SHEFFIELD Steelers’ player-coach Ryan Finnerty fully expects Hull Stingrays to make the end-of-season Elite League play-offs, writes Phil Harrison.
Title-chasing Steelers could be forgiven for having one eye on Sunday night’s home date with leaders Belfast Giants, but will begin their weekend by welcoming seventh-placed Hull to the Motorpoint Arena for a second time this season tonight.
It’s been another season of struggle for Sylvain Cloutier’s team, something clearly highlighted by last night‘s 8-2 thrashing at the hands of Coventry Blaze, a result which has given bottom two clubs Fife Flyers and Dundee Stars renewed hope that they can still overhaul Hull to make the top eight play-off positions.
But Finnerty, who insists his players will only turn their attentions to Belfast after tonight’s game is over, said he would be surprised if Cloutier’s team failed to make the post-season.
“I expect Hull to make it to the play-offs,” said Finnerty. “I’m not sure whether they are under-achieving like some people have said - they have had their fair share of injuries.
“They’ve got a top goalscorer in (Jereme) Tendler, (Jason) Silverthorn and Derek Campbell are both having good years and their goaltender Boucher can, on any night, play like the best goaltender in the league.
“And they are a very physical team - every time we come off the ice after playing Hull, you know you’ve been in a game - so they have got enough quality.”
Cloutier said his aim over the remaining weeks of the regular season was to take points every weekend, something he believes should be enough for a play-off spot.
Last night’s humbling at Coventry will no doubt have hurt and makes tonight’s trip to Sheffield even more crucial.
“Finner’s done a good job and put a good team together and Sheffield are the hottest team in the league right now,” said Cloutier.
“We need to take points every weekend if we can so it would be great if we can get something off them - it’s going to be very tough though.”