The Steelers needed overtime tonight to come out victorious over the Coventry Blaze as they started their league campaign. Goals from Saucerman and Balmas in regulation was topped off by an overtime winner by Patrick Watling who went coast to coast to get the Steelers season off to winning ways.
Pre-season was over, and the real stuff was finally here for the Sheffield Steelers as they took on the Coventry Blaze in league opening action tonight at the Utilita Arena in front of over 7,000 fans happy that Summer is finally over for good reasons!
The Steelers and Blaze were the only teams in league action tonight with the rest of the league competing in Challenge Cup action, giving both teams an opportunity to make a statement and get points on the board as early as possible.
Team news was that Whistle missed out whilst he recovers from an injury picked up in practice, whilst Kielly was named as healthy scratch. With the remainder of the squad at Coach Fox’s disposal, he named Greenfield, Saucerman, Diffley, Neumann, Allen and Balmas as his starting 6 to kickstart the season.
First Period (0-0)
It was a cagey first period from both teams to get the season underway, with the Blaze getting the better of the shot count, outshooting the Steelers by 8 to 5 on target. The Steelers not quite finding that final pass to create the grade-A chance with the Blaze doing well to defend their blue line and clog up the area.
The Blaze created the best chance of the period as Kobe Roth used his speed to break one on one behind the Steelers defence, but Greenfield continued his fine form from last season to get his left pad down to deny the chance. The Steelers certainly needed to be wary of the speedster as Diffley did well to break up another breakaway chance for Roth later in the period.
First period nerves out the way and the Steelers would have been looking to improve on the performance heading into the second twenty.
Second Period (1-2)
The second period started with Ciampini taking a stick up high to the face as Norrish was sent to the box for the infringement. It didn’t take long on the kill for Kozun to come up big and make his first of several fine catcher saves of the period (and night) as Dowd wrapped the net to find Petgrave in the slot.
But he was unable to stop the Steelers shortly afterwards at (22.33) from finding their first goal of the campaign thanks to Colton Saucerman’s high slot wrister finding the top corner of Kozun’s net who was screened well by Allen. Balmas and Vallerand picking up the assists.
From there on it was downhill for the Steelers for the remainder of the period as Juusola returned the high sticking penalty and found himself in the box, and the Blaze took full advantage at (32.14). Thompson with an effort from the blue line which took a wicked bounce off the backboards and McNulty was the quickest to react who sent the puck across the crease for Tallberg to finish into an open goal.
(32.29) saw Steelers Captain, Robert Dowd take his turn in the penalty box for a boarding call, but after killing off the penalty, Dowd was straight out of the box to jump on back to back chances which Kozun turned away with the pad down low and with another great catcher grab as Dowd looked on in astonishment.
Ex-Steeler, Danny Kirsto was then involved in the Blaze’s go-ahead goal at (35.13) as he found time and space in the Steelers D-zone to play the puck across the zone to find J.D Dudek at the back-post who finished well over Greenfield sliding across his crease.
Kozun robbed the Steeles once again later in the period with his quick glove off Vallerand before the period came to an end with the Blaze leading by one.
Third Period (2-2)
After Balmas sent the puck off the outside of Kozun’s post in the 48th minute, the Steelers were required to kill of a Nevalianen tripping penalty taken behind his own goal. The Steelers were lucky not to be down by two as the puck bobbled over a Blaze stick as the goal opened up for them before Kozun once again denied Petgrave with another top catcher save.
The Steelers were then back level at (51.24) as Balmas picked the puck up inside the Blaze zone towards the right wing and skated into the high slot to find space and fire over Kozun’s glove which was too hot to handle on this occasion. Tansey and Vallerand with the assists on this one.
The Blaze then handed the Steelers a huge chance to take the points in regulation as Patrick Watling was piled into the boards from behind by Blake Thompson who was ejected from the game with a 5+game call for boarding.
However, the Steelers were unable to capitalise in regulation, despite having a brief 5 on 3 as Clements was also sent to the box for tripping, but the 2 man advantage was quickly cancelled out by a call on Watling himself for high-sticking around the Blaze goal and the game headed into overtime.
As the teams both came back to full-strength, as unusual period of overtime play ensued as both teams skated 5 on 5 on what should be 3 on 3, but as the whistle went and teams went back to reduced skaters, Watling picked up the puck in his own zone and went coast to coast and finished his effort above Kozun’s pad to seal the Steelers first two points on the league season.
Danny Stewart was then handed a game misconduct penalty post-game for his ‘chicken’ antics towards the officials after also challenging, and losing a coaches review on the game winning goal.
There was no doubting the Blaze’s Man of the Match choice tonight which went to Taren Kozun who faced 36 shots on his goal. But it was game winner Patrick Watling who picked up the Steelers Man of the Match award and was sent on his first Eddy for the club, with hopefully many more to come!
Up next is a trip to the Guildford Flames tomorrow night as the Steelers are back in league action. A trip to Nottingham then beckons in the Challenge Cup next Saturday night before the Steelers then return home on Sunday night at 4pm to take on the Cardiff Devils. See you there!