Silencing Panthers’ fans key to Steelers’ hopes

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RYAN Finnerty says Sheffield Steelers will have to silence the vocal home crowd as early as possible in order to boost their hopes of a successful revenge mission against Nottingham Panthers on Saturday.

The Steelers head to the home of their arch-rivals looking to atone for two Challenge Cup defeats to Corey Neilson’s team last month.

But the South Yorkshire club will go into the clash in buoyant mood, boasting the best league record around with their only defeat to date being back in September at Cardiff.

The Panthers, on the other hand, are suffering a dip in form, losing three of their last five league games, while requiring a penalty shoot-out to see off bottom club Fife Flyers last Sunday.

But player-coach Finnerty believes a game against his Steelers team is exactly what Nottingham needs at the moment and anticipates another fiery clash in the East Midlands.

“We’re disappointed with our performances in the previous two games against Nottingham,” said Finnerty. “But these kind of games are what it’s all about. It will be a big crowd, but they are an intelligent crowd, they know their hockey.

“If we can come out hard early and put the Panthers on the backfoot and take the crowd out of the equation we’ll stand a good chance.

“We are 12 and one in the league, which is pretty good and, personally, I don’t think we’ve even played our best hockey yet.

“Our best game, for me, was winning 2-0 in Coventry. It was our most rounded game and we simply went out and did the job we had to do and didn’t get distracted from that.”

While league matters have, the defeat in Cardiff aside, been straightforward, the Steelers have made life slightly more difficult for themselves in the Challenge Cup, although recent wins over Cardiff and Hull have put them back in control of their own destiny in terms of joining Group B leaders Nottingham in the semi-finals.

Sunday sees an already-eliminated Hull Stingrays visit Ice Sheffield for their last game in the competition, although with player-coach Sylvain Cloutier still set to fire one of his imports in the coming days, Finnerty believes their Yorkshire rivals will prove to be a tougher proposition than the last time they came to Sheffield and were beaten 6-0 in the league.

“Anybody who takes Hull for granted is going to get beat,” said Finnerty.

“They have got too much power all over the ice and are a well-coached unit. These guys are still playing for their jobs which makes them dangerous because they are going to want to impress their coach.

“That makes them a scary team and if we think they are just going to roll over in front of us on Sunday then we are going to suffer.”