Belfast Giants 2 – 5 Sheffield Steelers
By Victoria Steveley
The Belfast Giants may have fallen to a disappointing 5-2 defeat at the hands of the Sheffield Steelers at the SSE Arena in their St Patrick’s Day clash - but they sent a young fan facing heart surgery off in style.
Little Blake McCaughey loves his team and they help put a smile on his face as he deals with a number of health issues.
So Friday's game was dedicated to him ahead of his trip to London with his family to undergo surgery.
The Giants really needed a win to keep any hope of chasing down the league leaders alive, but also to hold off the third-placed Steelers and ensure the best possible position ahead of the Playoffs.
While the result didn't go the home side's way, and the Steelers are now just one point behind them, Blake was named a very worthy Man of the Match.
He and little sister Pixie then joined the two teams on the ice on their skates, assisted by some of their favourite players - including captain Adam Keefe, Jim Vandermeer and Matt Nickerson.
Blake even scored a goal, with just a little help from Keefer.
Earlier, during the big clash between two sides vying for at least second place, the home side just could not seem to capitalise on their chances in the opening period.
There was an opportunity to go five-on-three, when the Steelers’ Anders Franzon and Zack Fitzgerald both ended up in the penalty box, but nothing came of it.
A big shot from Giants defenceman Jim Vandermeer only dinged off the post.
Then, in the last five minutes before the first break, James Desmarais had a breakaway chance but could not put the puck around Steelers netminder Ervins Mustukovs.
There was almost a clash between Mike Ratchuk and Adam Keefe, when the Giants captain was left distinctly unimpressed by the Steelers player’s cross check on him and made his feelings known.
In the second period, it was Sheffield that forged ahead – despite being short-handed as Markus Nilsson sat for hooking.
Mathieu Roy got the goal less than five minutes after the restart, beating Giants netminder Stephen Murphy with his unassisted effort.
There was another five-on-three opportunity for the Giants, but they again failed to capitalise.
And when another goal came, it was the Steelers again as Nilsson made it 2-0 to the visitors.
The Giants went five-on-three for the third time in the game towards the end of that middle period of action, but once again the Steelers managed to kill the penalties.
Early in the third period, the hosts finally got their opening goal through Jérome Leduc, just over a minute in.
The Steelers grabbed their third though, with Geoff Walker scoring to make it 3-1 to the visitors.
Roy’s second goal of the night pushed Sheffield 4-1 in front, but the Giants quickly retaliated with a goal from James Desmarais to cut the deficit back down to two.
With the Giants desperately trying to play catch-up, they pulled Murphy late on.
But that only left Guillaume Desbiens to get the empty netter and make it 5-2 to Sheffield, ultimately sealing the win.
The Belfast Giants are next in action when they face the Coventry Blaze on Saturday, with face-off at the SSE Arena at 7pm.