Congratulations to Ben O’Connor - less so to rest of Sheffield Steelers team

Paul Thompson rallies the troops at Cardiff Devils. Pic by Helen Brabon
Paul Thompson rallies the troops at Cardiff Devils. Pic by Helen Brabon

Games, leagues and rivalries can be decided by the finest of margins.

The record books will show that Steelers went down by a single goal at Cardiff Devils, on Saturday. But the narrowness of that 3-2 distinction, obscures the wider picture.

Let’s start with the bleakest news. On Friday morning, Sheffield were a second-place team.

By Saturday night, they were fourth, having played more games than anybody. Devils, in fact, have played six fewer league games, but are five points behind them.

Above them all, horror upon horrors, are Nottingham Panthers who have seized ownership of the division after four straight wins.

Belfast Giants, in third, are gaining momentum with six consecutive wins. Panthers have four.

And all these Erhardt Conference teams have pretty much enjoyed themselves at Steelers’ expense, so far.

Sheffield have just one win to show from seven Conference attempts.

Last year, Cardiff had Steelers’ number. Now Sheffield fans will be worrying all the others in that section have, too.

Defensively, the team was short-handed in Wales, Ben O’Connor having to turn around en route to the rink to attend the birth of his child.

Ervins Mustukovs stranded after Cardiff Devils goal Pic by Helen Brabon

Ervins Mustukovs stranded after Cardiff Devils goal Pic by Helen Brabon

Firepower-wise, Steelers having scored fewer than the other Erhardt sides.

Colton Fretter has two more games of suspension to serve. Mathieu Roy has one goal in five games. Tim Wallace has two in 21. Rob Dowd’s earlier goal output has dried up.

Defensively, Joonas Ronnberg has yet to be replaced.

On Saturday, the game was just 55 seconds old when Sean Bentivoglio popped home the puck. Andreas Valdix hit back at 4;45.

But defenceman Andrew Hotham cashed in on a John Armstrong cross-check penalty to make it 2-1 to the Welsh. Matt Marquardt went on a similar call and Matt Pope added a third at 16:47.

Sheffield managed three shots only in the middle period, compared to Devils’ 10.

But while they turned those tables in the third session and Scott Aarssen scored from with 31 seconds remaining, the game was lost.

Defenceman Davey Phillips said: “We started slow, had some penalty trouble but we got better as match went on - we just left it too late. Give Cardiff credit, they came out hard and put pressure on us. We knew they would, but dealing with that is easier said than done. Next time we must bear down harder.”

Phillips said the mood and spirit of the team remained high.

“We are never satisfied with losing, but there are positives to take out of this performance. We are certainly not out of the hunt, there are plenty of games to catch up.”

Coach Paul Thompson was livid at conceding so early in the game as it “created energy in the building” he said adding: “We have got to start harder.”

He queried the allocation of penalties.

“I am not disappointed with our effort or our performance. But we didn’t put the puck away.”