SHEFFIELD STEELERS head to South Wales tonight knowing it could prove a pivotal moment for their Elite League title hopes.
Paul Thompson’s team have fallen short in all but one of their Erhardt Conference games this season, although their sole victory did come against tonight’s hosts, Cardiff Devils.
That 4-0 triumph in South Yorkshire on October 21 seems a long time ago, however, with the Steelers coming off second-best in their eight other conference games against Cardiff, Nottingham Panthers and Belfast Giants.
The latest of those defeats came on home ice last Sunday at the hands of Belfast, provoking head coach Thompson into stinging criticism of his players.
A 7-2 win at Dundee Stars on Wednesday night in the first leg of their Challenge Cup quarter-final went some way towards the players working their way back into their boss’s good books, although two points at Cardiff tonight would work further wonders for his mood.
Steelers’ only previous visit to Cardiff this season resulted in a familiar 3-2 defeat.
Thompson will be looking for his players to carry over the momentum they established in the win over Dundee into tonight’s more crucial encounter before returning home to host Fife Flyers tomorrow.
Defenceman Zack Fitzgerald had been earmarked for a return to action in Tuesday’s second leg against Dundee, but it is thought possible he may play some part this weekend.
Steelers will be without talented teenagers Liam Kirk and Cole Shudra, who will be gunning for gold with the Great Britain Under-20s team at the World Championships in Dumfries.
Slava Koulikov’s team lost their first match of the week-long tournament when going down 5-4 after a shoot-out to Korea on Thursday night. But victory over Japan tonight will guarantee the hosts the gold medal and promotion from Division 2.
Dundee bounced back from their Cup defeat to the Steelers by overcoming Scottish rivals Edinburgh Capitals 4-2 on home ice in the league last night.
Justin Fox proved the star attraction for Omar Pacha’s side, scoring a hat-trick, with Brian Hart also getting on the scoresheet.
Pavel Vorobyev and Michael Ireland replied for the Capitals.