Fretter and Mustukovs inspire Sheffield Steelers' Cup win
Steelers made a positive move towards the Challenge Cup final with a 2-1 victory at Nottingham Panthers in the first leg of the sem-final.
They had on-form winger Colton Fretter to thank for the decisive goal at 52:43 - and goalie Ervins Mustukovs for backstopping them throughout.
Now they have an advantage over a side that just loves to win the Cup.
Steelers and Panthers, who haven’t faced each other since Nottingham won the Christmas games, enacted an explosive start.
The game was only 90 seconds old when Brian McGrattan, the 35-year-old NHL veteran posted a clever goal by out-thinking Mustukovs, who had already had to make two pad-saves.
Mustukovs than had to repel Jason Williams, another import veteran, on a shorthanded breakaway followed by Matt Carter.
Sheffield then ventured more towards Miika Wiikman’s crease, Jonathan Phillips and Fretter getting efforts on the goalie.
Steelers’ goalie was in unflappable mood, he and his skaters defying a 5-on-3 Power Play opportunity for Notts.
The hard work was rewarded by an equaliser, Mike Ratchuk delivering a power play goal for Andreas Valdix at 27:01.
Mustukovs even helped offensively; his pad save Moose helped steer Steelers on a breakaway and chance for Ratchuk at 35:13.
Steelers’ defensive discipline was illustrated by Davey Phillips, blocking a shot with Nottingham pressing, but offensively, over the first two periods they had outshot their hosts 25-14.
Could they make that advantage pay over a Panthers side who had quality absentees from their line-up?
With eight minutes left Fretter scored his fourth goal in three games, beating his marker Alex Nikiforuk and then directing the puck past Wiikman.
The unassisted goal sent shockwaves through the Panthers bench and coach Corey Neilson called a Time Out with 3:51 left on the clock.
But his words of wisdom couldn’t alter the score line.
*The second leg is on Tuesday, February 14. The final is to be held at Cardiff’s Ice Arena Wales on Sunday, 5 March.
*Steelers resume their League programme at the weekend with back to back home games against Belfast Giants. Two regulation wins will see Sheffield deprive the Irish of their second-place spot.