SHEFFIELD STEELERS will look to continue their unbeaten start to the domestic campaign when they welcome fieredce rivals Nottingham Panthers in the Challenge Cup on Sunday night (5pm).
Goals from in-form Jesse Schultz (2), Luke Ferrara and Mathieu Roy ensured the Steelers made it two wins in as many Group B games when defeating hosts Coventry Blaze 4-3 on Saturday.
But it is the second encounter of the weekend which will have excited more Steelers fans, offering them a first glimpse of how the two great rivals compare.
Steelers’ captain Jonathan Phillips declared that the hosts are desperate to earn early bragging rights over the visitors, who they face again next Saturday in the return group match.
“I don’t think it matters whether it is the cup or the league - there’s never a meaningless game between us and Nottingham,” said Phillips. “It’s a bragging rights thing and is something that will never go away.
“It will be good to meet them early in the season. The first one of the season against them is always a very big night because you want to show off your feathers a little bit and send an early message.”
In Coventry, it was Ferrara who put the Steelers ahead after just 2.32, following up his sublime strike in last Sunday’s 5-2 Champions Hockey League win over Red Bull Salzburg.
Then it was the turn of Schultz – the hat-trick hero from that memorable victory – who got in on the act, making it 2-0 on the powerplay at 9.33.
More chances came and went and the Steelers were made to pay for not taking at least one of them when Marc Cantin scored on the powerplay for the hosts at 18.05 with Steelers’ Andreas Valdix in the penalty box for tripping.
Within four minutes of the restart, Schultz continued his hot streak when restoring the two-goal advantage at 23.26 following good work by John Armstrong and Tyler Mosienko.
But again Blaze - so often a thorn in the side of the visitors last season – came back to within one when Liam Stewart scored his first of the year at 36.59.
Coventry were level just over five minutes into the third when Levi Nelson was called for goalie interference, allowing Darcy Zajac to quickly register a second goal on the man advantage for the hosts at 45.09.
Ervins Mustukovs then had to be at his best to prevent the hosts going ahead for the first time on the night before, in the 49th minute, the Steelers got a chance to go on the powerplay again.
It proved a crucial call, Roy scoring from close range at 50.04 for what proved to be the game-winning goal to leave the Steelers sitting top of the group.