Less than 24 hours since their fixture at the Link centre, Sheffield and Swindon faced off together at the Bauer Ice Arena in Ice Sheffield. On warmups the announcing team also stated that the games in the series will be given points for a win and a Trophy for the champions, there is something more than bragging rights on offer for this series!
Before the puck drop, Sheffield’s Media team caught up with both teams Coaching staff, Aaron Nell saying that “The opening game was much better than the Autumn series matches, we knew that we are against 4 current GB players with one of them being the best defenceman in both IIHF Champions and EIHL seasons year after year.” He added that “We are looking to build on last night’s performance, although we lost the game we gained a lot of experience and need to be more forceful with some of ours plays against the dogs.”
The Steeldogs bench Head Coach Greg Wood echoed his Swindon counterpart stating that “Happy with the performance last night, feel that the bigger Pad here in Sheffield should give us an advantage as we have more space to play the puck. “The powerplay goals coming in from Kirk was something that we work in practice again we need to be a bit more careful in our plays not to give too much away to a side like Wildcats, as we have seen they are a side that will jump at any opportunity.”
For the Game there were only 4 Roster changes all of which are from both sides. Swindon going with Jordan Marr as the starting Netminder resting Renny from the previous game and with Steeldogs losing James Spurr in the previous game they replaced the experienced forward with England and GB U20 players James Ripley and Jack Brammer. Wood added that in regard to his changes “We have also got staff from ENGU19 and GB U20 teams watching these two and this series is a great opportunity to showcase their skills.” With that in mind for the Dogs players and Wildcats eager to get their first points on the board both teams lined up observed a minute’s silence and applause from both sides, the National Anthem finished, and it was time for Hockey on a Sunday night!
From the outset it was Swindon who had the early opportunities, winning the opening faces off and driving hard to the Dogs Net, Netminder Zimzodra using his pads to deflect the puck into the far corner. Dogs’ Ben Lake received a pass and drove right back to the Cats goal only for his shot to be blocked and the puck cleared by Josh Batch, passing to a speeding Ben Davies. The Cats charge was stopped by a solid check in the Dogs zone before the action was picked up by man of the moment Liam Kirk in the Cats zone – can I point out that all this happened within 2 mins! With both teams trading shots, it looked to be that Steeldogs were the sharper of the two teams, forcing the turnovers and taking up position in Cats defensive zone cycling the puck looking for an angle to get on net. Ultimately the pressure paid off, Ben O’ Connor drove hard in on net – Marr came out of the crease to stop the puck, but it had rebounded off his armour – the GB d-man then used Marr’s own stick to deflect the puck into the open goal mouth at the near post. Following the subsequent face off Dogs found themselves back in the Cats zone – Liam Kirk shadowed by Neil Liddiard beat Marr making it 2-0 with goals less than 40 seconds apart. Back on the draw the Cats won the opening face off and made it to the Dog zone, they tried to cycle the puck behind the goal to allow a partial shift change. But as soon as the shift change occurred a tun over by the benches meant the dogs could break free, the puck making its way to Jason Hewitt who released his shot above the crease making it 3-0 to the hosts at 13:29. Aaron Nell called a time out at the faceoff to regroup his team as well as to break any momentum Steeldogs had.
All I will say is that whatever was said must’ve worked! After the Faceoff Cats’ Toms Rutkis managed to place a decent shot on Zimzodra, although an offside was called it was Cats who generated the chance through Aaron Nell and Tomas Malasinski. The puck deflected behind the goal and a Pass from the dogs found its way to Liam Kirk on the wing, Kirky was joined by his line mates in the Cats zone generating a 3 on 2 opportunity which Marr duly showed his class gloving the puck. On the restart the Cats lost possession early in the play – but Tyler Plews was on hand to pick the pocket of the Dogs controlling the puck and clearing it up the ice. Dogs’ Hewitt raced back down to the Cats Net but was floored by an unnamed Cat, firing the puck back up to Rutkis at Centre Ice. Rutkis nearly converted this play into a scoring chance but fired it past the goal, by this point Rutkis was also joined by Malasinski and Liddiard who both had chances on net with a shot range wrister from the Polish forward and a blue line blast from Liddiard – but both being blocked by Dogs D-man Tom Relf (Yes, you do owe him a Beer Dmitri!). Aside from this both teams had equal opportunities on each other’s net for the rest of the period, but neither could send the puck into the net. Only a couple of icing calls breaking up the play. Make no mistake this is a quick game almost European levels pace with very little need for the referees to call penalties. The closest either side got to a goal was on a Wildcats play – the young Hungarian Balint Pakodzil finding space, unmarked and at the top of the penalty zone firing in on net only to find the side netting of Zimozdra’s goal. Back to the face off the Steeldogs managed to work themselves back into the Cats zone, however a late hit from Alex Graham on a Swindon player at 00:26 meant that the dogs were on the Penalty kill for the reminder of the period. Cats unable to work their way past the Dogs defence meant that the period closed out at 3-0 to the hosts.
With the Ice being recut and the media team catching up with Ben Lake, the Giant and GB winger stating “We (Steeldogs) wanted to send a message early in the game, the only bit we have changed in our game is to keep our 3rd forward high in the plays as this cuts down on any advantage Swindon gain if they break our play”. These comments and the 3-0 score line enforced this but the 1:40 secs of PK to start the period meant they didn’t have the initial advantage starting the second period. The Wildcats built on their advantage straight away finding themselves in front of the Dogs goal but unable to convert their chances. With both Dogs returning to even strength it was the Dogs who took back control of the game, raining shots on Marrs Goal. But a moment of controversy surrounds the game - the Cats broke the Dogs play and rushed back down the ice Ben Davies putting an initial shot on goal and followed by a poke check saw the puck cross the goal line, but the net went off its moorings resulting in no Goal for Swindon.
Another chance and another blocked shot for Pakodzil saw the puck to a Steeldogs defenceman who passed up to Alex Graham, Lascek moving across the slot meant Graham was temporarily unsighted which gave him the opportunity to bury the puck at the top right-hand corner at 17:25 of the second period giving the dogs a 4-0 lead assisted by Craig Elliot. Looking to make it 5 unanswered goals Dogs won the face off and were back in the Cats Zone, however Tyler Plews was on hand again sneaking the puck out of reach using his skate to deflect the puck out of reach of the Steeldogs forwards. Malasinski picking up the loose puck at centre ice saw him probe the Steeldogs defences, although pushed back to centre ice again “Malas” took the puck past the defenders only for the puck to be deflected by Davey Phillips. Some puck luck headed Swindon’s way after the referees assessed the play and gave Davey Phillips 2 mins in the box for slashing. On the face off Aaron Nell led his team in front of the ‘Dogs goal and got the puck up to Pakodzil up in the Face off dots, Balint duly delivering the goods with a powerful wrist shot shooting past Zimzodra at the near post. Swindon now having a goal for their efforts scores reading 4-1 at the restart, Swindon was faster out of the gates very nearly making it 4-2 with a play from Kelsall and Davies testing Dmitri for the second time in quick succession.
Aside from a rare lapse in concentration the Dogs again took control of the game, finding themselves back in the Cats zone on a broken play, both Stano Lascek and Ben O’Connor had great chances but were denied by a rebound and a poke check from Marr respectively. The game then followed the pattern of the first period, both teams having great chances in all positions of the rink but both teams being denied by some even better saves from their rivalling netminders. Stand out chances came in from Swindon’s Malasinski hitting the post on several occasions, Kirk with a Slapshot and Lake practically skating into the goal mouth to try and get it past Jordan Marr. Aside from a few Stern words said between the two sides the score line remained the same with the period closing 4-1 to the Dogs.
The Third Period started out with both teams on equal strength but going against the script it was Dogs who were on the back foot, Swindon capitalising on using a bobbling puck to get into shooting positions, it was only when Steeldogs Dog’s Assistant Captain Tim Smith dumped the puck from centre ice did Dogs only get a breather. Young Alex Graham was able to take the puck on Marr’s net but was forced behind the goal, with no one to back him up the Cats were able to get straight back at the dogs. It was the relatively young line of Davies, Kelsall and Pakodzil who were doing the damage, getting in deep but just unable to finish off their attacks. The puck getting fast and loose found its way to Liam Kirk at the top of the Dogs Zone – carrying the puck through centre ice skating past the cat’s defence as if they were standing still. A drop pass to Taylor meant it was a clear line of sight to the net but Taylor was unable to convert it With the time ticking down the play was getting gradually more and more physical, a hit on Hewitt was immediately followed by a Hip check from Dog’s Ben Morgan near the benches, not only killing the play but sending a warning to the Cats that everything they do will be returned with interest! More shots were being generated but again neither team could add to their tally. However, as time went on it was Wildcats who were gaining ground on the dogs, their plays preventing any shift changes for fresh legs meant that the Dogs were tiring out quickly. The only reprieves coming in where dogs cleared the puck from their zone, losing each face off they went on and shots on net mounting up the numbers were not in the Dogs favour It was only in the final minute that the inevitable goal came through – an absolute bullet from Wildcats Reed Sayers cut the goal difference to two (4-2) with a bullet with 50 seconds left on the clock. To build on the momentum Marr was pulled in favour for the extra skater with 40 secs left on the clock. It was both Matt Myers and Josh Batch dealing out the damage creating multiple chances in front of the net – very nearly scoring but the puck going agonizingly across the goal mouth. The puck then went out of play in the final second of the game, Wildcats won the face off and a low shot beat Zimzodra…. just after the final buzzer went. Steeldogs literally saved by the bell!
Not only do the Dogs make it a 4 point weekend, they also have won each gae so far they have had against Wildcats since last Autumn, a statistic that Aaron Nell would like to set the record straight on…
Steeldogs 4 – Wildcats 2
Man of the Match: