MOST weekends in the Elite League are labelled as ‘big’ for Sheffield Steelers these days – perhaps this particular one is deserving of the description.
Second in the standings, the Steelers face a nightmare travel schedule as they take on the teams either side of them in the table, starting with a first visit of the season on Saturday night to take on Belfast Giants.
Having packed away their gear, they will then be flying to South Wales from Northern ireland on Sunday afternoon – hardly ideal preparation when facing the runaway league leaders Cardiff Devils, but not something Steelers’ head coach Paul Thompson is using as an excuse.
“The travel is far from ideal, but it is what it is and you just have to get on with it,” said Thompson. “All teams in this league face similar schedules so it’s nothing different.”
Steelers have already got the better of Belfast twice at home this season – both convincing 5-1 wins – although the most recent meeting was marred by a concussion sustained by Swedish forward Yared Hagos following a blindside hit by Belfast’s David Rutherford.
Thompson, however, insists that there will be not be any kind of hangover from that fixture when the two reconvene tonight, when a win for Belfast would take them above the Steelers.
“We understand how important this weekend is to us,” he added. “We’re not thinking about what happened before – I don’t coach that way – we just want to go into Belfast and come out with the points,pure and simple.
“It will be the same when we go to Cardiff on Sunday.”
Thompson – set to make a late decision on defenceman Zack Fitzgerald after he sustained a head injury last weekend – has praised forward Levi Nelson after he picked up the EIHL Player of the Week Award on Thursday.
The 28-year-old registered two assists in the 5-4 win at Nottingham Panthers last Saturday, before scoring two goals and picking up a further helper when Steelers beat the same opponents 6-1 at home the following night.
“It’s no more than Levi deserves, he was immense for us last weekend – but then he has been for a long time,” said Thompson.
“He was positive in everything that he did, as all the players were.”