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Saturday, 10 March, 2001, 23:23 GMT
Steelers Eye Grand Slam
Sheffield Steelers celebrate victory
Steelers: Victory does not come much sweeter
By BBC Sport Online's Stuart Hughes

Ayr Scottish Eagles 2-4 Sheffield Steelers

Sheffield Steelers lifted the Challenge Cup for the third successive year to leave themselves with one more hurdle to complete the Grand Slam.

At the Odyssey Arena in Belfast they added the Challenge Cup to their Benson and Hedges Cup and Superleague victories.

The participation of the South Yorkshire side had been in doubt less than 48 hours earlier because of a dispute over wage payments.

But as they have done so often this season, the Steelers put their off-ice difficulties aside.

The Eagles, the only other team to win four titles in a season, took advantage of a free-flowing start to the game.

Ironically it was Ed Courtenay - voted Superleague player of the year last season with the Steelers - who put Ayr ahead after three and a half minutes.

Wayne Norris, Man of the Match
Warren Norris: Sheffield's Man of the Match

Sheffield steadied themselves after the early shock and equalised with 8:23 remaining in the opening period.

Defenceman Steve Carpenter picked up a feed from Warren Norris at the top of the circle and sent the puck through Philippe De Rouville's five-hole with a powerful one-timer.

Sheffield continued to squeeze the Eagles and took the lead in the 18th minute. Warren Norris found himself all alone in front of the net and had all the time in the world to convert.

Late drama

Despite being out-shot 11-3 in the opening session, the Eagles refused to be intimidated.

British ice hockey's all-time leading points scorer, Tony Hand, drew the Scottish franchise level on the power play at 24:03 and almost put the Eagles ahead shortly after.

Ayr played very hard - I knew they'd want to protect the Grand Slam
  Sheffield coach Mike Blaisdell

Referee Moray Hanson waved the goal off because Ed Courtenay was inside the crease.

Ayr's hopes of a comeback were short-lived, though.

At 26:43 David Longstaff pounced on a loose puck and sent it to Paul Beraldo in the slot, who made no mistake.

Rick Brebant secured Sheffield's third piece of silverware this season with a strike at 45:46, leaving the Steelers with the play-off title firmly in their sights to crown an outstanding season.

Sheffield coach Mike Blaisdell paid tribute to the Eagles' performance.

"I thought Ayr played very hard. They played with a lot of heart and passion tonight and it was a difficult game for us," he said.

"I knew they'd want to protect the Grand Slam but the guys did a great job," he added.

In Saturday's play-off games, London Knights got their defence of the title off to the best possible start with a 2-1 victory over Nottingham Panthers.

Bracknell Bees overcame Manchester Storm 3-1 in the opening game in Group B.

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09 Mar 01 |  Northern Ireland
Challenge Cup fears eased
08 Mar 01 |  Northern Ireland
Sheffield edge out Giants
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