Sheffield Steelers 2 – 4 Cardiff Devils
Walking into the Motorpoint Arena in Sheffield on Saturday evening was to be blasted by a wall of noise from the speakers dotted around the large expanse.
No surprises there, as the venue regularly plays host to the biggest musical and comedy acts that come to Sheffield but the building was being filled by a fiercer pastime than the many loud acts which perform here. While the sun was persuading many people to come out of their houses, ice hockey fans flocked to the Motorpoint to cool down.
The match in question was the opening game of the 2012-13 Elite Ice Hockey League for the Sheffield Steelers and they welcomed the Cardiff Devils to their fridge-like lair. Both aspire for the higher reaches of the division, with the Steelers finishing as runners-up last season and the Devils ending up fourth, and the game promised to be a closely-fought affair.
The occasion was as much about the spectacle as the sporting prowess on show and the lights went off, save for a spotlight circling the seats, around the concourses as the teams filed out onto the ice to the sound of energetic music. In a city of innumerable sporting set-ups, the Steelers remain one of the few fighting it out at the very pinnacle of their game and provide an antidote to the lacklustre past few seasons of the other side associated with the area’s steel industry past.
Sheffield United fans would be well inclined to check out the entertainment offered by the Steelers’ efforts on the ice and, indeed, for anyone interested in ice hockey around Yorkshire, indulgence could be achieved in the south of a county with a vibrant sporting tapestry.
The Steelers were made to play with one man light after Tyler Michel penalised for interference and they were back to full strength after he sat out of the game for 2 minutes. Players were being bashed into the plastic hoardings as neither side held back and Sheffield soon started applying some concerted pressure on their Welsh visitors but that counted for nothing as the Devils counter-attacked and took the lead via Max Birbraer’s tap-in after good work up front, and the cluster of travelling supporters rose to celebrate the goal.
A second Steelers player was penalised shortly afterwards but Cardiff couldn’t take advantage as Sheffield tried to make a difference to the first-third. With two seconds of the first period remaining an altercation saw Michel penalised for the second time in the game as well as Cardiff’s Devin Didiomete for his part in the aggressive confrontation. That was the last actions of a 20 minutes which had showcased the stopping talents of the Cardiff goaltender and seen the Devils profit from their crisp passing performance to lead 1-0.
In a city of innumerable sporting set-ups, the Steelers remain one of the few fighting it out at the very pinnacle of their game
The dialogue from the club to the fans was ever-present during the game, with announcements being made as to who and why someone had been penalised and the evening was enlivened by bursts of music during short intervals, hinting at what other events take place at the vast complex. The spotlight followed particularly excitable members of the crowd, as well as homemade banners, during the mini-breaks in the middle of the action and made for a wholesome experience for the crowd, of which many families were present.
Cardiff’s Mark Smith was the first player to be penalised in the second-third as Sheffield continued to try and break the Devils’ resolve. Cardiff were resorting to hoofing the puck high up Sheffield’s end but the Steelers’ pressure finally paid off when Drew Fata hit a first-time shot past the despairing gaze of the Devils’ impressive goaltender in the 25th minute. Sheffield’s Steven Goertzen was next to sit out the action for two minutes after an overly-zealous challenge on a Cardiff Devil behind his defensive goal.
Ben Davies was penalised for hooking and, not even a minute into his punishment, was joined by Birbraer to give Sheffield a great opportunity to capitalise on their two-man advantage. Cardiff managed to survive that period of the game but Sheffield went 2-1 up in the 35th minute when Lee Esders neatly tucked away a cross from his teammate on the left-wing. The man on the microphone continued to whip up the home support as the second period drew to a close with the men in orange in the ascendancy with the final period to go.
The first notable incident of the third period was Shawn Limpright’s penalty for interference, giving Cardiff the first chance to sustain an attack and they capitalised with 12 minutes remaining thanks to Phil Hill’s close-range finish to bring the score to 2-2. And things got worse for the home side when Stuart MacRae finished off yet another swift move from Cardiff to make it 3-2 to the Devils with 7 minutes left. The final nail in the Steelers’ coffin was hammered in after Davies scored from a near-impossible angle and sent the Sheffield fans flocking to the exits whilst Cardiff’s followers rejoiced a satisfying win and taunted the home stopper with chants of “Dodgy keeper!”.
To compound matters, Michel was ordered off the field for a third time for tripping and the block of Cardiff fans noisily celebrated a superb 4-2 comeback from 2-1 down.
The evening was, of course, tinged with disappointment for the home support but, after the playing drama, crowd interaction and diverse music on offer, you can be sure that the fans will return and watch one of Yorkshire’s less-publicised success stories attempt to add more silverware to the homeland of grit and steel.
Words: Andrew Belt