SHEFFIELD STEELDOGS head into this weekend’s National Cup semi-final against Yorkshire rivals Hull Pirates boosted by the return of a familiar face.
Former player-coach Greg Wood, who retired from the game at the end of last season after two years at the helm, has been persuaded to return by his successor Ben Morgan.
It’s a timely signing for the NIHL North One leaders, with the 31-year-old practising on Thursday evening at Ice Sheffield before being thrown straight back into the action to face Jason Hewitt’s side 24 hours later.
The Steeldogs finally got the better of their East Yorkshire rivals earlier this month with an 8-3 win in the group phase. It followed four defeats to their White Rose rivals, including once in the league.
There are still three more league meetings to come between the two sides, the next being in Sheffield on February 23.
And with Hull closing the gap to one point with a game in hand last weekend after the Steeldogs were beaten for the first time at home this season by third-placed Telford, it’s likely those three meetings will decide the outcome of the regular season title.
But, before then, the pair can try and end each other's Cup hopes over the next two nights, the second leg being staged in Hull on Saturday after Friday’s first leg at Ice Sheffield (face-off 7.30pm).
On his decision to bring Wood back into the fold, Morgan said: “I am delighted to be able to work alongside Woody again, he is one of my oldest team-mates in hockey.
“He will undoubtedly give us the added quality and experience to enable us to compete in every match. It was an obvious choice. His playing ability and passion for the sport and our club speaks for itself and I'm sure he will not need too long to shake off the cobwebs from his skates.
“It’s a massive, massive game. I can’t describe how big it is - not just for the boys in the room, but the whole club. We’re 120 minutes or so away from a final and that shows we are heading in the right direction.
Hull arrive in Sheffield buoyed by a four-point weekend which means they have only lost once in the last seven games.
The two wins could not have been contrasting, however, their tough 4-3 road win at Solihull Barons coming 24 hours after an almost ridiculous 23-0 win at home against bottom club Dragons, player-coach Hewitt leading the way with five goals, with Bobby Chamberlain and Cain Taylor grabbing a hat-trick apiece.