THURSDAY night’s win over Nottingham Panthers was a significant moment for Sheffield Steelers’ head coach Tom Barrasso – and not just because it meant his team recorded back-to-back victories over their arch-rivals.
Ever since he walked through the doors at Sheffield Arena, one of Barrasso’s chief aims has been to make the Steelers a plus .500 team – in other words, a team that has won more than 50 per cent of their games.
The stirring come-from-behind 5-3 victory against the Panthers in front of a 9,000-plus crowd did just that, much to Barrasso’s obvious satisfaction.
“My sole focus since I took the team over in October was to get the team over .500 – that second win over Nottingham does that,” said Barrasso.
“So, while I’m glad I was able to coach in front of 7,000 in Nottingham and close to 10,000 (in Sheffield), and it feels like you’re a real hockey coach in real hockey buildings – and it is tremendous fun – at the end of the day the most important result is that our team has clawed its way back to being an over .500 team.”
Meeting such a primary objective, however, does not mean that Barrasso is likely to ease up on his players in the coming weeks as they look to become a team challenging at the top end of the table once again.
The two wins over Nottingham earlier this week moved the Steelers up to sixth in the standings ahead of tonight’s visit from Manchester Storm.
Despite enjoying local bragging rights over the Panthers, Rich Chernomaz’s team remain in a far healthier position than the Steelers, currently 11 points to the better in third spot.
Just ahead of them lie Belfast Giants and defending champions Cardiff Devils, who briefly returned to top spot for the first time this season after Thursday night’s 6-2 win over Coventry Blaze before Adam Keefe’s team returned to the summit 24 hours later when they beat Milton Keynes Lightning 5-1 at home.
But with 29 regular season games remaining there is a lot that can happen in the race for honours between now and the end of the campaign and Barrasso is confident his team are continuing to move in the right direction.
“We have been a work in progress,” added Barrasso, “but you can see that when we play at a high level we can compete with the best teams in the league.
“We may not have some of the finish that some of the other teams have, but we grind out goals, we grind out defence and we rely on our goaltending.
“I like my group. We just need to make sure we stay competitive and keep working hard for each other.”
At the end of the day the most important result is that our team has clawed its way back to being an over .500 team.Tom Barrasso