Ugh. That really wasn't worth £13 of my money, and more importantly, 3 hours of my time. But it is hockey, so I can't really complain too much. And Coventry won, which is always pleasing.
Coventry Blaze 2 - 1 Sheffield Steelers - British Knockout Cup 1/4 final 1st Leg
Pretty much uneventful, although it started with a bang with Sheffield's Randy Dagenais clearing off the line from Coventry's Russ Cowley after ex-Blaze netminder Jody Lehman was well and truly beaten. Anyone other than Cowley from the top two lines and that was in, he's a good player but he just can't shoot! Barrie Moore (Blaze) got a couple of chances before the game was slowed down and littered with poor icing and offside calls, which really broke the flow to the game.
Probably to Sheffield's advantage, as they started to put some pressure on with a couple of powerplays, and broke the deadlock on 12.36, Jeff Legue scored on the powerplay. Except, it should never have been a penalty, James Pease called for delay of game (puck over the glass) was in the neutral zone when he struck the puck, even the resulting face off wasn't in the defensive zone. And none of the Blaze players questioned it? Now, my knowledge of the rules isn't the best, but I am sure you have to be in the defensive zone for that penalty. Ah well, it was just one of many bad calls, and is typical of the UK game. Although, I wouldn't entirely blame the referees for their ineptitude, they are fighting against the system.
Anyway, the period was stopped at 17.03 early when a Sheffield shot broke the glass behind the net, which aside from the goal is really the only talking point!
See the photo of damaged plexi!
Early in the 2nd, Steelers have a 5 on 3 powerplay and a chance to really press home the advantage. Excellent penalty killing from Danny Stewart (no stick, played football with the puck and then got down and swatted it out of the zone with his hand) helped see those off and finally Blaze looked to have some momentum. However that was not to be as pass after pass found nothing but ice as the level of skill on show dropped. Steeler's top forwards of Legue, Dogu Sheppard & Ryan Finnerty were offering nothing and Blaze were not much better.
A procession of players went to the box in the final 4 minutes, Dagenais, Ian Manzano & Rod Sarich for the Steelers, who were all defencemen leaving them short on the blue line, and Cowley for the Blaze. Blaze had some decent pressure, but the PK units for Sheffield held out well (Warren Tait did a good job in particular) and allowed Lehman to see the puck and make the save. Lehman is a good netminder who given the sight of the puck will make the save every time at this level.
The equaliser finally came for Coventry at 43.32 when Neal Martin ghosted in back door to finish a pass from Adam Calder. Calder and Sylvain Cloutier had cycled the puck well round the boards and waited for a good opportunity. A common problem for Coventry is impatience, if they don't score early they start rushing their chances instead of allowing chances to occur. I know a great man
once said 'You miss 100% of the shots you don't take' and ugly goals count just as much as pretty ones, but we have the skill and ability to force defensive mistakes, and sometimes we don't use it.
After the goal, a second seemed inevitable, although good pressure from the Steelers line of Tait - Jon Phillips - Jason Hewitt almost paid off midway through the 3rd. It was at 58.10 when Stewart put Blaze into the lead, a big slap shot from the point finding it's way through traffic. Stewart appeared to injure himself on the play, and we hope he is alright and healthy for next weekend's games. After the buzzer, Finnerty was seen to be questioning the decisions of the stripeys, and for some good reasons, but this was more due to frustration from another below-par Sheffield performance.
Sheffield have been playing badly of late, and apparently the management have put the entire team & coach on two weeks' notice. In UK terms, this is a 'shape up or ship out' call. Contracts can be terminated with two weeks' notice, and if players are sub-par they are cut. This seems a little drastic, since Sheffield are in the final of one cup competition, still well in the other and 2nd in the league. I'd hate to find out what would happen if they were bottom! They are a traditionally strong team here, and their fans will not accept anything other than competiting for trophies.
Men of the Match (we don't do three stars here) were the netminders, Lehman for Sheffield and Koenig for Coventry. Although I personally would've given it to Danny Stewart. Blaze didn't really deserve the win, neither did Sheffield though and perhaps a draw would've been a better result. The Blaze now take a 1 goal lead into the second leg.
Other results in the EIHL this weekend:
Sat 5th Jan
Belfast Giants 2 - 1 Nottingham Panthers - EIHL
Sheffield Steelers 0 - 4 Manchester Phoenix - EIHL
Basingstoke Bison 6 - 0 Cardiff Devils - BKO
Newcastle Vipers 1 - 4 Edinburgh Capitals - BKO
Sun 6th Jan
Cardiff Devils 5 - 3 Basingstoke Bison - BKO (Bison win 9-5 on aggregate)
Edinburgh Capitals 3 - 3 Newcastle Vipers - BKO (Capitals win 7-4 on aggregate)
Hull Stingrays 5 - 3 Manchester Phoenix