Leeds Knights 7 Sheffield Steeldogs 4: Kieran Brown fires hat-trick as depleted Dogs are beaten
Down to just 10 skaters - one more than they had in a 6-2 defeat at Telford Tigers last Wednesday - the Steeldogs were up against it from before the first puck drop yet again.
And the game was effectively over by the end of the first period as the Knights strolled into a 4-0 lead. The Steeldogs were left hanging in at times but salvaged plenty of pride with two strikes late on in the game.
The visitors were left short in numbers once again due to a combination of Covid and injuries - several key players were missing, including Jason Hewitt, Matt Bissonnette, Lee Bonner, James Spurr and experienced defenceman Tim Smith.
Leeds themselves have suffered plenty enough already this season in terms of injuries and, for their part, were missing defencemen Sam Zajac and Ben Solder, along with forwards Harry Gulliver and Joe Coulter, Tate Shudra again drafted in to boost Dave Whistle’s forward options.
“I thought we did okay, we played well overall, we moved into open areas well and we moved the puck fairly well,” said Whistle afterwards. “We saw they were down to 10 or so players - we’ve had that ourselves this year, we had a couple of months almost like that.
“We probably could have taken more shots at times ourselves but I think we still gave up too many shots for a team that only had 10 players. The aim was to keep that down but I bet they still had over 30 on our net.”
Not surprisingly, it was the hosts who made all the early running, Kieran Brown forcing Dimitri Zimozdra into action with his blocker from close-range, before the Steeldogs netminder stuck out his pad sharply to deny Archie Hazeldine from further out.
Cole Shudra and Matty Davies were also denied when well-placed but the goal that was being threatened eventually arrived at 7.06 when Brown broke free down centre ice and fired the puck over Zimozdra’s right shoulder to register his first of the night against his former club.
Within two minutes, it was 2-0, Lewis Baldwin - again activated primarily as a forward and working on a line with Ethan Hehir and Tate Shudra - cut in from the left and back-handed past Zimozdra from a tight angle at 8.46.
Steeldogs were struggling to get out of their zone and the pressure told again soon after, when Tate Shudra made it 3-0 at 11.47 with his first goal at this level.
It began to look really bleak for the Steeldogs after wonderful interplay between Adam Barnes, Brandon Whistle and Brown resulted in the latter tapping home unchecked at the back post with Zimozdra stranded.
But the visitors got through to the first break without falling further behind and, despite Brown sealing his hat-trick early in the second, they began to come into the game more thereafter.
Niks Trapans had replaced Sam Gospel in the Knights’ net at the first interval, but it didn’t take long for the Steeldogs to breach his defences, just 32 seconds more having elapsed after Brown’s hat-trick marker before Scott Morris tipped in from in front off Sam Towner.
Power play opportunities were in short supply all night and it wasn’t until the 28th minute that the first penalty was called, Steeldogs’ defenceman Ben Morgan called for slashing.
Baldwin and Ross Kennedy both tried their luck from distance but Zimozdra was equal to the challenge, as he was again in the 31st minute when Barnes broke free down the middle.
The game was becoming a bit scrappy, Whistle and then Jordan Fisher sent to the box for the Knights, and it was the latter call that saw the Steeldogs cut the deficit further when Jack Brammer got on the board on the subsequent man advantage at 34.48.
Another change in net came at the second intermission, Samantha Bolwell replacing Zimozdra for the Steeldogs, although one of her first tasks was to drag the puck out of the net after Kennedy burst through to play a one-two with Barnes to give him a simple tap-in at 42.04.
Bolwell was alert to deny Fisher from close-range but was unlucky shortly after when a pass from Cole Shudra to the on-rushing Archie Hazeldine took a deflection off a Steeldogs player and crawled over the line to make it 7-2 at 53.19.
As the game dragged to a close, the Steeldogs got on the board twice more, first through Lee Haywood and then 19-year-old defenceman Henry Adams, whose piledriver from the top of the left circle evaded Trapans through traffic with just 18 seconds remaining.
Whistle said he was impressed with Trapans after he took over from Gospel in net for the second and third period and was also delighted that Tate Shudra got his reward for a lively display with his first-ever goal at NIHL National level.
“It was awesome for Tate to get his first goal this level,” added Whistle. “I was really pleased for him. He was in the right spot and was lively all night, but then you’d expect that from a player that age.
“He works hard out there every shift, he tries to play the right way too - his head is always up, he chips it in and chips it out, changes at the right time, so he’s going to be a really good player in the future.
“And Niks made some good saves for us after he came in for Sam, he really did. It’s hard for a goalie to come in like that when they haven’t been in a game for a long time, but he did a real good job.”