‘Bring on Coventry’ was the message from Belfast Giants player-coach Steve Thornton last night after a nervous cup victory over the Sheffield Steelers.
The Giants had led their hosts 3-0 halfway through Saturday night’s first-leg, but entered the second-half of this British Knockout Cup tie level.
And the Steelers showed real grit and determination to stay with the Giants all the way to the end, despite trailing 6-2 on the night with just 12 minutes to go.
Five goals in a 20 minute period looked to have secured an easy passage into a meeting with Coventry Blaze in the next round, but Sheffield had other ideas and in the end the Giants were relieved to hear the end of game hooter sounding to confirm their victory.
“We had a good lead, but they got some powerplays and we know they are strong on the powerplay,” said Thornton.
“They got some momentum and were really coming on strong, but we wanted to progress, mainly for Nathan Craze and we’re going to give him the start in goal throughout this cup.
“There is no die in Sheffield, we knew that about them anyway. We did take our foot off the pedal a little and when the other team gets a couple of bounces going their way then things start to change.
“The main thing is that we got through in the end. That’s all that matters really.
“Playing Coventry in the next game will be a good test for us. It will be good to see them again.
“They will be up there at the end of the year and we have to find a way of beating them again.”
Tyler Howells had the Giants in front on a powerplay as early as the seventh minute.
This time though Sheffield hit back quickly and Rod Sarich levelled matters four minutes later, also on a powerplay.
Within 40 seconds of that strike the Giants were behind for the first time in the tie when Randy Dagenais registered.
Malcolm McMillan and George Awada took exception to a slash from Jonathan Phillips a second before the end of the first period, with all three serving two minutes in the penalty box.
With the box empty for a while, the Giants got back on level terms through Bobby Robins on a powerplay with 27 minutes gone. Thirty seconds later they were in front thanks to Paul Deniset.
Malcolm McMillan stretched the advantage five minutes before the end of the second period as the Giants gave themselves some breathing space.
When Evan Cheverie struck a minute into the third period, followed by Deniset’s second of the game six minutes later it looked like the Giants were strolling towards the next round.
Sheffield had other ideas though.
Andrew Sharp, Ashley Tait and Joe Talbot all scored in the space of ten minutes — the last coming with less than a minute and a half to go.
Goaltender Jody Lehman was taken off as well, but the Giants held out, much to Thornton’s relief and the travelling fans who made their way to Yorkshire from Northern Ireland for the weekend.