JOHN ARMSTRONG struck a third-period double to rescue Sheffield Steelers against Elite League newcomers Milton Keynes Lightning.
The five-time league champions went into the final 20 minutes at Ice Sheffield 3-2 down after Lightning had showed themselves capable of dealing with life at the higher level under GB head coach Pete Russell after making the step up in the summer from the now defunct English Premier League with Guildford Flames.
But where the Steelers’ cruised past the Flames in Surrey 10 days ago with a 7-1 road win, Wednesday night in South Yorkshire against the Lightning proved far more difficult - a fact not lost on Thompson afterwards.
“They are a good team, Pete (Russell, Lightning head coach) has done a really good job there,” said Thompson.
“And they are playing with a lot of freedom and a lot of confidence and you could tell that we were a team coming in off the back of two losses against a team coming here who have beaten Belfast, Cardiff and Coventry - knocking off the so-called bigger teams.
“So coming into this game I was a little worried about our mindset and how we’d approach it. For 30 minutes we were playing as if we were too scared to lose the game, we weren’t even close to what we can do - although part of that was down to them.
“At one point we were all over the place and that was down to stress. There was a three-four minute spell where our heads were in the clouds, but they didn’t score from it and we regrouped and we spoke on the bench about how much of a step forward it was.
“Then we started to get into the game and show a little bit of what we’re about.”
It will surely be impossible to beat Levi Nelson in terms of timing for a game-winning goal after he sealed a 6-5 Challenge Cup win for the Steelers against Nottingham Panthers earlier this month with just one second of regulation time remaining.
But Armstrong went close on Wednesday night when he clinched the points with just 18 seconds remaining on the clock.
Coming into this game I was a little worried about our mindset and how we’d approach itSheffield Steelers’ head coach, Paul Thompson
His eighth goal of the season in as many games came 12 minutes after he had pulled the home side level. The Steelers found themselves trailing thanks to Kevin King’s 21st-minute strike had put Lightning ahead.
That came after an even first 20 minutes was first punctuated by Colton Fretter giving the home side the lead after just over five minutes, although the Steelers soon found themselves on the back foot when Francis Verreault-Paul and Paul Phillips scored within 60 seconds of each other to put Lightning ahead.
The Steelers restored parity through summer signing Matt Marquardt at 10.38 when he converted on the powerplay following good work by Mark Matheson and Fretter.
And, after a rare blank weekend in which they lost twice to title rivals Belfast Giants while scoring only one goal, Armstrong stepped up to be the difference maker with his late powerplay strike.