SHEFFIELD STEELERS’ player-coach Ben Simon believes Hull Stingrays are capable of breaking into the Elite League’s top five by the end of the season.
Simon, 32, takes his title-chasing Steelers team into Hull tomorrow night (6pm), hoping to avoid a repeat of the 7-2 battering they received on their last visit back in early December.
Player-coach Sylvain Cloutier has turned his hastily-assembled team into play-off certainties with the main aim now being a top-six finish ahead of league newcomers the Braehead Clan.
But Simon – whose Steelers team have lost only once in 13 games – believes Cloutier’s line-up should aim even higher and are capable of breaking into the top five of Cardiff, Sheffield, Belfast, Nottingham and Coventry, who have dominated the league since its inception in 2003.
“I read something this week about where Hull are shooting for sixth spot and how that would be very respectable for them,” said Simon, whose team have won the three other contests against their Yorkshire rivals this season.
“But I think they are even better than that. They have the talent and the depth and I think Clouts does a great job of holding guys accountable there which is why I believe they can go higher.
“Last time we were there, we scored two early goals and I think we thought that because we’d had success against them previously we had the game locked up.
“But they came back and really took it to us and, while some of our guys possibly didn’t have their best games, Hull were the better team that night and totally deserved to win.”
Cloutier – whose team travel north to face eighth-placed Dundee Stars tonight – said his players must ensure they remain tight defensively if they are to stop a Steelers team who have scored 43 goals in their last five games.
“They are scoring a lot of goals at the moment and playing some very good hockey,” said Cloutier.
“That’s why they are going for a league title right now so we need to stay strong defensively and up our intensity and compete with them for 60 minutes.”
Tomorrow’s game is the first of three in 11 days between the Yorkshire rivals. Hull travel to Sheffield on Wednesday before the Steelers pay a swift return visit to Hull Arena on February 9.