IT was never about the results for Sheffield Steelers' head coach Paul Thompson in the weekend’s exhibition double-header against visiting Swedish team Leksands IF.
A 3-2 win on Saturday was followed by a 7-0 defeat the following night and, while the second scoreline will have been hard to stomach, it was not the main cause of Thompson’s post-match frustration on Sunday.
In a match littered with penalty calls - particularly in the third period - Thompson felt he and his players didn’t get what they needed out of the two games, which was to put all their work from a tough first week of pre-season training into practice.
This proved difficult largely because of how much time his players spent in the penalty box, particularly on a Sunday night which saw Robert Dowd leave Ice Sheffield nursing an injury.
A late Evan McGrath goal had given the Steelers the win the previous evening, but there was bound to be a reaction from the visitors whose sole aim in 2018-19 is to return to the top-tier SHL.
The first period was a good match-up once again, but once the penalties started to flow - for which both teams suffered their fair share - it was the Swedes who made the subsequent powerplays count, former Steelers’ defenceman Ben O’Connor marking his return to to South Yorkshire with two goals, as the hosts split the goaltending duties equally between Jackson Whistle and Brad Day.
It was entertaining, but not for the reasons Thompson wanted it to be, the Steelers' boss afterwards criticising the constant calls from the officials, which he insisted spoilt the flow of the game for both sides. He admitted, however, that his players will need to ‘get smarter’ in the future.
“When we are frustrated, we’ve got to stay with a good mind but I just thought it was call after call after call … stop after stop after stop … and I know the Leksands coach felt the same,” said Thompson.
“We wanted to roll our lines, but we weren’t able to. It got niggly because it lost control. I didn’t think there was anything untowards out there, but then frustration comes in and that is when it becomes niggly.
“I think Leksands are a bit further along with their fitness process and that showed tonight as they had a bit more jump than us. But you can’t play short-handed the whole game - Saturday was bad enough, today was terrible.
"The referees' hands went up on everything … everything. You can educate us without killing the game. It's pre-season but I’ve got no benefit out of tonight (Sunday) and I dare say it is the same for the Leksands coach, he wasn’t happy on Saturday and tonight was pointless."
The Steelers now have just two more pre-season games before the 2018-19 season opener in the Challenge Cup at Nottingham Panthers on September 1. Next weekend's double header against SHL outfit Timra IK is one where Thompson will hope his players don't spend so much time on the penalty kill.
“The defeat doesn’t hurt, I’m just frustrated," added Thompson. "Yes, we’ve got to get smarter, we’re a team that’s a little bit tired, coming to the end of a long, hard seven days but we can’t get frustrated.
“I know we’re going to dip from a fatigue point of view, I know we’re rusty - but so are the officials.”