RYAN Finnerty believes Braehead Clan will have a big fight on their hands to secure the Gardiner Conference title this season.
The Sheffield Steelers’ head coach sees his team face the Scottish club for the first time in the Elite League this season when the two meet at Ice Sheffield on Sunday night (6pm).
While the Steelers battle for supremacy in the southern-based Erhardt Conference, Braehead have, for some observers, been given an easier task in the northern Gardiner Conference as they find themselves alongside Hull Stingrays, Dundee Stars, Fife Flyers and Edinburgh Capitals – last year’s bottom four.
The fact they will have more opportunities to take teams off their conference rivals makes them some people’s favourites for the overall league title, but Jordan Krestanovich’s team look set for a tough campaign, having already lost 5-1 at Fife Flyers, while requiring a shoot-out to win 5-4 at Hull last Sunday.
“Braehead are a good team again this year,” They’ve got some good players in Jade Galbraith, Ash Goldie and the coach himself,” said Finnerty.
“But there’s a lot of expectation on them this year, perhaps more than in previous years.
“They will improve as the season progresses, but I don’t think they’re going to have it all their own way. They’ll have to fight for their points every night.”
Steelers go into this weekend looking to arrest a mini-slump which saw them take just one point from two home games last weekend.
A combination of poor form and inadequate fitness – in Finnerty’s opinion – saw the swift release of import forward Cory Pecker, who is reported to hit out at the decision via Facebook.
Finnerty remains adamant he made the right decision and, while he weighs up his options for a quality, long-term replacement, he is more than happy to give more responsibilities to British forward Lee Esders – whether that be on special teams or simply more ice time.
“I’ve always thought this was a good league,” said Finnerty. “But some players come over here and underestimate how good it can be.
“Guys need to come here in top shape but, with Cory, it just got to the point where we had to make a move.
“In situations like this it helps when you’ve got players like Lee Esders around.
“I’ve got no issues with using Essie more and more because, since I’ve been here, he’s just got better and better and better.
“He works extremely hard and you can tell he just wants to get better – he has that hunger to improve himself.
“His attitude is first class and I just totally respect the fact that he comes to work hard for you every day. Everything I ask him to do, he delivers.”
Steelers host Braehead 24 hours after Saturday night’s trip to South Wales to face the Cardiff Devils.