Ice hockey: Silver for Steelers

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If anyone had good reason for wondering, before last night, whether the Superleague was necessarily such a bright idea, it was Sheffield Steelers.

The dominant team in the last season under the old set up, with a Grand Slam of all the major trophies, they were kept empty handed in the inaugural year of the new regime until a 3-1 victory in the Play Off Championship final over Nottingham Panthers.

Sheffield came from behind to win in style at the Nynex Arena and few could begrudge them a share of the season's spoils. Nottingham established an early advantage when Derek Laxdal sent a shot from the right whistling into the Steelers' net.

A record crowd for a Championship final - 14,000 is 5,000 more than its old home at Wembley could hold - saw Sheffield fight back like a side seizing upon their last hope for honours. Four minutes from the end of the first period, Ron Shudra had his first effort blocked by the net minder, Trevor Robins, before tucking away the rebound.

The second period was when Sheffield took control. After one of ice hockey's traditional all-in brawls, two players from each side served penalties before Frank Kovacs put them ahead for the first time.

Seconds from the final break, Kovacs turned goal maker, setting up Jason Lafreniere. Nottingham, who played the longest game in British ice hockey history before beating Ayr to reach this final, at least were spared overtime this time, although it was not for the want of trying.

Sheffield needed the reactions and bravery of their Italian net minder, Piero Greco, to keep Nottingham at bay in the last period, when three of his saves were of the highest class.

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