Aaron Fox salutes Sheffield Steelers back-up goalie Ben Churchfield after overcoming early 'jitters'

AARON FOX couldn't help but be satisfied after seeing his Sheffield Steelers team mark their return to action after almost 13 months away with a hard-fought 3-2 win over Nottingham Panthers in the Elite Series.

STOP RIGHT THERE: Ben Churchfield turns away Christophe Boivin's penalty shot in the 57th minute to preserve Sheffield Steelers' 3-2 lead over Nottingham. Picture courtesy of Dean Woolley.

Two goals from Liam Kirk, following an opener from captain Jonathan Phillips, were enough to seal a vital two points ahead of Sunday's clash with Manchester Storm.

Fox was impressed with his players' ability to overcome adversity in a number of ways on the night, including the behind-closed-doors encounter having to start an hour late due to technical difficulties with the live stream, plus losing first-choice goaltender John Muse just after the halfway mark with a muscle injury.

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Nottingham Panthers 2 Sheffield Steelers 3 - Liam Kirk and Ben Churchfield leadi...

That is likely to keep him out of Sunday's follow-up clash but, given the way Churchfield was able to steady himself after letting in two early goals after replacing Muse, Fox will have confidence in his first choice back-up, the youngster turning away all but two of the 22 shots on his net.

"Churchy stepped up after he gave up those two quick ones and he had a great third period for us," said Fox. "He’s a young kid, it was his first pro game and I think the nerves and jitters probably got to him right away when we had to throw him in there - but he battled back in the third and looked real solid."

Fox was also impressed with the resolute nature of his team's performance, particularly their ability to maintain their discipline and, when they did take penalties, being able to successfully kill them all off.

"I thought the penalty kill was awesome, we did an excellent job, particularly with only practising it once all week," added Fox. "But I liked our game generally.and felt we bought into the way that we wanted to play.

OPENING SALVO: Aaron Fox on the bench in Nottingham on Saturday night. Picture: Dean Woolley.

"It was a good night, a good win for us. Obviously I thought we gassed out there a bit in the second, dealt with a little adversity with starting the game an hour late, then losing John Muse midway through the second period with a muscle injury which is unfortunate - but the guys battled back in the third."

Panthers' coach Tim Wallace understandably cut a more frustrated figure, with his team having outshot the Steelers 41-24, with 16 shots alone in the third period, none of which could find their way past Churchfield.

"We had some momentum here and there in the third," said Wallace. "We probably need to shoot the puck a bit more. We definitely had chances to put it in. It was a hard-fought game, a little bit too much run-and-gun for my taste and it could really have gone either way."