Woolhouse stands tall to steer Steelers to shoot-out success

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BACK-UP netminder Geoff Woolhouse proved to be Sheffield Steelers’ shoot-out hero in Dundee as Ryan Finnerty’s side secured two valuable points in the Elite League title race.

With John Decaro rested for Sunday night’s game, Woolhouse came up big for his team, denying both of the Stars’ penalty shots after nothing could separate the two sides in 65 hard-fought minutes.

While Woolhouse kept the puck out of his net, Steve Birnstill and Jeff Legue both beat Chris Whitley at the other end of the ice to secure the win which sees them close the gap on leaders Belfast Giants to seven points with six games in hand.

Nottingham Panthers’ remain two points ahead of Steelers having played the same number of games as Belfast. Their 4-1 win at home to bottom club Fife Flyers on Sunday sealed a welcome four-point weekend for Corey Neilson’s team, particularly after they did both themselves and arch-rivals the Steelers a huge favour with a 3-2 win in Belfast on Saturday.

With Dundee still buoyed by a deserved 5-2 win at struggling Hull Stingrays the previous night, they were first to break the deadlock through former Steelers’ forward Jeff Hutchins at 5.29, courtesy of a 5-on-3 powerplay brought about by defencemen Nick Duff and Chad Huttel being in the penalty box on holding and hooking calls respectively.

But Steelers’ captain Jonathan Phillips quickly levelled within two minutes at 7.22 before player-coach Finnerty put them ahead at 13.13 on the powerplay.

It was Dundee, however, who came out and produced the bigger second period, going in at the end ahead through goals from A J Maclean, who levelled at 25.03, and former Hull forward Lee Mitchell, who edged his side ahead on the powerplay at 35.41.

Steelers were being made to work for everything but it was Finnerty who found the breakthrough to bring his side level, grabbing his second of the night at 47.05.

It would eventually lead to overtime and then the shoot-out in which Dundee couldn’t find a way past back-up netminder Woolhouse, who understandably earned high praise from his coach.

“House played a great game, or should I say another great game,” said Finnerty. “Every time we call on him he delivers.

“We take every game seriously and it was with no disrespect to Dundee that we played House. Geoff is the first at training and the last away, we have to find games to get him in the line up.

“He deserves that at the very least for all his efforts. Every player here has great confidence in him and that’s why I had no hesitation giving him the start. He made some big stops at important times and then come the shoot-out he stood tall and stopped both of Dundee’s penalty shots to win us the game.”

IN the English Premier League, Sheffield Steeldogs suffered a 3-1 defeat at bottom club Telford Tigers, a result which would have come as a major disappointment following Saturday night’s excellent 2-0 win at second-placed Milton Keynes Lightning.

Andre Payette’s side remain fifth in the table though, three points behind Milton Keynes and six behind leaders Guildford Flames, who shared the honours in a double-header weekend with third-placed Manchester Phoenix.

Tony Hand’s team came out on top 4-1 at home on Saturday but went down 5-2 in Sunday night’s reverse fixture at Parkway. Slough Jets are level on points with Manchester - both two ahead of Sheffield – after winning 4-3 at Bracknell Bees.