GIVEN they are in only their first-ever season in the Elite League, Guildford Flames have proved they can live with the best the British game has to offer.
The Surrey club arrive in South Yorkshire tonight one place and a single point ahead of hosts Sheffield Steelers, who return to their domestic campaign after missing their bronze medal campaign in last weekend’s Continental Cup in Belarus.
It remains to be seen whether Paul Dixon’s side can maintain the form that has taken them to fourth in the overall standings, but counterpart Paul Thompson – without four key players either through injury or suspension – is wary of the threat posed by the league newcomers.
“Paul has done an excellent job down there,” said Thompson, whose team go into the game having lost only one of their last eight domestic games. “He’s put together a really good team there and they are fourth in the table deservedly so because they are proving they deserve to be there every week.
“We are probably coming up against what I believe is the best skating team in the league.
“Paul has built a team around a lot of speed and they’ve had a fantastic season up until this point. We’re down on numbers and we’ve got to stay strong.”
Steelers’ John Armstrong, who remains likely to miss the remainder of the regular season while he recovers from an operation on a damaged finger, is joined on the sidelines by British forward Robert Dowd, who sustained a serious knee injury in Minsk last week.
While Thompson remains hopeful that Dowd will return sooner rather than later, he admits no date has been pencilled in for the star winger’s return.
With Andreas Jamtin and Zack Fitzgerald ruled out for their misdemeanours in the two games against title rivals Belfast Giants two weeks ago, Thompson acknowledges his remaining players will have to stay smart on a weekend which sees them follow tonight’s contest with a trip tomorrow to take on Edinburgh Capitals, cast adrift at the bottom of the overall standings.
“We know we’ve lost a lot of scoring from our line-up in the past few weeks so we’ve got to be very patient and stay disciplined,” added Thompson.
Defensively, we’ve been very strong of late so it’s big weekend for us.
But before we went away we were in some good form and had won seven out of eight and we played well over in Minsk so I’m feeling confident about our form.
We know we’ve lost a lot of scoring from our line-up in the past few weeks so we’ve got to be very patient and stay disciplinedSheffield Steelers’ head coach, Paul Thompson