Last Sunday we saw some of the sexiest hockey ever seen at the Arena.
It was a joy to watch. If Dominic Ingle had been on the Nottingham Panthers bench he would have thrown the towel in long before the final hooter, after we had seen a clinic and seven goals.
Steelers were tenacious against the Panthers. As soon as they lost possession they set about getting it back. Nottingham couldn’t get out of their own zone. I can’t remember a Steelers team dominating a Nottingham side like that for years.
The best sight in hockey? Easy - a Colton Fretter smile, and boy was Frets smiling on Sunday. Two highlight reel goals, a belting one timer and an individual effort backhanding the puck top shelf.
Fretter has been under pressure. He missed most of last season with injury and then came back desperate to show everyone he was back to his best. It was always going to take time but on Sunday we saw the Fretter of the year before last. He can be a nasty piece work, can Colton. He finishes hits with meaning. He might be skilled and our smartest player but he also plays with an edge.
You saw with his second goal just how strong Frets is. He holds off his opponent, protects the puck as well as anyone and then, snap; the puck’s in the net.
If Steelers are to create history this year with a third title, then it is the collective strength of this squad that will be the telling factor. Having a fit and firing Fretter can only assist the cause.
For the last couple of seasons it has been Cardiff and not Nottingham that have been main rivals to Steelers and this Sunday sees the first game of the year between the two sides. Cardiff dominated Panthers last weekend but couldn’t claim a victory, going down 2-0 at the NIC.
Devils have upgraded and spent well. Joey Martin remains one of the best players in the league and he spearheads Andrew Lord’s side.
The supporting cast in Cardiff isn’t bad. They are every bit as deep as Steelers. Latest signing Patrick Bordeleau caused a stir when he announced his arrival in Wales. He has just completed his three-year, $1m-a-season contract in the States with Colorado before heading to Cardiff. Swinton-born Ben Bowns remains between the pipes as Devils target that Elite League title.
Their British contingent is strong as well. GB internationals including Bowns, Mark Richardson, Josh Batch and the returning Matthew Myers. Cardiff carry a spare import as well, will that be Lord? Will he sit himself and put his suit on to coach the team or will the ego get the better of him?
Steelers head to Nottingham on Saturday. Not a chance will Sheffield face the same side they faced last week. Corey Neilson’s pride wont allow that. Panthers’ coach might be a different bird but he is an experienced coach. He knows his side was well beaten last Sunday. The PR put out by Nottingham might suggest otherwise but when Corey puts his head on the pillow, he knows he has to change things up.
Will Brian McGratton arrive in time to play? Perhaps the toughest of the NHL heavyweights ever to come here. Nottingham will be trying everything to ensure he is in the line-up come 7pm on Saturday.
There were over 7,000 in the Arena on Sunday. It will be SOLD OUT on Saturday in Nottingham. Don’t tell me this rivalry is waning, this is the fixture the public wants. It’s why over 9,000 will be in the stadium on Boxing Day.
There is still something special about the games, about the build up.
It’s important to win every game but those games are just a little more important to win. We all went to school or work with a spring in our step on Monday, didn’t we? That 45-mile trip for the Panthers fans felt more like 145 miles. It’s what these games do to you.
Final few words on three unsung heroes in the Steelers’ camp. The fourth line. Markus Nilsson, Jonathan Phillips and young Luke Ferrara.
They have scored in each of the last three games. The speed they generate is outstanding, that speed has contributed to those three goals.
Nilsson and Ferrara on the shorthanded breakaway against Salzberg for example. On Sunday the three of them collected the puck in their own end and took the shift by the scruff of its neck to the Panthers with, this time, captain Jonathan Phillips finding the back of the net for a crucial goal.
The boys’ work ethic is outstanding. Their commitment and desire just terrific. Nilsson has fitted in so well, though, and made an instant impact.
They will go into Nottingham full of confidence that, put out against any line, they can cause trouble, turn pucks over and then go on to contribute on the scoreboard.
What a weekend we have to look forward to. See you at the Arena on Sunday, it will be a Devil of a game...