HEAD COACH Tom Barrasso said he felt for his hurting Sheffield Steelers team after their 2018-19 season was brought to an end in a thrilling Elite League play-off quarter-final against Cardiff Devils.
The Steelers had gone into the two-legged tie at the weekend as firm underdogs, having finished the regular season in seventh.
The Devils had been denied a third straight league championship and were forced to settle for the runners-up spot after a 3-1 defeat at Coventry Blaze on the final day of the campaign handed the crown to Belfast Giants.
This alone made them an even more dangerous team to deal with and, having won the six-game head-to-head series with Steelers 5-1 – including all three at the Viola Arena – it was understandable why few people gave the Steelers much hope.
Yet Barrasso’s team had just cause to fancy their chances of causing an upset having competed hard at home against the Devils and avoiding a regular season series sweep against them by beating the Welsh club 5-4 at Sheffield Arena last month.
It was at the same venue in Saturday night’s first leg that the Steelers showed they were determined to prove the many doubters wrong, steam-rollering their way to a 5-1 lead with 15 minutes remaining to leave Andrew Lord’s team rocking.
But three goals in the last 15 minutes for the visitors handed the momentum back to them ahead of returning home to a venue where they have proved so dominant, not just against the Steelers, but over the last few years.
Again, however, the Steelers threatened to upset the odds, coming from behind with two quickfire goals early in the third to go into an 8-7 aggregate lead.
But the Devils showed why they have been such a dominant force in recent years, retaliating with a quickfire double of their own before eventually wrapping up an 11-8 aggregate victory to book their place at the Final Four Weekend in Nottingham.
You could see the players left everything out there on the ice. It’s always disappointing when your journey comes to an end. I feel for the players.Sheffield Steelers’ head coach, Tom Barrasso
“You could see the players left everything out there on the ice,” said Barrasso. “It’s always disappointing when your journey comes to an end.
“You only have so many seasons in you as a professional player and every time one ends everybody realises that the latest opportunity has passed.
“I felt we played hard, but took some ill-advised penalties and were then called for some penalties that were just horrible.
“And you can’t kill penalties for an entire game against a team as good as that and give yourself an opportunity to win.
“We managed to stay in the fight, but ultimately it didn’t go for us and I feel for the players.”
As anticipated, Cardiff came out hard early on in South Wales. The Steelers stood tall and gave as good as they got, but trailed 2-0 on the night at the end of the first after strikes from Sean Bentivoglio and Joey Martin.
But a short-handed breakaway from Jordan Owens levelled matters and there was only the one goal in it again after 40 minutes after Mark Richardson’s effort at 27.37.
However, two goals in 47 seconds shortly after the restart – Eric Neiley’s effort being followed by a second for Owens – changed the complexion of the game for a while before the Devils roared back to regain the lead through strikes within 39 seconds of each other from Layne Ulmer and Matthew Myers.
The impressive Martin then completed his hat-trick – the last an empty-net strike – to end all hope for the battling visitors.