Tait hat-trick the difference

Saturday, 1st March 2008

Sheffield Steelers 5 - 2 Manchester Phoenix

A hat-trick haul from Sheffield's Great Britain international forward Ashley Tait was the difference on Saturday night as the in-form Steelers ganied their 14th win in their last outings.

Phoenix started well and could have been two goals in front in the opening exchanges with Steelers netminder Jody Lehman saving well from Joe Tallari and Luke Stauffacher firing wide from the low slot, and they were made to rue those early chances. In the fourth minute, the home side took the lead after Phoenix failed to clear their zone at least twice, allowing Talbot on the right wing to find Tait and the GB forward made no mistake with a low daisy-cutter. Lehman again denied Tallari and Scott Fankhouser in the Phoenix saved well from Dagenais as played switched from end to end. Phoenix drew the first infringement, but an excellent penalty kill saw Brett Clouthier successfully back from a Roughing minor. Phoenix missed a glorious chance to equalise when Tony Hand broke away, but instead of taking the shot he unselfishly tried to feed Joe Tallari. Another golden opportunity was spurned as Brian Passmore found Stauuffacher and after he'd stickhandled through the Steelers defence, he somehow blazed his backhand shot high over Lehman and the goalframe. Once again, the misses proved costly as Sheffield doubled their lead in the 17th minute, Phillips finding Tessier and his soft backhand effort somehow eluded Fankhouser.

The Phoenix netminder showed great reactions at the start of the second period with a superb save to deny Tait and survived another hairy moment minutes later as Sheffield got the puck past him from close range, but it came back off the post to lie in the crease behind him. Fankhouser sprawled backwards to rescue the situation, denying Talbot a simple tap-in. Sheffield went three goals clear in the 34th minute when Tessier appeared offside, but play continued and nice interpassing led to Tessier scoring with the Phoenix defence split. Phoenix pulled a goal back on a 38th minute powerplay as Sean Starke neatly found Scott Basiuk at the backpost and he crashed home from short range. The phoenix celebration though was short-lived as Tait blasted home a one-timer just 24 seconds later for his second of the game and the Steelers fourth. Phoenix lost Brian Passmore shortly before the end of the period after an errant high stick from Jeff Legue saw him receive a chin would that required a couple of stitches to stem the flow of blood.

The final period saw Phoenix trying to reduce the arrears, but the home defence and Lehman looked secure. Lehman produced a fine glove save to deny Tallari and after both sides had killed penalties, Lehman again came up with the goods to deny Scott Basiuk. With just over five minutes remaining, Phoenix pulled another goal back in stunning style, as Basiuk found Tallari and he in turn found Tony Hand. The veteran player coach gained the offensive zone before stopping momentarily as though deciding on what to do next before unleashing a blistering shot from almost 60 feet that Lehman didn't see. Not to be upstaged, Sheffield restored their three-goal advantage 35 seconds later as Tait completed his treble although their was a hint of the puck having been kicked into the goal. Phoenix used their timeout with 90 seconds remaining to replace Fankhouser with 17-year old Adam Summerfield and the replacement goalie made a comfortable glove save on the only shot he faced in the short time remaining.

Reflecting afterwards Hand commented, "They're a good side and they've got the confidence flowing right now. We conceded a couple of goals that we shouldn't have done and but for a bit better luck in front of goal, it could have been closer, and I think I could have done better on the breakaway chance as I don't think Joe expected me to look for the pass to him. They've still got a chance of the title, so we always knew it was going to be a tough game. And when you're up against a team who can put an import player like Ryan Finnerty on the third line, you know it's not going to be easy."

Sunday sees the Phoenix at home in a 5.30pm face-off against the Newcastle Vipers who lost 4-1 in Belfast on Saturday evening.

Tony Hand

Tony Hand earned MOM for the Phoenix
(Image: Richard Murray)

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