Frustration mixed with optimism for Sheffield Steelers coach Aaron Fox after Elite Series opening weekend

SHEFFIELD STEELERS’ head coach Aaron Fox may have found a last-minute defeat hard to stomach against Manchester Storm, but he is confident his team will only improve as the Elite Series goes on.

FRUSTRATIONS: Sheffield Steelers' head coach, Aaron Fox on the bench against Manchester on Sunday. Picture: Dean Woolley.
FRUSTRATIONS: Sheffield Steelers' head coach, Aaron Fox on the bench against Manchester on Sunday. Picture: Dean Woolley.

Having edged out arch-rivals Nottingham Panthers 3-2 on Saturday, the Steelers – minus first-choice netminder John Muse who was forced off injured on opening night – were back in action less than 24 hours later.

But, despite coming back from 4-2 down, they were undone by Maxime Fortier’s blistering strike past helpless back-up goalie Ben Churchfield with just 54 seconds on the clock, handing Ryan Finnerty’s Storm team their second victory of the weekend, having edged out Coventry Blaze 3-2 in overtime on Saturday.

Fox isn’t sure when Muse will be back in contention after limping off in the 35th minute with a lower-body muscle injury against the Panthers.

And while there were additonal frustrations to be had in the shape of what he considered some dubious calls in his team’s defeat, Fox remained optimistic of his team’s chances in the behind-closed-doors competition, which next sees them in action against Coventry on Wednesday.

“I liked our game against Manchester,” said Fox. “We created a ton of chances, probably could have converted more than we got, to be fair and it felt like we just didn’t get that key critical save when we needed them at times.

“We had the late game last night and then the early game today, so that isn’t an easy turnaround. But I felt our heart and effort was in the right place and our compete level was there – we’ll only get better in this series.”

Having not had a day off since arriving for training camp at Ice Sheffield last Monday, Fox said his players would spend today resting ahead of their clash with Blaze, who bounced back from their loss to Manchester by beating Nottingham 3-1 last night.

FLYING SOLO: Robert Dowd squeezes the puck past Sean Bonar in the Manchester goal to make it 2-1 to the Steelers. Picture: Dean Woolley.

Steelers struck first yesterday through Josef Hrabal’s blast at 10.23, although Ciaran Long quickly tied things up just over two minutes later.

An excellent individual power play effort from Robert Dowd then put the Steelers 2-1 up at 15.40, but they found themselves trailing just after the halfway point after strikes from Long, Ben Davies and Dallas Ehrhardt.

Liam Kirk – scorer of two goals against the Panthers – maintained his scoring habit at 33.28 and Norwegian forward Sondre Olden levelled matters early in the third.

Overtime beckoned, until good work by Jacob Noer around the back of the Steelers set up Fortier for his match-winning strike.

LYING DOWN ON THE JOB: Steelers' goalie Ben Churchfield smothers the puck close to his net. Picture: Dean Woolley.

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