Image: Dean Woolley
Image: Dean Woolley

Elite Series: Coventry Blaze 4-6 Sheffield Steelers

The Sheffield Steelers recovered from a two-goal deficit to defeat Danny Stewart’s Coventry Blaze 6-4 in the 2021 Elite Series.

Victory for Aaron Fox’s side sees the Steelers solidify their place at the top of the standings, improving their record to 5-1-0. The Blaze remain third with two wins, two regulation defeats, and two overtime losses to open the tournament.

In-form forward Tristan Keck handed Coventry the lead after four minutes, assisted by Team GB centre Mike Hammond. Hammond’s initial shot from the slot slid beyond Ben Churchfield’s left post, rebounding to Keck by the goal-line. With the angle working against him, the Canadian fired a high shot beyond Churchfield on his shortside, earning Coventry the lead.

Luke Ferrara doubled the Blaze’s advantage nine minutes later, capitalising on an early powerplay opportunity for the ‘home’ side. Sam Duggan played a significant role in Ferrara’s goal, providing his first assist of the Elite Series.

After the first intermission, the ice tilted heavily in Sheffield’s favour. Tanner Eberle broke the Steelers’ duck one minute after the restart, assisted by Liam Kirk and Jeremy Beaudry on the powerplay. Sheffield added two goals to their tally in the 36th minute, first through Jonathan Phillips and later courtesy of Sam Jones.

A Coventry Blaze timeout stemmed the flow of the game, allowing Stewart’s side to enter the final break with only a one-goal deficit to overturn.

Coventry started the final period brightly, tying the game two minutes into the decisive frame. For the second time of the night, the Blaze’s goal came via a smart offensive combination between Hammond and Keck. On this occasion, traditional roles were reversed, with Keck providing the assist for Hammond’s fierce wrist shot goal.

However, the contest remained tied for only four minutes, with Norwegian forward Sondre Olden nudging Sheffield ahead for the second time on 46 minutes.

Assisted by Joshua Waller and Jonathan Phillips, Hull Pirates player-coach Jason Hewitt put the game beyond Coventry’s grasp with eight minutes remaining.

Both sides would score again before the end of the contest, with goals from Keck and Brendan Connolly bringing the game to a close with Sheffield leading Coventry by six goals to four.

“We’ve got to play sixty minutes against the Steelers, or at least as close as we can,” Blaze head coach Stewart said after the final buzzer.

“I liked our first period, we kept them to the outside and we didn’t give them a lot of opportunities. Coming into the break with a lead is what you want.”

“I don’t think we were very good in front of our own net in the second or third [periods], obviously three of their goals [came from] one of their guys [standing] on their own in front of the net. We’ve got to tidy that up.”

The Blaze return to the ice on Thursday [15 April] with an ‘away’ game against the Manchester Storm, where a victory could see Coventry rise to second in the standings.


Analysis:

It’s difficult to argue with Danny Stewart’s post-game comments.

Coventry started brightly in the first period, taking a deserved two-goal lead thanks to smart work at both ends of the ice.

Unfotrautely, however, the wheels fell off for the Blaze in the second period. Barring a 30-second spell at the end of the frame, Sheffield significantly outperformed their hosts.

At this stage in the tournament, with Liam Kirk, Tanner Eberle, and Co. firing on all cylinders, the Steelers are favourites to walk away with the title. Despite making progress since their last meeting with Sheffield, Coventry still have work to do if they are to catch Aaron Fox’s side.

Tristan Keck has certainly been a bright spot for the Blaze, his combination play with Mike Hammond was a joy to behold against the Steelers. After six Elite Series appearances, the Canadian forward has registered six goals and four assists. Keck couldn’t have asked for a better start to his professional career.

At the halfway point, Coventry have won twice, lost twice, and fallen in overtime twice. With Paul Swindlehurst nearing a return to fitness, the Blaze could yet improve in the second half of the regular season. Stay positive.

Three Stars:

1st – Tristan Keck (2+1) (COV)

2nd – David Phillips (0+3) (SHE)

3rd – Mike Hammond (1+2) (COV)

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