The game looked to be heading to overtime after Jason Hewitt equalised with less than two minutes remaining but an inspired piece of play from Kieran Brown created a moment to savour for the home fans, the 20-year-old’s reverse pass finding Matty Davies in the left circle, from where he put the puck on net and Cole Shudra timed his arrival perfectly to force it home with just seven seconds remaining.
The Steeldogs can count themselves unlucky not to have taken anything from the game, having played such a major role in another great advert for NIHL National hockey.
The only downside for new Knights coach Ryan Aldridge will be a number of injury concerns ahead of Saturday night’s trip to Raiders IHC, with Sam Zajac, Jordan Fisher and Brandon Whistle all leaving the ice at various stages of the night.
The end matched the start of the game for thrills, after three goals were scored inside the first three minutes.
Aldridge saw his forward options increased ahead of face-off by the inclusion of Manchester Storm’s Finlay Ulrick - joining Elite League team-mates and Knights’ regulars Ben Solder and Harry Gulliver - and, after Brown had tested the waters first for the hosts when forcing Dmitri Zimozdra into a sharp save, it wasn’t long before the majority of the 1,500-plus crowd were on their feet.
Shudra broke clear down the right and, from the right hash marks, squared to Brandon Whistle who gave Zimozdra no chance with just 88 seconds on the clock.
No sooner had the home cheers subsided, however, than the Steeldogs were level, Brady Doxey bustling his way through down the middle and backhanding over Sam Gospel’s right arm with just 28 more seconds having elapsed.
Less than a minute later, the visitors were ahead, Matt Bissonnette finding himself free just outside the top of the left circle, from where he switched play square to Alex Graham, who fired a piledriver past a stunned Gospel.
It was frantic stuff and the Steeldogs almost went 3-1 ahead in the fifth minute only for Jason Hewitt to be denied by Gospel who got down to smother the puck when it was begging to be poked over the line.
Not surprisingly, it wasn’t long before the puck was in the net again, this time it went the way of the hosts at 9.59.
Whistle drove to the goal line down the right, squaring across the face of goal for Brown who was able to pick his spot with Zimozdra already committed.
But, still, there was no let-up, Bissonnette denied by an agile Gospel when cutting in from the left and trying to go five-hole on the Leeds netminder in the 12th minute while, at the other end, Zimozdra stick-saved from Whistle before having to be alert when Lewis Baldwin tried his luck through traffic from the blue line.
Another long-range effort, this time from Ross Kennedy, rebounded around the goalmouth and looked like it was going to fall kindly for Shudra only for him to be denied by some excellent defending.
A stretch pass from Ben Morgan inside the Steeldogs zone in the 16th minute then found Bonner on the left but Gospel was equal to the attempt to beat him low to his right.
The second period was always going to struggle to match the pace of the opening 20 and so it proved, with penalties being called on both sides, interrupting the flow of the game.
Zimozdra denied Harry Gulliver but was powerless to prevent Leeds from going ahead at 24.17 through a Brown wraparound, the hosts denied from going 4-2 up shortly after when officials ruled out an effort from close in by Davies.
Graham saw two goalbound efforts blocked from the top of the right circle after good work by Bissonnette in the 34th minute and Gulliver was unlucky not to see his shot sneak past Zimozdra when he fired through a defenceman’s legs from the left hash marks after gaining speed through the neutral zone.
Archie Hazeldine had to be alert to deny Bonner, poking the puck clear when the Steeldogs forward was set to fire into a gaping net shortly before the end of the period.
In the third, Whistle was denied one-on-one by Zimozdra in the 48th minute, while Gospel’s right pad prevented Bonner from equalising before he denied Hewitt from close in with his other leg. Desperate Leeds defending prevented Nathan Ripley, Jack Brammer and Bonner from drawing the visitors level in the 54th minute but, after Greg Wood called a timeout, Hewitt lifted the puck over Gospel from the edge of the crease at 58.13.
Both sides seemed assured of at least a point until Brown, Davies and Shudra combined for a fitting grand finale.