FORWARD Luke Fulghum is no stranger to Nottingham Panthers, but admits he is relishing his first encounter against them in a Sheffield Steelers shirt.
Little separates the biggest rivals in UK ice hockey ahead of Nottingham’s visit to the Motorpoint Arena on Boxing Day (5pm) for a game which is expected to be close to a sell-out.
And if that is not enough to whet the festive appetites of both sets of fans, the teams do it all over again on Tuesday at the National Ice Centre in Nottingham.
Fulghum has faced the Panthers many times while playing for former clubs Coventry Blaze and Manchester Phoenix. He just missed out on the last meeting between the two rivals back on November 20 when Mark Thomas’s overtime strike gave Steelers their first win in four meetings against the Panthers.
Fulghum has not taken long to settle into his new surroundings in South Yorkshire after financial difficulties forced Coventry to part company with one of their most prolific players.
He has already notched up nine points, five of them goals, in seven games since his first game against Cardiff on December 3 and would dearly love to add to his tally in front of the expected near sell-out crowd today.
“I’ve played Nottingham plenty of times, but I know this is going to be a different experience for me,” said Fulghum.
“I’ve heard a lot about what these games can be like with the big crowds and the intensity and that’s why we play the sport, for moments like these.
“It’s pretty obvious how crucial these games are – I’ve realised that very quickly and I can’t wait to be involved.”
With the sides level on points in the table, Panthers are above third-placed Steelers by virtue of having more regulation wins.
And while Ryan Finnerty’s team may have five games in hand on the Panthers, Fulghum insists it would be wrong to assume that the Steelers – whose Challenge Cup hopes ended in their 4-4 draw at Cardiff Devils on Friday night – can rely on winning those matches to pull clear of their rivals.
“We need to make sure we take care of business on the ice when we play Nottingham,” he added. “We can’t just rely on us winning those games in hand, you never know what can happen.”