ANDRE Payette is confident his mis-firing Sheffield Steeldogs will still reach the English Premier League play-offs – despite the recent upheaval surrounding his squad.
Two of the club’s biggest summer signings – Dmitri Rodin and Derek Campbell – have both been released in the past week as the South Yorkshire club looks to end a poor run of results which has seen them win just one of their last nine games and left them sitting second-bottom of the EPL standings.
Defencemen Rodin has already been snapped up by EPL rivals Telford Tigers, while import forward Campbell has been snapped up by Roses rivals Manchester Phoenix to provide emergency injury cover and is expected to play against his former team-mates on Thursday night.
Payette said he was sorry to see both players go, but insisted changes needed to be made in order for the club to make sure they made the post-season. They are currently two points behind Peterborough Phantoms, who currently occupy the eighth and final play-off spot. But with half the season still remaining there is plenty of time for the Steeldogs to turn their campaign around.
It’s a stark contrast to last season when the club reached the play-off semi-finals after finishing the regular season in third place. They also reached the final of the EPL Cup.
Key players, including goaltender Ben Bowns and top goalscorer Janis Ozolins, departed during the summer for Elite League’s Hull Stingrays but, with Campbell and Rodin heading the other way, another decent campaign was anticipated.
“We put a team together that we thought would be higher up the table,” said Payette, recently returned from coaching the Great Britain Under-20s team in Ukraine. “I’ve got nothing but good things to say about both Dmitri and Derek – but changes had to be made.
“We’re in ninth place and outside the play-off places and these are the changes we feel we need to make.
“We’ve just got to make sure we get back to playing traditional Steeldogs hockey. We are going to be a feisty bunch and get in people’s faces.
“The aim at the moment is to make sure that we make the play-offs, we’ll worry about anything else after that.”
The decision to release Campbell on Wednesday came as something of a surprise as it came less than a week after the Steeldogs issued a statement saying he was staying with the club. A personal statement from Campbell was included in the press release in which he said he would endeavour to produce more consistency in his performances having had to deal with a number of personal issues off the ice.
He scored two goals in Sunday’s 6-4 home defeat to Basingstoke Bison - but that wasn’t enough to see him remain with the club.
“It’s probably best for both sides,” added Campbell. “It’s just a shame it’s not worked out there.
“There’s certainly no bad blood as a result of what’s happened.
“I don’t feel that the Steeldogs got the best of me because of other things going on in my life. Andre is still one of my best friends and I wish him all the best because he’s doing a really good job there.”
Phoenix coach Tony Hand said his move for Campbell was brought about by a growing injury list.
“Our injury situation has hit critical levels and we needed cover as soon as possible,” said Hand, “Derek is a proven player and I’m positive he will be an asset for us in this busy period.
“He has signed for three-four weeks and will go straight into the team as soon as registration is complete.”
The Steeldogs will travel across the Pennines to take on Manchester hoping to avoid a repeat of their last visit there when they were hammered 9-1. They then welcome Peterborough Phantoms to Ice Sheffield on Saturday (7.30pm) before an away trip to second-placed Guildford Flames on Sunday.