Sheffield Steelers: Double-header at Elite League title rivals Belfast Giants takes on even more significance

AARON FOX admitted his Sheffield Steelers team needed to quickly find their ‘mojo’ again after they were knocked off their perch as Elite League leaders by rivals Belfast Giants.

KILLER BLOW: A shot from Kalvis Ozols (out of picture) fires past Sheffield Steelers' goalie Rok Stojanovic to giver Dundee Stars a 2-1 overtime victory on Sunday. Picture: Derek Black/EIHL.
KILLER BLOW: A shot from Kalvis Ozols (out of picture) fires past Sheffield Steelers' goalie Rok Stojanovic to giver Dundee Stars a 2-1 overtime victory on Sunday. Picture: Derek Black/EIHL.

Ahead of their two games with Dundee Stars, the Steelers were sitting pretty at the top of the table. They wake up this morning having been leapfrogged by Belfast, who are now two points to the good, but having played a game more.

Essentially, it is a minor role reversal with the Steelers for so long the hunted, now taking on the role of the hunter.

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With 14 games remaining, there are clearly still plenty of ups and downs to come – third-placed Cardiff Devils may still have a say – but this weekend’s double-header in Belfast for the Steelers will obviously have a important say in where the regular season title resides this summer.

They could have been skating out at the SSE Arena on Friday in a worse position having lost twice against Dundee at the weekend but, crucially, they still emerged from the double-header with two points, following up Saturday’s 5-4 reverse on home ice after a shootout with a 2-1 overtime loss in Tayside.

Meanwhile, the Giants emerged from their triple-header against Guildford Flames with all six points, 6-2 and 5-1 victories in front of their own fans being supplemented by a hard-fought 4-3 road win in Surrey on Sunday.

Before boarding the team coach for the long trip home from Scotland, Steelers’ head coach Fox admitted his team had not played their ‘best’ hockey in recent weeks, lamented the injuries that continue to dog his roster and admitted the forthcoming trip to Northern Ireland was “huge”.

“We’re proud of the group that came up here,” said Fox. “We’ve got some guys who, again, are playing through some stuff that they probably shouldn’t be playing right now. Looking at our situation, we haven’t played great hockey for the last five or six games and we’re battling our own game a little bit.

SUNDAY STRUGGLE: Sheffield Steelers Sam Jones - left - battles for possession against Dundee Stars on Sunday night. Picture: Derek Black/EIHL.

“It was good to see Rok play as well as he did tonight, it gave us a chance to win but two points from the weekend just isn’t good enough for us in this situation, I think we’re a point down on Belfast with 14 games to play.

“It is a huge weekend next weekend against them – we’re not in great form right now and we’re going to have to press the reset this week and hopefully get a bit more healthy and find our mojo again.”

The Steelers got off to a nightmare start at the Utilita Arena on Saturday when they found themselves 2-0 down after less than two minutes.

Matias Sointu halved the deficit at 5.33 but no sooner had Evan Mosey levelled for the hosts at 26.45, than Dundee were ahead again less than two minutes later through Gabriel Desjardins.

Sheffield Steelers' head coach, Aaron fox. Picture: Dean Woolley/EIHL.

But two power play strikes from Robert Dowd just 17 seconds apart saw the Steelers take control before the end of the second, his first coming at 37.59.

That was how it stayed until 56.52 when Connor Sills equalised, a goalless overtime following before the shootout saw Philippe Sanche score the only goal of the opening two rounds.

While Vojtech Polák matched Sebastian Bengtsson’s goal in round three, a miss by Sointu allowed Dillon Lawrence to grab the extra point for Omar Pacha’s team.

Brandon Whistle opened the scoring for the Steelers in Dundee last night at 34.23, a lead the visitors retained until Lawrence levelled on the power play with just over 10 minutes remaining.

A holding call on Mosey presented the Stars with another power play opportunity in overtime and with just eight seconds remaining on the penalty, the Stars made it count again, Kalvis Ozols finding a way past Rok Stojanovic at 63.15.