SHEFFIELD Steelers’ player-coach Ben Simon admits his team will have to secure a third Elite League title the hard way in what promises to be a dramatic final weekend of the regular season.
Leaders Steelers face a tricky double-header against the Braehead Clan, who have surprised many by securing a fifth-place finish in their first season.
Should Sheffield win both games the title is theirs, although a slip-up could let in the Cardiff Devils, who are level on points, or third-placed Belfast Giants who lie a point further back.
Cardiff face Coventry Blaze on home ice on Saturday before heading north to take on rock-bottom Edinburgh Capitals tomorrow for what will be two guaranteed points.
Belfast face probably the hardest weekend of all three title contenders, following up a visit to fourth-placed Nottingham Panthers with a trip to Coventry on Sunday evening.
Steelers have already come a cropper once against Braehead on home ice - losing 4-0 back in September - but have enjoyed success on their two previous visits to Glasgow this season. Simon expects two more tough games against Bruce Richardson’s team, but believes his roster possesses the quality and experience needed to get the job done.
With the first of the games in Braehead on Saturday, Steelers could make it a perfect ending to the weekend by clinching the title in front of their own fans at Sheffield Arena on Sunday.
“Braehead have played very well against us so far and they are a team we have had issues with,” said Simon. “They shut us out in our own building at the beginning of the season, so we know what they are capable of.
“And any time you face the same team twice (in a weekend) it can be tough to get two wins.”
Three weeks ago, Steelers looked to have the regular season title sewn up after twice defeating Cardiff to leave themselves seven points clear. But a subsequent three-game losing streak – albeit tempered by wins over Belfast and Newcastle – handed their rivals a way back in.
But even if both they and Cardiff win bothg ames, Sheffield will be the ones celebrating by virtue of having won more games in regulation.
“We have made it a lot tougher than we needed to make it on ourselves,” added Simon. “But I look around that locker room and we’ve got an older team and a lot of experienced guys, in this league especially. This league is very unique and to have guys who have been here before can only be a benefit to us.”
Hear Ben Simon look ahead to the final weekend of the regular season by listening to our latest HockeyTalk podcast in the ‘Audio and Video’ section.