SHEFFIELD STEELDOGS are setting the early pace in NIHL National after a four-point weekend saw them go clear at the top of the standings.
Ben Morgan's team hammered hosts Milton Keynes Lightning 5-0 on Saturday night before returning him to edge out Basingstoke Bison 4-3. It leaves them two points clear of their bunched-up rivals, with the second to eighth placed team separated by just two points.
The only teams adrift of that pack are Milton Keynes, on three points, and newcomers Leeds Chiefs, who are yet to register their first point having started their inaugural campaign with five straight losses, their latest coming in a 4-2 reverse at Peterborough Phantoms.
Hull Pirates suffered a rare pointless weekend, losing out 2-1 on home ice to Raiders - who then went on to beat Swindon Wildcats 5-4 the following night - before heading to Telford Tigers to lose out by the odd goal in 11.
After several close chances at both ends at Ice Sheffield it was the Steeldogs who broke the deadlock at 18.21 through Jan Danecek, only for Bison to level matters through Adam Jones on a 5-on-3 power play just over a minute later with the Steeldogs import and captain Lewis Bell in the box.
It was to prove nip-and-tuck throughout, Bison edging ahead at 22.08 through Tom Ralph before the hosts got themselves in front again with two goals in 25 seconds, the first a power play marker from Ashley Calvert at 27.45 before Vladimir Luka grabbed his first of the night.
Player-coach Ashley Tait dragged his team level in the 42nd minute but he and his team were to head home empty-handed when Luka registered a double for the night at 53.08 to ensure the hosts went into Monday as the team to catch in the early-season standings.
The previous night in Milton Keynes was a rather more straighforward encounter for Morgan and his players, the game decided primarily by a three-goal burst from the visitors just after the halfway point.
Luka opened the scoring on the power play at 31.25 before Danecek and Cam Brownley got in on the act. Nathan Salem and a second from Luka ensured a comfortable night for the Steeldogs.
By contrast, Hull Pirates endured nothing but frustration, always chasing the game at home to the Raiders after teh visitors went 1-0 up in the third minute through Blahoslav Novak.
It was early in the third when Raiders doubled their advantage through Lukas Sladkovsky and, although Sam Towner halved the deficit with just under 10 minutes remaining and despite out-shooting their opponents 45-26, Hull ended the night with nothing to show for their efforts.
Just under 24 hours later in Shropshire the Pirates traded first period blows with their hosts, going in at the end of the first at 2-2 thanks to strikes from Olegs Sislannikovs and Lee Bonner.
But three Telford goals in just under four second-period minutes effectively settled the clash, with Jonathan Weaver, Jack Watkins and Joe Aston giving their team a 5-2 lead by the halfway mark.
A second for Sislannikovs just before the end of the period and another from Peter Fabus just 11 seconds into the third brought Hull right back into the game, but the next goal was the killer, a power play effort from Scott Mckenzie proving the game-winning goal.
Jordan Fisher pounced with just under two minutes remaining, but Hull couldn't find another leveller in order to earn at least a point.
Leeds Chiefs were on the backfoot inside 10 minutes at Peterborough when the first of three power play goals for the home side saw Glenn Billing beat Sam Gospel.
The visitors were soon on level terms when Richard Bentham replied with his first of the season just 94 seconds later, scrambling the puck home from in front of the net.
A timely second goal on the man advantage for the hosts just 13 seconds before the end of the period from Connor Pollard hurt the Chiefs, who then went two goals behind – again on the power play – when Latvian forward Martins Susters struck at 29.06.
Leeds were reeling further when they conceded a fourth goal at 35.56, Petr Stepanek the man responsible and, although forward Adam Barnes struck on the power play for his first goal of the campaign at 54.03, that was close as the visitors could get.