Giants stay top after splitting points with Sheffield

The Giants travelled to Sheffield to take on the Steelers on both Saturday and Sunday. Credit: Dean Woolley

The Belfast Giants are still top of the Elite League after splitting the weekend points with the Sheffield Steelers in their away double-header.

Saturday’s game marked the first meeting of the sides this season, after little love being lost between them last time round, and around 250 vocal Giants fans made the trip for the occasion.

Matt Climie got the start in nets for the Steelers, over former Giants player Jackson Whistle, while Belfast went with the in-form Tyler Beskorowany.

In a hard-fought encounter, the Giants drew first blood through David Rutherford.

David Rutherford scored for the Giants against Sheffield. Credit: Dean Woolley

However, his first period goal was effectively cancelled out by an equaliser in the second from the Steelers’ Robert Dowd – another former Giant.

With the sides then locked at 1-1, it was all to play for in the final period of action.

Francis Beauvillier quickly put the Belfast side back in front with his goal, while Giants captain Blair Riley provided the side’s third goal of the game.

Giants captain Blair Riley was Man of the Match in Saturday's game in Sheffield. Credit: Dean Woolley

A penalty shot with less than nine minutes to go allowed Eric Neiley to keep the Steelers within touching distance.

But Darcy Murphy sealed the 4-2 win for the Giants with an empty-net goal in the dying seconds.

Sunday saw the hosts out for revenge though and they – with Whistle back in nets - turned the tables on the visiting Belfast side with two quick goals in the first period.

Dowd scored past Beskorowany to provide both those opening period goals and put the Giants on the back foot.

Robert Dowd scored three goals for the Steelers against the Giants over the weekend. Credit: Dean Woolley

The second period only saw Sheffield forge ahead, although there was a little luck in their third goal when Josh McFadden’s pass saw the puck deflect into the net off the skate of Belfast defenceman Josh Roach.

But a fourth goal for the Steelers, this time from Ben O’Connor, really left the Giants facing a gruelling uphill battle.

Beauvillier’s goal sparked a glimmer of hope, but the Giants were still trailing by three goals heading into the final period.

Francis Beauvillier in action for the Giants against the Steelers. Credit: Dean Woolley

Riley did reduce that deficit with a goal just inside the final minute of play, but Sheffield took the 4-2 win and their share of the weekend’s points.

In a touching moment, they also celebrated a young fan finishing three years of chemotherapy, with mascot Steeler Dan bringing eight-year-old Aiden Dodd-Marsh to centre ice to ring a special bell and mark getting the all clear – cheered on by players and fans from both teams.

Meanwhile, the game result ended an impressive run of 10 league game wins for the Belfast Giants.

Across the Elite League, Challenge Cup and Continental Cup, they won all but two of their 22 games throughout October and November.

They remain one point clear of the second-placed Nottingham Panthers, who have played three games more than the Giants.

Next up for Belfast is a trip to face the Dundee Stars in a league game in Scotland on Wednesday.

They then travel to face the Guildford Flames on Saturday, before finally returning to home action the next day in a league clash with the reigning champions Cardiff Devils.

The last time the sides met, in Cardiff, the Belfast side took a comprehensive 8-1 win.

Sunday’s home game will also be the Giants’ annual Teddy Bear Toss, when fans are encouraged to bring cuddly toys to throw onto the ice and be donated to children across Northern Ireland.