RYAN FINNERTY knows what it feels like to win an Elite League title with Sheffield Steelers. This season, however, finds him more determined than ever to repeat that success at their expense.
Finnerty was part of Dave Matsos’s double-winning team who made the 2008-09 season memorable when adding a second successive play-off trophy to the regular season title they had already won.
Success is something expected at the Steelers and, since they won a second successive league title in March, all the talk has been about whether they can become the first club in the EIHL era to win three in a row.
Finnerty is now in his fourth season as head coach at Braehead Clan and as he brings his team into Sheffield tonight (7pm), he hopes he can land a victory that will kickstart a so far stuttering campaign that will go on to make history for himself and the club.
After two seasons of winning the Gardiner Conference and securing a top-three overall finishes, Finnerty is determined to take that next step and land the big one, giving Scotland it’s first-ever EIHL-era league champion in the process.
“I thought we were in a better position last season until we hit February,” said Finnerty. “But this league is all about consistency over the 52 games and we’ve got to find a way of getting that extra two points to make it over the line and land the regular season title.
“We’ve been in the top three for the past two seasons and we intend to be in the mix again this year. That is a true measure of whether you are a good team in this league.
“It would be great to take that next step and be the first club from Scotland to win the league title.
“But we are along way off from thinking about that at the moment. We haven’t had the best of starts and we’re trying to establish that consistency that is needed to be up at the top end of the standings.”
Having played under Finnerty when he returned to the club in 2011 as player-coach, Steelers’ captain Jonathan Phillips knows all about the drive and determination of the 35-year-old Canadian and how desperate he will be to put an early dent in the Steelers’ hat-trick ambitions.
“Ryan has done a great job up at Braehead and turned them into a serious contender,” said Phillips. “Under Ryan they have had the kind of stability that is so important in this league.
“He’s a passionate coach and whenever he’s up against his previous clubs he’s shown in that he wants to really hurt us - he’s very competitive like that.
“We’re friendly with Ryan still - obviously - but, come Saturday, we just want to make sure that it is us that has the bragging rights afterwards.”
Steelers head into the game looking to bounce back from Challenge Cup defeats last weekend to Nottingham Panthers and Cardiff Devils.
Braehead are looking for a positive night themselves, their only win in four league games coming last week when they won 5-3 at Manchester Storm - avenging a 2-1 home defeat the previous weekend.
“This is going to be a real tough test going into Sheffield,” added Finnerty. “We know the kind of team to expect, the way a Paul Thompson team is set up to play.
“We’ve played some good opponents so far, but we need to be more consistent. We took three points from four last weekend, however, so that is an encouraging sign.”