FORWARD Neil Clark insists he remains positive despite being the odd man out in recent weeks for Sheffield Steelers.
The 30-year-old winger has played in only three of the last 11 games for the defending Elite League champions after player-coach Ryan Finnerty was given the go-ahead by owner Tony Smith to operate with a ‘spare’ import.
League rules stipulate that only 10 imports can ice in any one game, meaning the Steelers – along with the likes, at times, of other top clubs such as Belfast and Nottingham – have opted to keep an extra import player on the sidelines, primarily to cover for injuries.
Before he suffered an ankle injury in mid-October, Clark had been one of the most productive players for the Steelers and still has 22 points, including 11 goals, for the season.
But, simply due to the system and line match-ups preferred by coach Finnerty, Clark has been the one on the sidelines more often than not since early December.
“I was frustrated two or three weeks ago, but I’ve worked through that now and all I’m doing is making sure I stay positive,” said Clark.
“I need to be ready to jump right back in just in case anybody does get injured or slips up.
“I’ve signed a two-year contract to be a Steeler and I fully intend to see that out. I love being here in Sheffield, it’s a great city, the fans have been great to me and I appreciate their support.
“I think I’m past having to prove anything to the coach. I just need to make sure that I remain a positive influence on the sidelines for the other guys and take my chance when it comes.”
Third-placed Steelers host second-bottom Dundee Stars on Sunday night (5pm) in a match some might see as an ideal opportunity to give Clark some overdue ice time.
But, if past weeks are anything to go by, Finnerty is likely stick to his principle of not changing a winning line-up.
Dundee, looking to overhaul eighth-placed Hull Stingrays for an end-of-season play-off spot, remain six points adrift after losing 3-1 at home to Cardiff last night.
Belfast Giants extended their lead at the top over Nottingham Panthers to five points with a 5-3 win at home to Coventry Blaze, with the two sides meeting again at the Odyssey Arena on Saturday night.
The Steelers are nine points behind Belfast with six games in hand. The two rivals still have to face each other four more times this season, the first being in Sheffield on Sunday, February 5.
For ticket details to Sunday night’s game between the Steelers and Dundee contact the Motorpoint Arena box office on 0114 256 5656.