JONATHAN Phillips says Sheffield Steelers need to avoid paying Nottingham Panthers too much respect if they are secure a second successive triumph over their arch-rivals.
Nottingham head to the Motorpoint Arena on Saturday night looking to avenge last week’s 3-2 loss to the Steelers at the National Ice Centre.
That result was in marked contrast to last season when Corey Neilson’s side dominated the South Yorkshire club.
But in a typically gritty and edgy derby battle, Ryan Finnerty’s side prevailed – despite a late rally from the home side – to set up a mouth-watering first clash of the season between the two in South Yorkshire.
Nottingham are sure to be buoyed by the arrival of Anthony Stewart, the Carolina Hurricanes forward who has signed a short-term contract with the East Midlands outfit due to the lockout currently plaguing the NHL.
The Steelers – who extended their unbeaten run to six games with Wednesday night’s 6-3 Challenge Cup win at Hull Stingrays – have some NHL experience of their own in the shape of defenceman Drew Fata and forward Steve Goertzen, who have both previously played in the world’s top league.
It remains to be seen what impact Stewart has for the Panthers, not only on Saturday but in the forthcoming weeks as talks continue to be held in North America in an effort to bring an end to the lockout.
Steelers captain Phillips admits he is happy for such top-calibre players to ply their trade in the UK, adding a neatly-timed touch of further glamour to one of the biggest games of the season.
But he believes that, regardless of which players face-off against each other on Saturday, it will still be another typically feisty clash the UK game’s greatest rivals.
“It was a big step for us last week,” said Phillips. “We struggled against them last year so to come away with two points this time was massive for us, for our confidence and in the standings.
“We’re going to have to take points off them in their building if we want to be seriously competing for the No 1 spot.
“They are going to come out harder because of what happened last week, but we’ve just got to worry about ourselves. We kind of got away from that a bit last week and ended up respecting them (too much) in the 3rd period.
“We were perhaps guilty of sitting back a bit too much and we have to avoid doing that again.”
Stewart’s arrival in the UK is, according to Phillips, good news for the league which, for various reasons, still struggles for credibility in some circles.
“Anybody of that calibre is great for any team in this league,” added Phillips.
“He’s going to have an impact on the game and it’s good to see better players coming over here. I think it helps the league generally in terms of its profile.
“I sometimes think the league doesn’t get the credit it deserves. It’s a good league and there are some good players here at the moment.”