Sheffield Steeldogs claim Autumn Cup bragging rights over Leeds Knights
LESS THAN a week ago, Leeds Knights looked certain to carry all before them and finish top of the Autumn Cup group standings.
But Sheffield Steeldogs clearly had other thoughts, snatching top spot from their Yorkshire rivals with a clinical display and inflicting a second straight defeat on Dave Whistle’s team.
The real business of the NIHL National regular season starts today, but there was clearly plenty at stake at Ice Sheffield last night.
There were only 48 seconds on the clock when Jason Hewitt put the home side ahead but it wasn’t long before the Knights - missing defencemen Jordan Griffin and Ben Solder - were level, Kieran Brown finding a way past Dmitri Zimozdra at 3.10.
It was in the second period where the contest came alive, the Steeldogs taking the game by the scruff of the neck and establishing a deserved 4-1 lead, Jonathan Kirk netting at 21.37.
Just under five minutes later, fellow defenceman Tim Smith fired through traffic from the left boards and past an unsighted Ben Churchfield, the netminder making his debut in the Knights goal as part of a two-way deal from Sheffield Steelers.
Just when it looked like the Knights would kill a 2+2 high sticks call on Ross Kennedy, Nathan Ripley found space all alone at the back post to roof it past Churchfield at 31.32.
Leeds looked dead and buried but handed themselves a lifeline with just 24 seconds left in the period when good interplay down the left saw Matty Davies play in Brandon Whistle, who showed good hands to lifted over Zimozdra from close range.
Less than three minutes had been played in the third before it was a one-goal game again, Archie Hazeldine driving down the right before playing in Ethan Hehir to tap home at the far post and, all of a sudden the momentum was with the visitors.
But as they pushed, so chances naturally came in their end, too. One came from the stick of Alex Graham, back from North America and returned to the hosts on a two-way deal from the Steelers, when he almost restored the two-goal lead after showing outrageous skill to cut through two Knights players, only to then lift his shot over the bar with only Churchfield to beat.
Newly-appointed captain Sam Zajac and Lee Bonner both got sent to the box for cross-checking and as the ice opened up with two minutes of four-on-four, the hosts struck a timely blow, Hewitt and Matt Bissonnette creating a two-on-one down the middle, with the former being played in to show quick hands to back-hand past Churchfield to make it 5-3 at 49.16.
Try as they might, the Knights couldn’t find a way through Zimozdra again and, shortly after they had pulled Churchfield for the extra skater, Bonner lifted the puck from just outside the Steeldogs’ zone and into the empty net for some further insurance with just 59 seconds left on the clock