SHEFFIELD STEELERS’ captain Jonathan Phillips believes a return to the ‘simple’ life is behind an upturn in fortunes for the Elite League title hopefuls.
Steelers entered the Christmas period at the top of the Elite League standings, but came out the other side on the back of a losing streak of five games and seven points adrift of Braehead Clan, who had replaced them as leaders.
But a hard-fought 3-2 win in Coventry Blaze last Sunday followed by a midweek 11-1 thrashing of an under-strength Dundee Stars in the Challenge Cup quarter-final second leg – giving them a 14-1 aggregate triumph – has lifted the gloom in the Steelers’ locker room.
That will prove timely for when they host Belfast Giants tonight (7pm), a game Steelers need to win to further help overcome the huge knock to their confidence suffered when they lost twice to the defending champions at the Odyssey Arena two weeks ago.
“Losing both games over in Belfast was hard to take,” admitted Phillips. “They are always close games between us and it won’t be any different this time. I think we hit a bad patch at the worst possible time, as it coincided with games against quality teams such as Belfast and Nottingham.
“But winning in Coventry has helped our confidence a lot because I think we were able to get back to the kind of simple, uncomplicated hockey that had served us so well before Christmas.
“The mood in practice this week has been much better, which is great to see. We were trying to overcomplicate things out on the ice in games and that was leading to more mistakes.”
After Belfast head north to take on Edinburgh Capitals on Sunday night, the Steelers will take a similar route north in order to face a wounded Dundee side still residing bottom of the overall standings and smarting from their capitulation in Sheffield on Wednesday.
What Phillips doesn’t expect on Tayside, however, is any similarity to the one-sided goal-fest that transpired at the Motorpoint Arena earlier this week. It is only six days ago, after all, that the Stars defeated Belfast 3-2 after a shoot-out, 24 hours after beating Edinburgh on penalty shots.
“I think what happened on Wednesday is only going to hurt and make them more motivated to prove something when we go to Dundee,” added Phillips, who has 28 points to his name this season, including five goals, in 40 appearances.
“When we went up there for the first leg in the quarter-final, we might have won 3-0 but it was a tough night.
“They did their play-off hopes a big boost last weekend too when they got four points, so we know we’re going to have to be on our game from the off.”