Sheffield Steeldogs enjoy double delight after beating Milton Keynes Lightning to win NIHL National play-off final

SHEFFIELD STEELDOGS’ head coach Greg Wood hailed his team’s “most complete” weekend of the season after they clinched a memorable 2021-22 NIHL National double.

Sheffield Steeldogs' players celebrate their NIHL National play-off success at Coventry after beating Milton Keynes Lightning 4-1 in Sunday's grand final. Picture courtesy of Peter Best.
Sheffield Steeldogs' players celebrate their NIHL National play-off success at Coventry after beating Milton Keynes Lightning 4-1 in Sunday's grand final. Picture courtesy of Peter Best.

The South Yorkshire club added to the National Cup they won last month after beating Milton Keynes Lightning 4-1 in the play-off final in Coventry.

Early strikes from Andreas Valdix and Jason Hewitt, plus a double from Matthew Bissonnette sealed a memorable weekend at the SkyDome Arena, with the Steeldogs having beaten Telford Tigers 3-1 in Saturday’s first semi-final.

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Throw in a third-place finish in the regular league season and it was small wonder Wood was happy with his lot on Sunday evening.

Sheffield Steeldogs' Alex Graham (left) and Ben Morgan celebrate during Sunday's 4-1 win over Milton Keynes Lightning in the NIHL National play-off final in Coventry. Picture courtesy of Peter Best.

“It’s the most complete weekend we have had all year,” said Wood. “We played two very good teams and we limited them both to a goal each - when you play like that you give yourselves a chance to win games.

“It is massively satisfying. These lads give up so much time and put so much commitment into it. And this isn’t just about preparing over the last couple of weeks, it’s been since last August, giving up their weekends, plus the practice time, meetings and everything else that goes with it - this is their just reward for all of that.”

The Steeldogs got off to the perfect start against the Lightning, going 2-0 ahead after Valdix’s opener with just 3.02 on the clock was enhanced by Hewitt’s strike just over a minute later.

A frantic opening to the season’s grand finale continued when the Lightning got back into the game quickly through Liam Stewart’s reply at 6.47.

STRIKE ONE: Swedish centre Andreas Valdix opened the scoring for Sheffield Steeldogs in Sunday's final. Picture courtesy of Peter Best.

But once Matt Bissonnette restored his team’s two-goal cushion at 14.17, the Steeldogs rarely looked like letting their opponents back in, their controlled performance rewarded further when Bissonnette grabbed his second of the game on the power play just after the halfway mark, Lewis Clifford's side frustrated thereafter after Wood's team closed out the game for a memorable triumph.

On Saturday, against league champions Telford , who they had defeated over two legs in March to lift the National Cup last month, the deadlock was broken after a goalless first period through defenceman Lee Haywood at 28.58, with Henry Adams making it 2-0 just under 10 minutes later.

That is how it looked like staying as a disciplined Steeldogs held the Tigers at bay, only for Andy McKinney to ensure some late drama when he halved the deficit with 90 seconds remaining.

But, with goaltender Brad Day pulled in their attempt to force the game into overtime, the Tigers paid the penalty when Alex Graham ensured passage through to Sunday's showdown with an empty-net strike with 17 seconds remaining.

Matt Bissonnette celebrates scoring one his two goals in Sunday's NIHL National play-off final win against Milton Keynes Lightning. Picture courtesy of Peter Best.

"We’re very proud of what we’ve achieved," added Wood. "We took our chances really well in that first period against MK and it put us on the front foot and we never looked back after that point really.

"This club’s had some tough times over the last 10 years or so and I’m absolutely delighted for the boys because they’ve played fantastic all weekend, not just all weekend, in fact, but all year in fact."