Last year’s Elite League Playoff Finals weekend was memorable for all the wrong reasons for Sheffield Steelers fans.
Having not even made the final four, those who had optimistically bought tickets were forced to watch their arch rivals, the Nottingham Panthers, take home the trophy, while all the time being heckled with a particular song which contemplated what Sheffield’s star player might be doing with his time off:
“Where is Dan Tessier? He’s playing golf today.”
This year, however, the memories will be a little sweeter for the Northerners.
Not only will they leave Nottingham with the Playoff trophy stolen from their noticeably absent adversaries, but the man who hammered the last nail in the victory was a certain amateur golfer – Mr Tessier himself.
Having defeated Cardiff Devils 2-1 in Saturday’s second semi, the Steelers faced a tough final against current league champions Coventry Blaze, who had convincingly beaten an undisciplined Newcastle Vipers team 4-2 the previous afternoon.
Though the first period started fairly evenly, a go-ahead goal at 13.40 from captain Jonathan Phillips, combined with an almost constant power play thanks to some over-zealous officiating, gave the Steelers a confidence and drive that eclipsed everything their opponents could muster.
Penalties called in Coventry’s favour meant that Sheffield faced increased pressure in the second, but just over 15 minutes in, Tessier slotted a shot past the Blaze’s Trevor Koenig to put his team 2 goals up.
A late surge in Coventry’s spirits, after a lot of mid-period chirping and roughing, resulted in a blinding Curtis Huppe shot that ricocheted off Sheffield goaltender Jody Lehman’s post late in the period, but despite valiant efforts the Blaze still couldn’t find the spark to give them the edge on their seemingly unstoppable opponents.
While Coventry attempted to carry their momentum into the final period, the Steelers’ players made a collective wet blanket that completely smothered the Blaze, shutting down every attempt to create a decent play and exhausting the increasingly dispirited forwards.
Despite failing to hit the empty net in the closing two minutes to seal their victory once and for all, the Steelers players counted down the dying seconds with the excitement of kids on Christmas morning and the arena erupted when the final whistle eventually came.
What should have been a difficult game, then, was made to look relatively easy, thanks to Sheffield’s solid finishing, determination, and a performance by eccentric but ultimately dependable goaltender Lehman that resulted in the first ever Playoff Final shut out.
And while the cup, medal and copious amounts of champagne and beer were no doubt reward enough, parading his golf clubs in front of the Nottingham fans must have been an extra bonus for Dan Tessier, who was definitely NOT playing golf today.