SHEFFIELD STEELERS fans could be forgiven for having seen enough of Nottingham Panthers this season.
UK hockey’s two biggest rivals have already met seven times this season and, including tonight’s latest instalment at the Motorpoint Arena, there are still five more to come with the possibility of a further clash at some stage of the play-offs.
It has been a far from positive series for the Steelers this season, losing five of the seven match-ups against Corey Neilson’s team, who arrive in South Yorkshire two points and two places above Steelers, who are currently lying fourth in the overall Elite League standings.
Steelers’ captain Jonathan Phillips admits his team have had their struggles against the 2012-13 treble winners, who have won twice already at the Motorpoint this season, but is confident Gerad Adams’s team can avoid a third home loss to their great rivals.
“I don’t think we have managed to put a full 60 minutes together against Nottingham yet this season,” said Phillips.
“There always seem to have been periods in the games with them when we have struggled for whatever reason and it’s usually then that the game has got away from us.”
After an awful festive period saw them lose five straight games in the league and, with it, top position in the overall standings, the Steelers have corrected themselves and head into tonight’s encounter in buoyant mood.
A run of four straight wins sees them hot on the heels of second-placed Panthers and only three points behind leaders Braehead Clan with two games in hand on former coach Ryan Finnerty’s team.
“We know how much this game means,” insisted Phillips, whose team-mate Mark Thomas will play in his 600th game for the home side.
“Not just to the fans and the fact it’s the Panthers, but with regard to the title race as well.
“Every team has their blip where things just don’t quite go for them and, hopefully, we’ve had ours.
“In previous seasons, a run like that over the Christmas period would have probably put us out of the reckoning.
“But the league is a lot more competitive and wide open now and we’re still right in the mix.”