Blaze expected to make Steelers battle

BEN SIMON is preparing for a Coventry Blaze backlash when his Sheffield Steelers team take on the 2009-10 Elite League champions for the second time in four days at the Skydome Arena on Sunday.

Player-coach Simon led his side to a 6-4 victory over Coventry at the Motorpoint Arena on Thursday night, thanks largely to a hat-trick from joint-leading scorer Joey Talbot.

It was the third win from four over Coventry this season for the South Yorkshire club, enough to edge them ahead of Cardiff Devils into second place in the table on goal difference.

The result also brought about an 11th league defeat of the season for an injury-ravaged Coventry, who may have already suffered too much damage to retain any hope of retaining their regular season title.

But Simon expects nothing other than a difficult time when he leads his title-chasing team out in Coventry tomorrow.

"I think Coventry have won two in their last eight, but they have been hit with a raft of injuries and they picked up two more against us on Thursday," said Simon, who is expected to sit down with new owner Paul Ragan later this month to discuss his return for a second season in charge.

"Paul Thompson (Blaze coach) does a great job of getting the most out of what he has at his disposal at the moment. And when you combine that with playing in their building – which is always tough – then you know it's never going to be easy when you go down there.

"We played very well in the first period at our place, but then we faded and Coventry showed their quality by coming back into it."

Despite letting a two-goal lead slip in the middle period on Thursday, Simon was once again impressed by his players' ability to remain calm under pressure.

"Whether we are three goals up or three goals down, we never panic," added Simon.

"As a group of guys, we are very supportive of each other. I'm not just saying it to paint a rosy picture but the guys genuinely like each other.

"That always helps you to function better as a team and there is a great locker room atmosphere throughout the whole week."

Steelers will head into Coventry looking for their sixth straight win, while also hoping Newcastle Vipers can repeat the heroics from their shock 3-2 win at leaders Belfast on Thursday night when they visit Cardiff.

Belfast, three points ahead of Steelers and Cardiff, welcome Hull Stingrays to the Odyssey Arena.

Hull could soon be faced with the dubious distinction of leap-frogging their 'parent' club if they continue with their recent run of good form.

While overhauling Braehead Clan to assume sixth spot in the Elite League table has always been the main aim of player-coach Sylvain Cloutier, five points from a possible six over the festive period has left them only seven points adrift of Coventry – whose owners stepped in to save the club in August – with one game in hand.

Injury-hit Blaze, by comparison, have endured a nightmare festive season, picking up only one point from their three games.

Stingrays head to Northern Ireland full of confidence, not only because of their festive form but buoyed by confidence gained from their 3-2 overtime victory over Belfast when two teams last met at the Hull Arena in November.