WHEN Sheffield Steelers head to South Wales tomorrow night to face Cardiff Devils for the third time in eight days, they will be met by a party atmosphere.
Last night, with just 20 seconds remaining in their game at Belfast Giants – the team who beat them to the Challenge Cup just under two weeks ago – Cardiff’s Andrew Hotham popped up to fire home a powerplay goal to seal a 3-2 to make his team Elite League champions for the second season running.
The Steelers will undoubtedly pay their respects at Ice Arena Wales to an Andrew Lord side which has again proved a cut above all others in the league.
And while they would no doubt love to play the role of party pooper by beating the newly-crowned champions in front of their own fans, the Steelers have other priorities.
Last season, after seeing their league crown taken by Cardiff, Paul Thompson’s team were able to salvage their season in exhilarating style when beating the Devils 6-5 in the play-off final.
And Thompson admits his players’ only focus at the moment is repeating that triumph at Nottingham’s National Ice Arena on Sunday, April 8 – regardless of who the opposition may be.
“Our season is now all about making sure that when we get to the play-offs that we’re running full tilt when we get there,” said Thompson.
“I’ll be the first one to admit that our league form has not been consistent enough and that is why we were not in the running for the title – I’m not going to get away from that.
“There are reasons for that – the injuries we’ve suffered have really, really hurt us as they have been to quality players that make a big difference to us.
“But, still, we haven’t had that consistency that you need to be successful, at least on the road,” he said.
“But we have another trophy to aim for and we’re the holders of that and we want to make sure we retain it.”
Before tomorrow’s trip to Cardiff – four days after losing 6-3 to the Devils there – the Steelers tonight play host to a Nottingham Panthers team also looking to end their season on a high by lifting a fourth play-off title under long-serving head coach Corey Neilson.
The 41-year-old is moving on after 10 years at the helm.
I’ll be the first one to admit that our league form has not been consistent enough and that is why we were not in the running for the title – I’m not going to get away from that.Sheffield Steelers’ head coach, Paul Thompson