GIVEN his side’s dominant home form of late, Sheffield Steelers’ head coach Doug Christiansen could be forgiven for wishing to avoid any road trips.
But, after Thursday night’s comfortable 6-3 win over Hull Stingrays at Ice Sheffield took the Steelers’ to a run of seven straight wins on home ice, the South Yorkshire club face a tough time on the road this weekend – an arduous journey which takes them to Scotland and South Wales.
Tonight’s opener brings the Steelers up against former coach Ryan Finnerty, the 32-year-old Canadian fired after two barren seasons in charge at the Motorpoint Arena and now proving something of a success at the helm of the Braehead Clan.
The Clan – already twice winners in Sheffield this season – sit one place above the Steelers in second spot in the overall Elite League standings.
The visitors head into Braehead Arena tonight, however, knowing that a win in regulation would be enough to take them above their Scottish rivals ahead of a tough trip to South Wales to take on the Cardiff Devils tomorrow night.
Christiansen is impressed with his team’s recent performances, which have brought two wins against Nottingham Panthers, but he appreciates tonight’s task in Scotland will be particularly hard against a team he regards as very similar to the one he has put together for the 2013-14 campaign.
“When we execute our systems and the guys work hard, we’re a pretty good hockey team and there is no question that we did that for about 50 minutes on Thursday night,” said Christiansen.
“Braehead are doing very, very well, they’ve got an experienced coach and they look a lot like us all over the ice.
“Mark (assistant coach Lefebvre) and myself have spent a lot of time this week watching video of them, we’ve seen them play Belfast we’ve seen other games of theirs recently.
“It’s going to be a close game, it’s two teams who can put the puck in the back of the net, but also shut you down. For us to go there and get two points will be massive.”
Former coach Finnerty knows his team will face a tougher task than the ones that faced them earlier in the season on their two visits to Sheffield.
“I spent five very good years with Sheffield,” said Finnerty. “I have some very fond memories and made a lot of good friends there.
“However, I am enjoying the challenge here – the whole organisation wants to continue to develop and compete at the top every season.
“Ultimately, our aim this Saturday will be to get a result against the Steelers, they have found some good form recently and are a very good hockey team and anyone who beats Nottingham in back-to-back games will be a team to watch.”
Despite a 4-2 Challenge Cup win in Cardiff back in September, the Steelers have returned home empty-handed from their subsequent two visits in the league, going down 3-1 and 5-1.
It has been a difficult season for the Devils, one which has seen long-serving player-coach Gerad Adams depart. But Christiansen senses a turnaround in fortunes under new coach Brent Pope.
“The last two times we’ve been there, we’ve had tough nights,” admitted Christiansen. “We need to adjust our game-plan accordingly – there are some things that we can do to try and be more effective in their building, but they are confident at home right now.”