‘Identity crisis’ over for Coventry Blaze in time for visit from Sheffield Steelers

HAVE WE MET BEFORE? Sheffield Steelers' head coach, Paul Thompson, faces former club Coventry Blaze on Saturday night. Picture: Dean Woolley.
HAVE WE MET BEFORE? Sheffield Steelers' head coach, Paul Thompson, faces former club Coventry Blaze on Saturday night. Picture: Dean Woolley.
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PAUL THOMPSON believes the real Coventry Blaze are now revealing their true identity as he prepares to take his Sheffield Steelers team into the Skydome Arena tonight.

The Steelers head coach will face off for the fourth time this season against the club be built up into one of the most successful teams of the Elite League era.

Thompson’s subsequent departure for coaching positions in Scandinavia and then – in April – for the Steelers, coincided with a lean spell for the four-time regular season champions.

But, under head coach Chuck Weber, the Blaze appeared to be on the way back last season when they denied the Steelers a double by beating them in the play-off final at the National Ice Centre.

And although another poor start has left them anchored at the foot of the overall table, Thompson says he has seen evidence to suggest his former club have turned a corner.

After being shut out twice by the Steelers earlier in the season, the Blaze were only denied a point in South Yorkshire last Friday by a Colton Fretter goal in the closing seconds of regulation. Just over 48 hours later on home ice, they took out their disappointment on second-placed Cardiff Devils with a 4-1 win.

“I do feel that Coventry are now a team playing with a bit of identity again,” said Thompson, who will be without injured captain Jonathan Phillips and, possibly, forward Mathieu Roy this weekend.

“It will be hard going in there. They have just come off a great home win against Cardiff and when we beat them at ours last time they worked really hard for each other and the video I’ve seen of them against Cardiff shows they were again.

“So we’re expecting a tough battle, but we’re coming off the back of a good road win in Nottingham and a good four-point weekend and our confidence is high and we want to keep this thing rolling.”

Thompson believes his team’s 6-4 win at leaders Nottingham Panthers last Sunday – combined with the 3-2 home win over Coventry two days earlier – could prove a pivotal moment in the South Yorkshire club’s season, given they had gone into the two games on the back of defeats to Cardiff and Braehead Clan.

Sheffield Steelers' captain Jonathan Phillips is mssing for this weekend as he recovers from a hernia operation. Picture: Dean Woolley.

Sheffield Steelers' captain Jonathan Phillips is mssing for this weekend as he recovers from a hernia operation. Picture: Dean Woolley.

“I thought for 50 minutes or so we were pretty much in control of the game in Nottingham,” he added. “They scored a 6-on-3 goal and then a 6-on-4 and they are a team that has the ability to do that.

“But sometimes it’s actually good to come through a bit of adversity to be honest – I don’t have a problem with that. It’s a good thing.

“We scored late against Coventry to win and we built from that in Nottingham and sometimes when you’ve all got to muck in and block shots and take hits and it gets a little bit hairy it brings you together as a group.

“When we look back at the end of the season, we could probably look at last weekend and see that as a big moment for us.”

“When we look back at the end of the season, we could probably look at last weekend and see that as a big moment for us.”

Sheffield Steelers’ head coach, Paul Thompson.

Tomorrow sees the Steelers playing host at Sheffield Arena (5pm) when they meet Fife Flyers for the first time this season.

Todd Dutiaume’s team sit eighth in the table and have so far struggled against Erhardt Conference rivals, taking just two points from five encounters with teams outside their conference. Not that Thompson is taking anything for granted.

“Fife are a big club – they always have been in the UK – and they are going in the right direction, as I think the whole of the northern conference is,” added Thompson.

“Before I left (to work abroad) it was pretty much a gimme (that you would come back from Scotland with points) - but that is certainly not the case now and that is the way it should be.

“It’s another indication of how strong this league is becoming, with everybody beating everybody else. It’s gone up several more notches again this season.”