Sheffield Steeldogs 7 Raiders IHC 3 - Steeldogs maintain winning momentum in NIHL National Spring Cup

SHEFFIELD STEELDOGS extended their winning start to the NIHL National Spring Cup - but they encountered plenty of problems against a persistent Raiders IHC at Ice Sheffield.

Sheffield Steeldogs were made to work hard for their win at home to Raiders. Picture courtesy of Steeldogs' Media.

The 7-3 scoreline may suggest it was a comfortable night for the Sheffield Steeldogs, but it was anything but, as a dogged Raiders team frustrated at every available opportunity, the Steeldogs greater fitness and depth eventually proving to be the major difference between the two sides.

The NIHL National rivals get to go at each other again on Sunday, this time in Romford, with Steeldogs' head coach Greg Wood anticipating a different challenge, given the Raiders' smaller ice pad.

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After opening their Spring Cup account with back-to-back wins against Swindon Wildcats a fortnight ago, the Steeldogs went into the game as favourites and having benefitted from having a weekend off before entertaining a Raiders side who were unlucky to lose both their opening games last week against Telford Tigers.

But it proved a very even first 20 minutes, with both sides cancelling each other out in large parts and preventing clear-cut chances at either end.

Raiders' goalie Ethan James was called upon to keep out Alex Graham from close range early on, while Dimitri Ziomzdra had to be aware at the other end to glove save from the lively Brandon Ayliffe.

The Raiders gained the first power play of the night when Davey Phillips was given a 2+10 for boarding at 10.44, but they quickly gave up that advantage when Sean Barry was sent to the box for tripping.

Ben Lake showed perseverance when he managed to get a shot off on net despite spinning on his front on the ice, while Nathan Salem weaved his way through by cutting in from the night only to be denied by a resilient James.

Sheffield Steeldogs' celebrate one of their seven goals against Raiders. Picture courtesy of Steeldogs' Media.

Any frustrations lingering from the first period for the Steeldogs were soon dispelled when, within 12 seconds of the restart, Lake was in the right place at the right time to poke the puck home when James could only parry Ben Morgan’s shot from distance.

Exactly a minute later, though, it should have come as little surprise when the persistent Raiders hauled themselves level, Erik Piatak quickest to react to the rebound off his own shot to prod the puck home as he fell to the floor, Zimozdra already committed on the initial effort.

It wasn’t long, however, before the hosts’ restored their advantage, Hewitt dropping to his knee to fire home a rasper from 10 yards after being found alone by Graham.

Liam Kirk looked threatening throughout and nearly got his rewards when found by Jon Phillips only to see his effort cannon off the bar.

Towards the end of the period, James became far busier than his opposite number and could count himself unlucky when beaten at 36.52 after Jonathan Phillips deflected a Hewitt shot into the net on the power play.

The Steeldogs then ensured their increased time in the Raiders zone paid off further when Salem fired past an unsighted James to make it 4-1 at 39.03.

Having been able to establish their superiority towards the end of the second, the Steeldogs - with Miles Finney replacing Zimozdra in net - rammed the point home just under seven minutes into the third.

Good work from captain Lewis Bell saw him drive around the back of the Raiders’ net before teeing up Charlie Thompson to fire home from in front.

But, as they had done for the first half of the game, the visitors refused to lie down, striking back 36 seconds later through Callum Burnett and then, with just over a further minute gone, making it a two-goal game after an Aaron Connolly effort squeezed through Finney at the near post from an exceptionally tight angle.

But any hopes of a comeback the Raiders may have entertained soon disappeared when Graham quickly pounced on a loose puck in front of net to restore the hosts’ three-goal lead at 49.56.

The younger Kirk got his just rewards just over six minutes later when he fired past back-up netminder Bradley Windebank into the roof of the net after a pinpoint pass from Jon Phillips.