RYAN Finnerty says he has had no problem keeping his Sheffield Steelers players’ minds focused on the immediate task of Challenge Cup qualification – despite a festive double header against arch-rivals Nottingham Panthers looming large on the horizon.
Tonight’s encounter against Cardiff Devils in South Wales will decide who finishes runner-up behind Group B winners Nottingham to clinch a place in the semi-finals.
And while player-coach Finnerty admitted that talk may have occsionally drifted towards the two games with the Panthers on Boxing Day and December 27, his players were firmly focused on the immediate task ahead of them in Cardiff.
“This is a huge game for us,” said Finnerty. “We haven’t really thought too much about Nottingham this week.
“It’s been talked about and, understandably, it’s going to have been in the backs of players’ minds, but this is one of the trophies we set out to win at the start of the season and we want to make it through to the last four.”
Forward Neil Clark is the spare import once again consigned to the sidelines, with Finnerty recalling defenceman Chad Huttel, who was left out for last weekend’s double header with Fife Flyers, against whom Clark failed to pick up any points.
The fact Steelers conceded nine goals against the Elite League’s bottom club will also have influenced Finnerty’s decision to revert back to his first-choice, five-strong defensive unit.
“I think last weekend may have shown that we need Chad in the line-up really,” said Finnerty. “It will have been good for him to sit the Fife games out and Lee Haywood came in and did a good job for us, but we need that five-strong ‘D’ rotating back there.”
Tonight’s match brings together two teams very much in form, with Steelers boasting a 10-game winning streak in all competitions.
Cardiff themselves are on a three-game unbeaten run, their latest success being a 5-3 win at Hull Stingrays last Sunday.
Gerad Adams’s team, who have waited since November 6 to play their final Group B fixture, have been boosted by this week’s signing of defenceman Jamie Vanderveeken from Fassa in Italy.