After a 5-4 win away in Nottingham, the Steelers were looking to mount a charge on league leaders Cardiff Devils when their arch rivals returned to Sheffield Arena. Mid-table Nottingham would be no pushovers however, and with the Steelers missing some key names Sunday’s fixture certainly had banana skin potential.
The home side were very quick out of the traps, with a second minute goal from Robert Dowd coming from a lightning speed break from the Steelers.
Soon after, Nottingham Panthers had their penalty killing unit out on the ice when Jeff Brown was penalised for fighting. And the Steelers made the advantage count. A patient build up led to Ben O’Connor setting the puck back for Levi Nelson, who duly dispatched from distance.
It was one way traffic after this as the Panthers could barely make it out of their half. The Steelers missed a few gilt-edged chances before Davey Phillips made it 3-0 to the Steelers in the 13th minute.
Steelers should have taken four back to the locker room when an open net went begging, but a dominant first period display had put the Panthers to the sword.
Levi Nelson added a fourth and his second soon after the break, and the Nottingham goal looked under threat several times in the opening minutes of the second period.
Ratchuk made it 5-0 eight minutes in to the second, seemingly securing another two points for the men in orange.
However, Logan MacMillan had other ideas, responding in the best way possible. The Panthers found themselves back in the game, and the cries of ‘Muuus’ (for Sheffield goaltender Ervins Mustukovs) increased in both number and volume as he kept the Panthers at bay.
Nevertheless the Steelers held firm, and a late Ratchuk second finally killed off the Panthers and secured a four point weekend for the Sheffield Steelers over their Nottingham neighbours.
The score line flattered both sides – Sheffield could have arguably been more clinical in front of goal, while the Panthers bossed the game at times, themselves missing a few opportunities to make the Steelers more uncomfortable.
As coach Paul Thompson told Forge Sport afterwards, preparation was key to both victories over the weekend. The gap between the Steelers and the Cardiff Devils at the top remains large, but with several games in hand there is all to play for.
When Levi Nelson was asked if the Steelers could catch Cardiff, his response was a resounding one: ‘Yeah absolutely!’
Steelers 6 (Dowd, Nelson (2), Phillips, Ratchuk (2)
Panthers 1 (MacMillan)
Man of the Match: Mike Ratchuk