Sheffield Steelers fix their eye on the prize as Challenge Cup top seeding is clinched against Manchester Storm
Privately, the Steelers may very well fancy their chances against a Storm outfit they have already put 20 goals past in the competition.
But, publicly, Steelers’ head coach Aaron Fox was keen to stress how fully aware he and his players are of the threat posed by Manchester over two legs, the first instalment of which sees the teams meet in Altrincham for a third time this season next Thursday.
“We know they are a good hockey team and that building isn’t an easy building to play in,” said Fox, after seeing his team clinch first seed after beating Manchester 4-2 at ice Sheffield on Wednesday night.
“We’ll have to be better there than we were on Wednesday night if we want to come home with the points, but we’ll focus on this weekend first.”
The Steelers booked their position as top seeds going into the knockout phase by ensuring they maintained their 100 per cent record in a competition which had seen Nottingham Panthers withdraw in the wake of the Adam Johnson tragedy.
The Steelers went into the first intermission 2-1 ahead. Mark Simpson gave them the lead at 10.28 before Loren Ulett levelled just under four minutes, only to see the hosts restore their slender advantage through Brandon Whistle’s 19th-minute strike.
Only 91 seconds of the second period had passed before the Storm pulled level again, this time through Santeri Haarala but both goalies impressed in keeping things level until just under halfway through the third when Brett Neumann gave Steelers the lead again.
As Manchester chased the game, defenceman Dominic Cormier added an insurance marker at 57.43, his first goal for the club.
While aware his team are capable of much better Fox was satisfied to have got the job done of securing top seeding.
“We’ve had a good two months in the cup and we wanted that first seed, something that is important for the pathway to a potential trophy,” he added.
“It was a little bit ugly and certainly not our best 60 minutes, but I felt the third period was our best spell and we got the job done.”