NOTTINGHAM PANTHERS 3 - 4 SHEFFIELD STEELERS
Two goals by Mathieu Roy with his second being the overtime winner, saw the Sheffield Steelers come from two goals down to now having one hand on the Elite League title in a 4-3 overtime win over their bitter arch rivals the Nottingham Panthers at the National Ice Centre in Nottingham on Friday Night.
Before the contest it was a tight three way battle up at the top of the Elite League table, with the Steelers level on points with the Cardiff Devils and close behind, the Braehead Clan. Sheffield knew a win on the road would see them needing only a regulation win against the Devils with the next night being crowned champions. In the case of the home side the Panthers, this was a chance to thwart their long time foes and dent their title hopes with a win in their final regular season game at home before the playoffs next week.
With a sell-out crowd in the NIC for this grudge match between two powerhouses in British Ice Hockey, plus the added spice of the balance of the championship, it was going to be a good contest.
There were a few early mind games played by the visitors, with the Steelers not taking to the ice till the home side made their way out with a tense build up for the match. Before the game got underway however, there was a somber moment in the arena when there was a minutes applause for Amy Usher, a Sheffield Steelers fan who had brought British hockey together after she had battled bravely with a form of Throat Cancer who had tragically passed away a couple of days prior to the game.
An incredible wave of support from every fan inside the N.I.C saw both sets of fans chanting her name which was an honor to be part of. With the game now under way, the Steelers came out the brighter of the two, having the best of the early play. Panthers netminder Mattias Modig made some important stops to keep the away side scoreless.
Josh Unice was then called upon by the visitors to make some big saves of his own, as despite Sheffield having more of the puck the Panthers were more threatening when in attack. The home side then broke the deadlock with Sam Oakford finding the back of the net at 8.18 with Guillaume Doucet assisting after the Oakford shot took a little deflection and went over the glove of the Steelers netminder for a 1-0 lead.
Sheffield tried to get back on level terms quickly and had Modig once again making a great save, this time from Ben O’Connor as the Sheffield man stick handled his way through the Panthers defence with his back handed attempt being smothered by the goalie.
Jonathan Boxill then collected a hooking penalty as he upended Tyler Mosienko when bearing down on goal and despite the Steelers players calling for a penalty shot, the referee gave only a two minute.
Josh Unice once again came to the rescue for the Steelers as he made a fantastic double save from the Nottingham forwards to keep it at a one goal game. Mattias Modig was then penalised for tripping up a Sheffield player near the net away from play which resulted in the Panthers on the penalty kill. Both sides had breakaways towards the end of the opening period, with both goaltenders making superb saves.
The back end of the period saw penalties against both sides, with Chris Higgins of Nottingham called for high sticks and Jason Hewitt of the Steelers called for roughing. Nottingham doubled their lead at 21.28 when Greg Jacina fired home to make it 2-0 which had the home fans celebrating while the Orange army of Sheffield sat in silence and saw their title dreams diminishing.
Sheffield responded soon after as Michael Forney got the puck. He skated past the defense, his wrist shot beating Modig to make it 2-1 to give hope to the fans from down the M.
The game saw the hitting pick up a bit more making it feel more like a usual Panthers/Steelers contest. Jonathan Boxill of the Panthers, headed straight down the tunnel after he collected a painful blow to the ankle off Cullen Eddy’s slap shot and didn't return for a while.
Ben O’Connor then leveled the game at 2-2 as he put through behind a poor line change by the hosts and saw the GB international net a lovely shorthanded goal at 32.05 to make the game all square as we headed to the third period.
Into the third and it was like the sides had changed game plans, with the Panthers almost like they were trying to walk the puck in at times not as threatening in their attack as they had been in the opening period. Sheffield though were battling and getting to the front of the net taking the better shots, which saw Modig having to up his game. Both sides were creating chances but the Steelers had the better of the play
Rob Dowd then headed to the penalty box for the visitors and gave the Panthers a power play opportunity with less than 10 minutes to go in regulation time. Nottingham, with the man advantage, then scored the go ahead goal with 7.26 left in the game. After a fortunate break for the home side when Cody Wild hit on Tyler Mosienko and took him out of play the home side went up the ice and the puck which was then moved out wide to Brandon Benedict who fired top corner on Josh Unice to give the Panthers a 3-2 lead.
The Steelers fans and players were furious from the non-call with a couple of players questioning the call with their protests falling on deaf ears. The game became end to end with the Panthers having a couple of one on ones with Unice in the final period, but the Sheffield netminder stood up well to the oncoming forwards to keep his side in it.
Sheffield were pushing forward in search of a tying goal and after Michael Forney passed to Colton Fretter whose effort was saved by Modig, the puck went straight to Mathieu Roy who was on hand to slot it into the back of the net which had the Orange shirted fans leaping out of their seat with the Steelers leveling the score at 3-3 with 2.28 to go.
Sheffield fans implored for a ‘too many men’ call which had some substance to it, as the Panthers had six men on the ice at one time but one quickly skated back before being called. Neither side could score the winning goal within regulation time so we headed into overtime with the Steelers picking up a vital one point in the game so far.
Josh Unice had to pull off a stunning save as Sheffield were caught napping with a turn out at centre ice. There was a 2 on 0 advantage and Nottingham should have scored, but Unice was on the ball and saved Wild’s one time shot with play then heading up the ice with Modig making yet another save to deny the visitors.
Evan Mosely was then called for tripping with the period winding down at 64.31 and it was looking like a shoot out was on the cards. With the Steelers on a 4 on 3 powerplay, the home side had to defend the final 28 second of the period to take it to a shootout. However that was not meant to be as Mathieu Roy scored the game winning goal with 12.7 seconds of the contest which left the Steelers on the verge of winning their first title in four year.
After the game, the Steelers fans chanted ‘That one’s for Amy’ in reference to Amy Usher. As the arena quickly emptied with Panthers fans heading for the exits, the fans from the Steel City side reveled in their victory on enemy territory, which made the win that all bit sweeter.