SHEFFIELD STEELERS may head into their second Champions Hockey League campaign already written off by many - but captain Jonathan Phillips believes they are capable of causing a major surprise.
And while that surprise doesn’t mean a realistic bid for the trophy itself, Phillips is convinced his team can be the first Elite League club to progress from the group stages of the competition.
Nottingham Panthers and Braehead Clan are the only other British teams to take part in the CHL but, like the Steelers last year, never got out of their initial group.
Both Steelers’ league rivals did win a game during their short-lived campaigns, something the South Yorkshire club are determined to emulate when they face-off against Swedish club HV71 and Austria’s Red Bull Salzburg in late August.
And Phillips is confident the five-time Elite League champions can exceed expectations by being one of the two teams from Group P to reach the knockout stages.
“I’m not disrespecting either team we are up against,” said Phillips “They are both great clubs but I think we do have a genuine chance. We know what the competition is all about now having played the toughest of games and schedules last year.”
While HV71 will be a fresh challenge altogether, the Steelers do have some experience of playing their other group rival - Salzburg - losing 6-1 to them in the final round of the Continental Cup back in 2010 under former coach Dave Matsos.
But, given the improvement in the UK domestic game in the last few years, Phillips believes things will be much closer this time around.
“We have moved on night and day since then, we are a very different club - better prepared and much more aware of what we have to face,” added Phillips.
“We now can match teams with our four blocks and these games, especially against Salzburg, are a really good test of where we have come too. They won’t take us lightly and we will get their A-game for sure.
“I feel we are on the verge of breaking through both at club and National team level - so close in so many ways. I’m hoping this competition will be that breakthrough. I feel we are good enough to progress.”