Champions Cardiff Devils offer early test for Sheffield Steelers

Cardiff Devils' players, including player-coach Andrew Lord, centre, celebrate during a victory in Sheffield last season. Picture: Dean Woolley
Cardiff Devils' players, including player-coach Andrew Lord, centre, celebrate during a victory in Sheffield last season. Picture: Dean Woolley
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HAVING gone at each other relentlessly last season, it’s probably fitting that Sheffield Steelers and Cardiff Devils launch their Elite League campaigns against each other this weekend.

When looking overall at the 2016-17 campaign, it has to be said Cardiff enjoyed a more successful time of it, taking the Steelers’ league crown before going on to beat them 3-2 in the final of the Challenge Cup – a competition that still eludes the South Yorkshire club in the 14-year-long EIHL era.

But Paul Thompson’s team also went into the summer in buoyant mood thanks to their stunning 6-5 win in the second period of overtime in April’s play-off final in Nottingham.

Cardiff arrive at Sheffield Arena on Saturday having embarked on their first-ever Champions Hockey League campaign, registering an impressive first win at the fourth time of asking over highly-rated Swiss side HC Davos.

Last week, however, saw them suffer an 8-4 reverse at league newcomers Guildford Flames, although that result isn’t something Steelers’ head coach Thompson will be taking too much notice of.

“They’ll be as strong and full of quality as last year,” said Thompson. “They’ve got a good team there, a good hockey club.

“They are a little different to how they were last season, but they’ve added some very good players and are very deep again.

“They had a bit of a wobble last week in Guildford, but I’ve seen that happen time and time again when teams go into new places.”

It’s a situation Thompson and his players will have to be wary of themselves when they follow up their encounter with Cardiff with a first trip of the season to Guildford who, along with Milton Keynes Lightning, made the step up from the now defunct English Premier League during the summer.

The expansion of the top-flight to 12 clubs is welcomed by Thompson, particularly with the more southern location of both clubs hopefully spreading the appeal of the sport to a wider audience.

Sheffield Steelers' Zack Fitzgerald vremains out injured this weekend. Picture: Dean Woolley

Sheffield Steelers' Zack Fitzgerald vremains out injured this weekend. Picture: Dean Woolley

While there will be an adjustment period for both clubs coming in, Thompson expects both of them to be competitive.

“When I looked at their roster I always knew they would have a competitive hockey club there,” added Thompson.

“There’s an element of them being an unknown quantity but we’ve done some video on them and had a good look. They’re a small, mobile and quick team so we’ve got to have our wits about us on the way they play.”

Forward Matt Marquardt and defenceman Zack Fitzgerald are still injured and ruled out.

They’ll be as strong and full of quality as last year. They’ve got a good team there, a good hockey club.

Sheffield Steelers’ head coach, Paul Thompson.
Sheffield Steelers' head coach, Paul Thompson. Picture: Dean Woolley.

Sheffield Steelers' head coach, Paul Thompson. Picture: Dean Woolley.