CAPTAIN Jonathan Phillips admits he is happy to see a number of Sheffield Steelers’ key personnel returning to the ice.
With all hope of a sixth Elite league title long gone, the play-off title remains the only piece of silverware open to the Steelers, who are determined to retain the trophy they won in such dramatic fashion against Cardiff Devils last April in the second period of overtime.
In order to replicate that achievement, Phillips believes the Steelers need to begin preparing for the short post-season now, in the hope that when the first round arrives at the end of March, they are firing on all cylinders.
At one point during January, the Steelers were missing three key offensive players through injury in the shape of John Armstrong, Colton Fretter and Robert Dowd.
Armstrong remains out until the post-season, but the anticipated return of British forward Dowd for today’s trip to Braehead Clan adds further firepower to Paul Thompson’s side, who have already benefitted from Fretter’s recent recovery from injury after almost a month out.
For Phillips, it leaves the Steelers in healthy shape for the regular season run-in, a period believes offers the ideal opportunity to time their play-off campaign just right.
“Fretts has that ability to change a game on his own,” said Phillips. “He’s very special and the kind of player that every other team wishes they had.
“It has been a massive boost for us since he came back, particularly with us heading down the stretch ahead of what is a very short play-off campaign.
“It has given everyone else in the room a lift having him back playing. There have been a number of games where we have lost out and haven’t scored and where you’re left wondering what might have been had he been in the line-up with us because he can make such a vital difference.”
Dowd’s return to action is a further shot in the arm for Thompson’s side, who have been without the 29-year-old since he was injured on Continental Cup duty in early January.
“Rob’s been such a big miss for us,” added Phillips. “We need to make sure we hit the play-offs running and having these guys back helps that so much.”
Yorkshire rivals Steeldogs and Pirates set to take title duel down to wire
WITH just a handful of games remaining, the NIHL Moralee Conference title race is set to go down to the final weekend of the season.
Sheffield Steeldogs go into tonight’s game against Whitley Warriors at Ice Sheffield (7.30pm) with a three-point advantage over second-placed Yorkshire rivals Hull Pirates.
We need to make sure we hit the play-offs running and having these guys back helps that so much.Sheffield Steelers’ captain, Jonathan Phillips
But the Pirates, who tonight host Blackburn Hawks in a double-header game worth four points, have two games in hand.
The two Yorkshire clubs are set to meet in the final round of the regular season next weekend, although the East Yorkshire outfit could go into that game top of the standings if they win tonight, as well as prevailing at Nottingham Lions tomorrow and at third-placed Telford Tigers on Wednesday.
The Steeldogs head to Blackburn tomorrow before spending the week preparing to host Hull in South Yorkshire on Saturday before making the trip east for the return match against Jason Hewitt’s side 24 hours later.