CARDIFF Devils are clinging to the top of the league by a single point after losing 4-3 to visiting Sheffield Steelers in a close-fought game.
The Devils are on track to win their first league title despite their defeat to the Steelers.
Last Sunday’s match started off strongly for the Devils after a play by Scott Hotham gave them an early lead with 4.49 on the clock.
Despite a confident and offensive start, the Devils could not capitalise on their early lead, with the Steelers’ Jonathan Phillips eventually taking advantage of the Devils’ wide open defence, bringing the game to 1-1 at the midpoint of the first period.
With new-found confidence, the Steelers went on the offensive and secured a 3-1 lead.
The Devils soon fought back as Layne Ulmer scored a second goal for the home team while the Steelers struggled to cope with the Red Army’s increasingly aggressive defence.
The third period saw a number of good chances come and go for both teams until the Steelers’ Colton Fretter scored his second goal of the night, bringing the score to 4-2.
A late goal from Andrew Hotham was unable to reverse the Devils’ fortunes, who could not climb out their point deficit and lost 4-3.
Cardiff Devils player Andrew Lord said the team fell short despite a confident start.
“We had the dream start. It was incredible. The first seven or eight minutes we’re out-skating them, beautiful goal and then they upped the ante on us. I felt they outpaced us in the last eight or nine minutes of the first period,” Lord said.
“At the same time the goals we gave up were just far too easy. We talked the last two weeks about clearing the zone, clearing the net front. The last few weeks we’ve had teams sneaking behind us. If we’re going to be giving up easy goals like that against a very good hockey club then we’re going to be in trouble.”
Following their defeat, Cardiff Devils remain at the top of the league with just one point separating them and the Belfast Giants.
Their lead comes after a particularly strong season for the Devils, who have won 24 out of their 34 games.
As the end of the season approaches, it seems the League title will be a three-way battle between Cardiff Devils, Belfast Giants and Sheffield Steelers, who came out on top in the previous season.
If the Devils continue their strong performance and emerge victorious, it will be the first time they have won the league. They were previously runner-ups in the last season however and have won two Challenger Cups.
Andrew Lord said the team will be revising their strategy as the final months of the season begin.
“It’s definitely back to the drawing board here. We’re going to have to make a few adjustments and we’re definitely going to come back stronger.” he said.
While they lost to the Sheffield Steelers, last weekend also saw the Devils triumph over Coventry Blaze and win 7-5.
Their next game on Saturday (January 28) is against the Nottingham Panthers, currently fifth in the league. The last time the two teams met back in December the Devils were beaten 5-2. Before that, the Panthers dismantled the Devils and won 8-0.
On the same weekend, they will also come up against the Fife Flyers, who beat the Devils 4-0 in their match last November.
The next couple of games will be vital if the Devils want to secure their hard-earned lead at the top of the league.
Confident wins next weekend could help Cardiff Devils go on and get their much-deserved, first league title.