Sheffield Steelers v Coventry Blaze: Former favourite Ashley Tait back in Steel City to disrupt Steelers’ title bid

Coventry Blaze captain Ashley Tait. Picture: Scott Wiggins.

Coventry Blaze captain Ashley Tait. Picture: Scott Wiggins.

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Tonight is the second visit of the week to South Yorkshire for Ashley Tait, although he will have a totally different agenda in mind when he laces up his skates to face former club Sheffield Steelers.

The 40-year-old forward – recalled to play for Great Britain in the Olympic Pre-Qualification tournament in Italy next month – was in the Steel City on Tuesday night for the testimonial celebrations of former team-mate, Jason Hewitt.

Sheffield Steelers' head coach Paul Thompson faces former club Coventry Blaze twice this weekend.

Sheffield Steelers' head coach Paul Thompson faces former club Coventry Blaze twice this weekend.

It was, not surprisingly, a joyous occasion with many paying tribute to the “British Bulldog” who has served the club with such distinction since arriving 10 years ago.

Due to his Blaze commitments Tait didn’t have that much time to catch up with his former team-mates and colleagues and will be even less inclined to make small talk tonight when he returns as captain of Coventry Blaze.

Tait – who scored over 300 points, including 107 goals from more than 270 games during two spells with the Steelers – arrives as part of a Blaze team who have failed to build on the momentum created by last year’s play-off triumph, when they beat his former club 4-2 in front of a packed National Ice Centre in Nottingham.

It’s been an Elite League season blighted by inconsistency for Chuck Weber’s team which las left them languishing in the eighth and final play-off spot, with Manchester Storm five points behind.

The odds are still stacked heavily in Coventry’s favour on making the play-offs, partly as they have three games in hand on Manchester.

And while his former club chases the points required to stay close to Cardiff Devils and Braehead Clan in the defence of their regular season title, this weekend’s double header is just as crucial for the hit-and-miss West Midlands outfit.

“It was good being over there for Hewy’s testimonial,” said Tait, who won two league titles and two play-off trophies in South Yorkshire.

“Unfortunately, I couldn’t stick around and socialise too much, but I saw quite a few people who I hadn’t seen in a while, so that was nice.

“It will be slightly different going back into Sheffield this weekend – the mood will no doubt be somewhat different!

“The only reason I’m there on Saturday is to try and get two points. That’s all that matters.”

Tait admitted it had been a frustrating campaign so far, with the hope still being that Coventry can put together a similar run to the one last year which propelled them into the post-season as the form team.

“It has been disappointing so far this time,” he added. “But I don’t think we’ve really justified being any higher in the standings as we’ve just been too inconsistent – the table doesn’t lie. We don’t just want to scrape into the play-offs. We need to try and find the kind of form and consistency from last year – that is what carried us through all the way to beating the Steelers in Nottingham.

“If we have to spoil their title hopes this weekend, that’s just how it is. The points matter just as much for us, just for different reasons.”

Steelers’ head coach Thompson, who Tait played under during a trophy-laden first spell at Blaze between 
2002-07, said the Steelers would not know whether first-choice goalie Marek Pinc would start tonight until after a late fitness test. Pinc was injured during last week’s 3-2 win over leaders Cardiff and only skated for the first time since that injury yesterday.

Elsewhere, forwards Guillaume Desbiens, Colton Fretter and Robert Dowd remain injured on the sidelines as the Steelers look to avoid a third straight defeat to a Coventry team who are the only team to shut them out in domestic competition this campaign.

“We have struggled to score against them,” said Thompson, who takes his team into the familiar surrounds of Coventry’s SkyDome Arena for a return match tomorrow night.

“We’ve got plenty to play for at the top of the table, but they have too as they need to make the play-offs. There wasn’t a single one of us that was happy with being nilled against them.

“There were times in the last two games against them that we broke them down, but just didn’t capitalise. We have to make sure we do that this weekend.”

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