Sheffield Steelers' Elite League title bid suffers double hit

WHILE still clearly angry at his team’s Saturday night 5-2 home loss to Dundee Stars, Sheffield Steelers’ head coach Aaron Fox found plenty to admire in the subsequent defeat at bottom club Fife Flyers.

Sunday, 16th February 2020, 11:40 pm
Updated Sunday, 16th February 2020, 11:42 pm
TOUGH GOING: Sheffield Steelers' players clash with their opponents, Fife Flyers, during a frustrating night in Kirkclady. Picture courtesy of Jillian McFarlane/EIHL.

But regardless of how much his mood had been lightened by his players’ efforts in their 3-1 loss in Kirkcaldy, it’s clear his team’s hopes of lifting the regular season Elite League title took a significant hit at the weekend.

They will still arise on Monday morning three points clear, but their position weakened by the weekend’s events, second-placed Cardiff Devils three points adrift with Nottingham Panthers charging up to lie just a point further back after their 4-0 win over defending champions Belfast Giants.

On Sunday, the Steelers were 3-0 down before the first period break through strikes from Fife’s Chase Schaber and a Carlo Finucci double.

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Sheffield Steelers' John Armstrong, left and Tanner Eberle find their path to the Dundee Stars' goal blocked. Picture courtesy of Dean Woolley.

Lucas Sandstrom gave the visitors hope with a 54th-minute reply, but it was to prove beyond them as they slipped to a fourth straight defeat.

“I'm still p****d off about last night, we were absolutely awful,” said Fox. “But against Fife, at least we battled and played a hard, physical game.

“I liked our pushback, I liked our fight, I liked our energy. We didn't give up at all and everyone still believed we had a chance to win that game, even with just five or six minutes left.

“We'd put ourselves in a pretty good position over the first 75 per cent of the season and now we're kind of limping along at the moment - we've got to figure out our game real quick here if we really want to compete for that title.”

NIGHT TO FORGET: Sheffield Steelers' head coach Aaron Fox shows his frustration on the bench during Saturday night's defeat to Dundee Stars. Picture: Dean Woolley.

On Saturday, Fox was left fuming by his team's "awful" display.

Things actually began well for the league leaders who went ahead with 6.24 on the board when Aaron Brocklehurst’s feed enabled Marc-Olivier Vallerand to fire past Alex Leclerc on the power play. Dundee pulled level at 15.56, though, when Matt Marquardt’s wrist shot from the circle seemed to take a deflection on its way past Tomáš Duba.

Period two belonged to the Stars, however, Omar Pacha's team going ahead at 2312 through Egils Kalns, who slotted home a perfect pass from Anthony Beauregard, who then scored himself at 33.14 when deflecting the puck high over Duba from Kevin Dufour’s feed. With just 84 seconds left in the period, Matt Carter extended the visitors’ lead to 4-1.

Colton Kroeker then ensured that Dundee would take the points when he fired home at 52.20, Marek Trončinský's effort little more than a consolation.

"We gave up too much easy hockey," blasted Fox afterwards. "I felt like our game was selfish, we were extremely soft on pucks, there were uncharacteristic turnovers from a couple of key guys of ours that ended up in the back of our net."