THE EUROPEAN dream may be over – at least for another year – but Sheffield Steelers will be determined to go out of the Champions Hockey League on a high, proving they have what it takes to succeed against the continent’s elite.
Paul Thompson’s team have lost all three of their CHL games so far, twice to Sweden’s HV71 Jonkoping, with an 8-1 hammering in Salzburg sandwiched in between.
And while the Steelers’ head coach believes his players gave a good account of themselves against their Swedish Group P rivals – who beat Red Bull 5-2 last week – he acknowledges their performance in Austria was not a true reflection of their quality.
On Friday night, the Steelers’ admittedly slim hopes of becoming the first British team to make the knockout stages of the tournament were ended when Salzburg beat HV71 2-1 in Sweden, leaving the South Yorkshire club with nothing but pride to play for at Sheffield Arena on Sunday (5pm).
“When we played HV71 we were obviously not at the same level as them – they are a top club in Sweden for a reason – but we gave a good account of ourselves, particularly when we kept it to 5-on-5,” said Thompson.
“But against Salzburg – don’t get me wrong they are a very, very good team – but we didn’t play at anything like the level we knew we were capable of.
“We all felt a little bit embarrassed at the scoreline and our performance because we knew we were better than that.
“Well, on Sunday we have the perfect chance to show what we are made of.
After two physical encounters against Manchester Storm last weekend – only one of which was a competitive fixture and saw the Steelers get their Challenge Cup campaign off in winning style – Thompson said he was picking from a full-strength roster who would need to adjust back to the different style of hockey produced by European opposition.
“It does take a bit of adjustment between what we played against last week and what we will be facing this weekend,” said Thompson.
“In our league, we’re a team who enjoys a lot of possession. But in Europe against the likes of HV71 and Salzburg, we are the ones doing more of the chasing so to speak.
“But we’ve had a good week of practice, we’re at full strength and we want to prove what we are capable of.”