League and Challenge Cup hopes may be long gone, but the season is far from over for Sheffield Steelers, according to defenceman Mark Thomas.
The 30-year-old GB international believes the South Yorkshire club can still salvage something from a disappointing campaign which has already cost head coach Doug Christiansen his job by lifting the play-off trophy for the first time since 2009.
Belfast Giants have walked to the regular season Elite League title with more than a month of the campaign remaining, but there remains a fierce battle for second place in the standings, with Steelers currently in the boxseat.
With the second seeding for the play-offs going to whoever tops the Gardiner Conference – either Hull Stingrays, Dundee Stars or Braehead Clan – a runners-up spot in the overall league would see Steelers seeded third in the post-season.
And given the disappointing conclusion to the Steelers’ last two seasons, where they have suffered first round exits in the play-offs, Thomas is desperate to avoid a third miserable summer.
“It’s hugely important for us to finish as high as possible, not just to get the best possible seeding but because we need to build up some momentum between now and end of the regular season,” said Thomas, missing for this weekend’s games against Braehead Clan and Nottingham Panthers with a back injury.
“We’ve found out to our cost in the last two years if you’re not ready for the play-offs, so we need to go into them in good form.
“The play-off weekend in Nottingham is the best weekend of the season – the atmosphere is great – and I don’t want to miss out on that again.”
While a long bus ride to Glasgow rules Thomas out of helping out with bench duties against Braehead on Saturday night, he will be on hand to reprise the role he had in helping out bench coach Neil Abel during Wednesday night’s 7-1 hammering of Cardiff Devils when Nottingham visit the Motorpoint Arena on Sunday.
Abel, who worked as Ben Simon’s assistant when the Steelers last won the Elite League title in 2011, has returned to help out the Steelers on the bench in the wake of Christiansen’s sacking and with acting player-coach Steve Goertzen missing after suffering a bad concussion at Cardiff last weekend.
Hull head to Dundee on Sunday night for a must-win game as the battle for the Gardiner Conference title intensifies.
It is the first of three games that remain between the two rivals, with Hull two points clear at the top of the conference, with Dundee one place back and having four games in hand,
Dundee have had the better of the eight-game series so far, with Hull’s only win coming in a 4-2 homw win last month.
“All our games with Dundee have been close,” said player-coach Sylvain Cloutier. “We got a big win at home last time but we feel we should have beaten them more than just the once. Their goalie has stood on his head against us and hopefully he will have an off-night.
“Every point now is massive for every team and you cannot look too far ahead. We have a chance to create some history for the Stingrays and we are all determined to do that.”