Ice Hockey: Ayr steel a march on title rivals

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The Independent Online
The Superleague is shaping up for a thrilling finale with seven weeks of the season proper remaining and eight teams in with a realistic chance of winning the title. Just seven points separates them.

Ayr - the Benson and Hedges Cup winners and runaway leaders of The Express Cup - are still the team to catch, after coming from behind to win 5-4 and seriously dent the hopes of last season's play-off champions, Sheffield Steelers.

Steelers, who had Scott Allison dismissed for a high-sticking offence in the first period, led 2-0 and 4-3 but lost at home for the third successive game, surrendering the points to final session markers from Sam Groleau and Danuse Bauba.

Meanwhile, Nottingham Panthers moved above Manchester Storm by beating their rivals 5-3 in front of a 10,336 Nynex crowd. Storm led early on through Stefan Ketola's goal but Nottingham - still missing four key men because of injury - hit back strongly to lead 4-1 in the 36th minute, with three of the goals powerplays.

Although Dale Jago (powerplay) and Brad Rubachuk brought Manchester back into the game, they could not find an equaliser in a frantic climax and Derek Laxdal's empty net goal five seconds from the end finished them off.