AS is often the case, the latest weekend double header between Sheffield Steelers and Belfast Giants – regardless of the location – represents an eagerly-anticipated collision between two of the UK game’s biggest names.
And, on this particular occasion, it brings together the two form sides in the Elite League.
The last few weeks have helped us a lot and we are now ready to play a team like Belfast, I mean that in terms of our confidence but also just because of the way we’re playing.Jonathan Phillips
Had the two games taking place at Sheffield Arena been scheduled for a couple of months ago, not many hockey fans would have given the Steelers much chance of taking anything out of them.
But, under head coach Tom Barrasso, the Steelers are a different animal – winning seven out of their last eight games and now making themselves an obdurate opponent on any given night.
Granted, their impressive run of form still suffers slightly in comparison to the 11-game winning stretch that leaders Belfast bring with them to South Yorkshire ahead of tonight’s first game (7pm), but there is good reason for home fans to be optimistic about what lies ahead for their team over the next 36 hours or so.
Steelers’ captain, Jonathan Phillips, said there was certainly no fear at hosting a Giants side, despite them coming in fresh from an 8-0 drubbing of Dundee Stars in Wednesday night’s Challenge Cup quarter-final first leg.
“We’re definitely ready for this test,” said Phillips. “We’ve got nothing to fear and this is the sort of weekend where we can make others sit up and take notice.
“The last few weeks have helped us a lot and we are now ready to play a team like Belfast, I mean that in terms of our confidence but also just because of the way we’re playing and the way we’re sticking to our systems.”
Those ‘systems’ Phillips refers to are the ones hammered into the entire Steelers’ roster by Barrasso during the seven-and-a-half weeks of his time in charge.
It has certainly had the desired effect and given Phillips and his team-mates the belief that the 12-point gap that currently exists between the two teams is not entirely insurmountable.
“We’ve got a lot of ground to make up,” said Phillips. “So this is also a good opportunity to claw back some of those points we lost on them earlier in the year.”