SHEFFIELD STEELERS’ head coach Paul Thompson insists his team will pay Guildford Flames the utmost respect when the two clash this weekend in the Elite League play-off first round.
Tonight’s first leg takes place at Sheffield Arena (7pm) before the two resume battle at Guildford 24 hours later.
On paper the five-time EIHL title winners and defending play-off champions should progress to the Final Four Weekend shindig held every year at Nottingham’s National Ice Centre.
And Thompson’s bruised and battered players will be desperate to replicate the momentous win they enjoyed in the East Midlands at the end of last season when they denied Cardiff Devils a unique quadruple of titles by winning 6-5 in double overtime.
But Paul Dixon’s side have impressed in their first Elite League campaign, finishing just two points behind third-placed Steelers in sixth spot.
Of the four meetings in the head-to-head series between the two sides in the regular season, the Steelers came out on top three wins to one, but know they will have to take a healthy lead down to Surrey tomorrow to stand a chance of progressing.
As for Thompson, the play-offs represent once again the last-chance saloon for his team to salvage something from a frustrating campaign.
He will be buoyed by the return of key forwards Mathieu Roy and Andreas Jamtin who were missing last weekend for personal reasons.
Both returned early this week to begin preparations for the post-season, giving Thompson an important selection headache ahead of tonight’s first leg – something he has rarely had the chance to ‘endure’ this season.
“You only have to look at Guildford and see what they have done in the league this season to know that this is going to be a difficult weekend for us,” said Thompson.
We’ve spent a lot of time this week, looking at them on video and breaking them down and, hopefully, we should be successful against them.Sheffield Steelers’ head coach, Paul Thompson
“Their first line gets it done most nights for them, but we have to respect their whole group, their speed – they have got a great powerplay and have had a great first season at this level.
“We’ve spent a lot of time this week, looking at them on video and breaking them down and, hopefully, we should be successful against them.”
Roy and Jamtin’s return meant Wednesday’s practice session was the first time Thompson had had his entire team out on the ice since last August.
Among them was key centre John Armstrong, who returned to action last weekend after three months out with a finger injury.
“It was good to see John back – he showed us what we’d been missing,” said Thompson.