Thomas looks for Steelers to hit back

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ICE HOCKEY: Defenceman Mark Thomas is confident Sheffield Steelers can bounce back from their disappointing festive period by opening up 2012 with a win over Coventry Blaze.

Paul Thompson brings his team into the Motorpoint Arena tomorrow (5pm), looking to put further pressure on third-placed Steelers, who lost out twice to second-placed Nottingham Panthers earlier this week.

Coventry themselves will be looking to bounce back having seen their seven-game winning streak end in a 3-2 defeat at Hull Stingrays on Wednesday night.

With criticism from player-coach Ryan Finnerty still ringing in the Steelers’ players ears, British international Thomas said the South Yorkshire club remain well-placed to defend their regular season Elite League title.

“It was very disappointing to lose twice to our main rivals Nottingham, particularly for the fans,” said Thomas.

“But it has to be pointed out that losing those two games is not terminal in terms of our title chances, particularly if we win our games in hand.”

Thomas also welcomed yesterday’s appointment of former Steelers forward Tony Hand as the new head coach of Great Britain.

The 44-year-old Scot made more than 150 appearances for the club between 1995-99 and succeeds Coventry’s Thompson, who quit last month citing a need to help his club through a tricky period off the ice as they look to restructure their finances.

“It’s a good appointment and I think he’ll be similar in style to Paul with regard to the way he’ll want to run things,” said Thomas.

Hand is currently the player-coach of English Premier League regular season champions Manchester Phoenix.

His first coaching role was in 2001 with Dundee Stars, and has also had spells with Edinburgh Capitals and Belfast Giants in the Elite League, before joining Manchester in 2007.

He will lead the GB team at the 2012 World Championship (Division 1A) in Slovenia and also the tournaments in 2013, 2014 and 2015.