Last night in Sheffield, Paul Thompson – their former coach for 13 years and the man who assisted with the creation of the club – helped ensure it happened for the first time.
A 4-1 win over the Blaze for Thompson’s Sheffield Steelers confirmed the West Midlands club’s season was over earlier than ever before in the EIHL era.
It is probably not something in which Thompson will have taken great pleasure, but was necessary given his team had gone into the game still hopeful of securing a runners-up finish in the regular season standings.
In the end, however, the result proved meaningless – at least for the Steelers – as a 5-3 win for Belfast Giants at league champions Cardiff Devils elevated them to second spot overall. It means the Steelers will face arch-rivals Nottingham Panthers in the first round of the play-offs next weekend, with both teams being desperate to make it to the Final Four Weekend at Nottingham’s National Ice Centre home on April 8-9.
After a goalless first period, Robert Dowd struck first for the home side less than two minutes into the second period as two-time play-off winners and four-time league champions Blaze looked somehow to haul themselves above Manchester Storm in the final standings.
Former Steelers’ favourite Ashley Tait equalised at 32.43, but two goals in the space of 34 seconds in the third period knocked the wind out of the visitors, John Armstrong’s strike at 47.14 being followed quickly by another from Colton Fretter
Any hope of a comeback was ruled out just under three minutes later when Mathieu Roy struck on the powerplay, allowing Manchester to celebrate their first play-off appearance since returning to the league despite losing 3-2 after a shoot-out at home to Nottingham.
Sheffield Steeldogs and Hull Pirates are still searching for a first win at the halfway point of the English Premier League play-offs.
Hull followed up a a 6-3 defeat at Swindon Wildcats on Saturday with a 5-2 defeat at home to Milton Keynes Lightning.
Sheffield were unfortunate to lose out 3-2 at Guildford Flames on Saturday before returning home to lose 8-3 to regular season champions Telford Tigers.