SHEFFIELD Steeldogs will look to close the gap on stuttering leaders Guildford Flames by aiming for a maximum return this weekend, writes Phil Harrison.
Andre Payette’s ‘made in Sheffield’ line-up continue to defy the long odds stacked against them at the start of the season by refusing to bow out of the regular season title race.
Saturday night sees them welcome Bracknell Bees to Ice Sheffield (7.30pm) with the Berkshire club desperate for the points to ensure they make the post-season.
All three previous meetings have been one-goal games, with the only previous meeting in Yorkshire back in November proving the most memorable when Steeldogs came back from 5-2 down in the third to win 6-5 after a shoot-out.
While fifth in the English Premier League table, the Steeldogs are currently level on points with Slough Jets and Manchester Phoenix, the two teams immediately above them. Guildford remain three points clear of second-placed Milton Keynes Lightning, but have given hope to the chasing pack after losing their last three games.
“As long as we have a chance to win this league, we’re going to go for it,” said Payette.
“We could come out of this weekend only four points behind the leaders if results go our way and there would still be 20 or so games left to play.
“My guys have put in a tremendous amount of effort this season and we’ve just got to keep that effort going and see where it takes us.”
Bracknell, currently sitting in the eighth and final play-off spot, arrive in Sheffield possessing two of the league’s most potent offensive threats in Martin Masa and Lukas Smital – both in the league’s top five scorers – and will be keen to add to the six-point advantage they have over Peterborough Phantoms, who lie ninth.
Steeldogs follow up today’s encounter with the Bees with a visit to second-bottom Peterborough on Sunday (5.30pm). It will be the third meeting in as many weekends for the two sides, with Payette’s team winning on both occasions.
After Saturday night’s game, the Steeldogs won’t be at home again until Sunday, January 29 because of the European Figure Skating Championships. Tickets for the Bracknell game (7.30pm) are priced as follows: Adult £9, Concession £6.50, Child 3.50 (Under-8s free), Family £20. Log on at www.sheffieldsteeldogs.co.uk for more information.