The Giants came out the stronger team, taking a 4-0 win against the Steelers on their home ice thanks to a goal and two assists from Canadian Matt McLeod, and yet another shutout from Tyler “Besko” Beskorowany.
It was a quiet start in Sheffield as both teams played it safe in the starting five minutes. The opening of the game was marked with several icing calls both ways and easy saves for both Besko in the Belfast Giants’ net and Matthew Greenfield in Sheffield’s crease.
Despite the quiet start, the Belfast Giants’ defensemen stood out on both ends of the ice. Both Sam Ruopp and Gabe Bast, the team’s top-scoring d-man, carried the puck with force into the offensive zone in attempt to create scoring chances. Likewise on the defensive front, the defensemen were consistently on the puck first, including clearing a rebound after an impressive save from Besko eight minutes in.
Halfway through the period the first penalty of the game was called against Mark Cooper for tripping. Again, a strong defensive effort killed the penalty which was followed quickly with a Sheffield penalty as Robert Dowd was sent for hooking against Giants’ Steve Owre.
The Giants’ power play marked the most exciting couple minutes of play in the first as the Sheffield Steelers found themselves on a shorthanded 3 on 0 vs Besko, which he shut down, only for the Giants to use the momentum to return the same pressure onto Greenfield with a 2 on 1 opportunity the other way. Both goaltenders stood tall, but it was only a matter of time until a goal snuck through.
Matt McLeod capitalised on that very same power play just moments later, sneaking the loose puck five-hole after a Ben Lake attempt from a Will Cullen pass. (0-1)
This energised the team for the last five minutes of the first, with the speed of the game increasing on both ends until the buzzer rang.
The Belfast Giants came out flying in the second, not giving their opponents time or space to breath for the start of the period. The away team showcased their passing this time, with all three Giants’ lines setting up beautiful opportunities thanks to tape-to-tape passes. Greenfield continued his strong efforts from the first as he denied many of these opportunities.
The Giants were doing everything right, but just couldn’t seem to get a shot past the Steelers’ goaltender despite being faster and stronger on the puck. The pressure eventually paid off as some class passes from Ciaran Long and McLeod set Ben Lake up to find the blocker-side top corner. (0-2)
The Steelers eventually gained a bit of moment in the second half of the period when Will Cullen was sent to the penalty box for interference. Besko was confident in net, stopping every shot that came his way just in time for Will Cullen to exit the box flying on the offense. Greenfield got his pad across the crease to deny the Giants’ d-man, as he did for the remainder of the period.
With just over a minute left, the Belfast Giants found themselves on the power play thanks to a delay of game penalty from Steelers’ Matthew Petgrave. The power play would be split across the second and third period, with Greenfield keeping the Sheffield net clear for the first half of their penalty kill.
The Steelers were able to kill the second half of the Petgrave delay of game call, and he exited the box just in time to get a quick shot on Besko but couldn’t find the back of the net past the 6’4” Giant.
The power play only enhanced the Giants’ energy in the third period. The Giants’ offense fired grade-A shots on Greenfield, but the goalie continued to keep his team in the game.
The pressure led to the Steelers’ Vallerand taking a roughing call against Ciaran Long. The penalty kill was not all gloom for the Steelers as they had a great chance partial breakaway chance on Besko who continued to be a brick wall in the Giants’ net.
After killing the roughing penalty, Vallerand came out only to end up ejected from the game just moments later for a high elbow to Grant Cooper’s head. The play was called for checking to the head, sending the Steeler to the dressing room and the Belfast Giants onto the power play once again, this time for five minutes.
Grant Cooper was then called just under a minute later for hooking to lead to some 4 on 4 hockey, which remained scoreless. The Giants had two minutes remaining on the Vallerand power play and made sure to make it count. Gabe Bast’s rocket from the blue line was tipped at the last minute from league leader Scott Conway to put the Giants up by three with just 10 minutes to go in the game. (0-3)
The Steelers retaliated as Brandon McNally was called for interference on Ruopp. McNally tried his best to square up with Ruopp but was held back by Long, causing him to retaliate further. This led the Steelers’ forward to taking a 10-minute game misconduct for unsportsmanlike conduct. He joined Vallerand in the dressing room and the Giants headed back to the power play, this time unable to get one past Greenfield.
The Giants played the remainder of the game safe protecting the defensive zone. With over a minute left the Steelers pulled Greenfield in an attempt to break Besko’s shutout but were unsuccessful. Instead, Mark Cooper sealed the deal for the Belfast Giants with an empty net goal. (4-0)
The Stena Line Belfast Giants take on the Manchester Storm on Sunday 12 March in more Viaplay Elite Ice Hockey League action, and then return home on St Patrick’s Day bank holiday weekend for a massive Cardiff Devils double-header. Tickets are on sale HERE!