HOME ice is a supposed advantage that has so far eluded Sheffield Steelers when hosting Elite League title rivals Belfast Giants this season.
Three times Adam Keefe’s team have visited South Yorkshire this season. Three times they have left the building with two points.
The Steelers went a small way to redressing the balance in the head-to-head series earlier this month when they won in Belfast, although that was soon lost when the Giants hit back to win the next game 24 hours later.
In short, Paul Thompson’s team can ill-afford to come off second-best against Belfast when the two lock horns at Sheffield Arena tomorrow. The Giants visit Nottingham Panthers tonight before making the short trip up the M1 and enter the weekend in second spot, three points behind leaders and defending champions Cardiff, but eight ahead of third-placed Steelers.
It was because of their trip to Belfast on January 5 and 6 that the Steelers head into this weekend short on numbers, Swedish forward Andreas Jamtin and defenceman Zack Fitzgerald still serving suspensions incurred over the two nights.
Add to that the loss of key forwards Robert Dowd and John Armstrong and it is no surprise that head coach Thompson was so pleased to see the return of Finnish defenceman Joonas Ronnberg earlier this week.
The 34-year-old has been able to resolve the issues that prompted his return home in November and is back for what will be a busy remainder of the 2017-18 campaign.
“I felt we were putting so much stress on our back end,” said Thompson, whose team head down to Milton Keynes Lightning tonight having won nine of their last 10 games in league and cup. “We’ve played well over 30 games with five defencemen and I just feel that that is too much in this league nowadays.
“It takes away both defensively and offensively because guys are trying to pace themselves when you’re playing short. The one area of weakness in our club is our depth on the back end and bringing back our best defensive defenceman is a massive plus.”
By contrast with the Steelers’ impressive form, tonight’s hosts Milton Keynes are in something of a rut.
Pete Russell’s side managed to spring a surprise on the Steelers’ previous visit when they ran out 7-2 winners.
But they have posted only one win in their last 11 games, a situation not helped by the temporary loss to injury of netminder Miika Wiikman, prompting the signing yesterday of replacement netminder, Jindrich Pacl.
We’ve played well over 30 games with five defencemen and I just feel that that is too much in this league nowadays.Sheffield Steelers’ head coach, Paul Thompson