IF Sheffield Steelers are to respond positively to being labelled “homers” by their coach Paul Thompson, they are going to have to do it the hard way this weekend.
Head coach Thompson was left fuming on the long drive home from South Wales last Saturday after his team “capitulated” to a 6-2 defeat at Cardiff Devils – a team they had beaten 2-1 at Ice Sheffield four days previously.
It was the sixth defeat in 11 games on the road for the defending Elite League champions and, for Thompson, was “unacceptable.”
It proved a weekend to forget for the South Yorkshire club when, despite an improved performance, they went down 2-1 to Braehead Clan at Ice Sheffield the following evening.
Last night saw the Steelers edge out Coventry Blaze 3-2 at Sheffield Arena thanks to a last-minute Colton Fretter goal, but a real test of their credentials will come tomorrow night when they head to the National Ice Centre to face arch-rivals Nottingham Panthers.
While Steelers’ most recent visit to the NIC was one to forget when they suffered a 7-4 defeat, they will skate out tomorrow night buoyed by the fact they have beaten Nottingham there already this season – Chris Lawrence’s third-period winner giving them a 3-2 Challenge Cup win on October 17 .
It may only involve a short journey down the M1 for Thompson’s players, but a win on the road against their arch-rivals would be the perfect riposte to their coach’s stinging criticism.
“It’s been a long week for the players,” said Thompson, whose team have come off second-best against Nottingham in both previous league encounters this season.
“After that display in Cardiff I got the performance I was looking for against Braehead. But, from this group of players, I expect that – it’s what they are all about.
“Nobody here is hiding away from anything. We know we need to up our game and going into Nottingham on Sunday is the perfect opportunity to do that.
“It won’t get any tougher on the road than this one, but it’s the sort of game we live for.”
Steelers, missing captain Jonathan Phillips tomorrow for a second successive game after he underwent surgery for a hernia injury on Friday, made hard work of getting the better of bottom-placed Coventry.
It was match-winner Fretter who had opened the scoring on a night when former NHLer Guillaume Desbiens made his Steelers debut, the Steelers making an early powerplay count at 5.48.
Just over four minutes later, Coventry were level, the visitors themselves making the man advantage count through Drew Fisher at 9.55 with Jeff Legue in the penalty box on a slashing call.
It was special teams which again prospered in the 14th minute when Mathieu Roy restored the Steelers’ lead at 13.01.
Again a persistent Blaze retaliated, with former Hull Stingrays forward Carl Lauzon making amends for being in the box for Roy’s strike whenhe levelled with his seventh of the season at 15.17.
Given the glut of first period that was, remarkably, how it stayed until, with just 34 seconds remaining, Fretter pounced - his seventh of the season lifting the hosts above Edinburgh Capitals into fourth spot, five points behind leaders Nottingham ahead of their Sunday showdown.