Sheffield Steelers 4 Manchester Storm 5 - Steelers denied by late Maxime Fortier strike

SHEFFIELD STEELERS were denied the chance to emerge from the first weekend of the Elite Series as early leaders when they were beaten late on by Manchester Storm.

STRIKE TWO: Robert Dowd squeezes the puck through Sean Bonar on the powerplay to give Steelers the lead. Picture: Dean Woolley.

A pinpoint strike from Maxime Fortier with just 54 seconds remaining flew past a helpless Ben Churchfield in the Steelers net and, despite their best efforts, there was simply not enough time for Aaron Fox’s team to get back on level pegging, eventually going down 5-4.

It was a touch harsh on the ‘hosts’ after they had come back from 4-2 down to draw level but, given the circumstances of the competition and the lack of ice time most players have suffered from going into the behind;closed-doors event at the National Ice Centre, there were plenty of positives to take from the whole weekend.

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Ben Davies squeezes the puck through Ben Churchfield to make it 3-2 to Manchester in the wecond period. Picture courtesy of Mark Ferriss.

Given it was both team’s second game in as many days and the previous stop-start nature of the season, it was hardly a surprise that it was a quiet opening 10 minutes with chances limited at both ends.

Churchfield was called on to make a couple of comfortable glove saves before Josef Hrabal gave the Steelers the lead when he let rip with an explosive shot from just inside the blue line which gave Sean Bonar in the Manchester net at 10.23.

The lead was nearly doubled soon after but Bonar adjusted quickly to produce a stunning save to deny Sondre Olden from in front after he had pounced on a rebound.

The lead had vanished after just over two minutes, however, when good work down low from Scott Simmonds saw him produce a wraparound the net to set up Ciaran Long to fire past Churchfield to level at 12.51.

Sheffield Steelers' Tanner Eberle makes a nuisance of himself in front of the Manchester net. Picture: Mark Ferriss.

But the Steelers were handed an early chance to restore their lead when Ben Davies was called for high sticking at 13.42.

Storm looked as if they had comfortably killed the penalty, however, with Steelers struggling to create any solid goalscoring chances until Robert Dowd broke down the right from his own zone before cutting inside to backhand the puck through Bonar at 15.40.

Storm were themselves handed a chance to get back level again when Adrian Saxrud Danielsen was handed back-to-back penalties for cross-checking and roughing.

That penalty kill spilled over into the second period for the Steelers and Manchester eventually made it work for them in the second half of it when Long was given time to step into the left circle and fire over Churchfield’s right shoulder, beating him at his near post at 22.21.

Five minutes later, Storm went ahead for the first time when Ben Davies was all alone in the right circle from where he skated towards Churchfield before squeezing the puck through under the goalie’s arm at 27.48.

Davey Phillips then came agonisingly close to levelling just before the halfway mark but his fierce shot cannoned off Bonar’s left-hand post and across the face of the goal.

With Eberle in the penalty box on a hooking call, an equally explosive effort from Dallas Ehrhardt at the other end found its intended target at 30.59 from just inside the blue line, putting the Storm 4-2 ahead.

It wasn’t long before the Steelers made it a one-goal game again, though, good work behind the net by Josef Mikyska seeing him quickly spot Liam Kirk all alone eight yards out from where he smashed the puck over Bonar’s right shoulder to make it 4-3 at 33.28.

Steelers entered the third on the powerplay after Josh Batch had been called for hooking at the end of the second and even though Fox’s team were unable to make it count, it wasn’t long before they were level, Norwegian Sondre Olden finding room down the middle before his effort went in off Bonar’s left-hand post at 42.28.

Dowd and defenceman Kevin Schulze both forced good saves from Bonar and the game looked to be heading into overtime until Jacob Noer circled round the back of the Steelers net and created room for Fortier, who gave Churchfield no chance of preventing a winning strike.