not much more could have gone wrong for Sheffield Steeler.
A 3-2 defeat at home to Nottingham Panthers, together with wins for both of their leading Elite League rivals made it a day to forget in most respects for Paul Thompson and his players.
But, fast forward 24 hours and the landscape could look a whole lot different tomorrow morning should the Steelers gain revenge over Nottingham at the National Ice Centre and if leaders Cardiff Devils slip-up at home in their return match against a Coventry Blaze team that seems to fire hot and cold of late.
As the Steelers were toiling in front of a 9,300 crowd at Sheffield Arena, Cardiff were winning 5-3 at Coventry, while second-placed Belfast Giants were easing their way to a 5-1 win at Braehead Clan.
The sum total of all those results means that the Devils continue to enjoy superiority over their rivals this morning, four points ahead of Belfast, while the Steelers now languish a further six points back in third, with the Panthers now just four points behind going into today’s rematch.
The disappointment could be seen all over Steelers head coach Thompson’s face after, the 51-year-old admitting his team had failed to “show up.”
“Nottingham were the better team,” said Thompson, whose players had beaten the Panthers comprehensively in the two previous league meetings between the two in Sheffield earlier this year
“I don’t think we were even close to showing what we are about. We just weren’t good enough and got exactly what we deserved.”
It was a debut to remember for former NHL star Jason Williams, who five years ago was playing for Pittsburgh Penguins in the world’s top league.
The 36-year-old pounced with what proved to be the game-winning goal just under five minutes before the end.
The Panthers had stunned the home crowd when they took a sixth-minute lead through Logan MacMillan.
This was cancelled out by Mathieu Roy, who levelled for the Steelers just 47 seconds into the second period, in which there was no further scoring.
In the third period, Brian McGrattan scored his second in as many games to make it 2-1 to the visitors, before Stanley Cup-winning forward Williams weighed in with an opening salvo for his new club at 55.01.
Jesse Schultz halved the deficit at 58.42, but Nottingham were able to absorb further late pressure to claim a first league victory over their bitter rivals.