THERE ARE not many outside the Sheffield Steelers’ camp who expect them to succeed in this weekend’s Continental Cup – but that does not faze captain Jonathan Phillips.
The Steelers began a long day of travel in the early hours of this morning, catching a five-hour flight to the Belarus capital Minsk ahead of a run of three games in as many days, starting with Friday’s opener against Kazakhstan’s Nomad Astana.
Equally tough assignments will follow against hosts Yunost and, on Sunday, Italian side Ritten Sport.
Finishing top of the round-robin group brings with it the reward of a place in next season’s Champions Hockey League, European ice hockey’s premier club competition and one to which all concerned with the Steelers are keen to return.
It was the route taken last year to this season’s CHL by Nottingham Panthers, who after becoming the first British club to win the Continental Cup then became the first Elite League team to progress beyond the group phase of the CHL.
The Steelers head to Minsk as underdogs, but, as they showed in the previous round in Denmark, they revel in such situations, recovering from an opening-day 7-1 loss to Yunost to win their next two games and progress alongside this weekend’s hosts.
“We’ve got great expectations,” said Phillips. “It’s something we want to win desperately because we know it will guarantee us a CHL spot for next season. We had fun in the CHL before and we want to experience that again.”
Steelers head to Belarus on the back of a 5-1 defeat to EIHL title rivals Belfast Giants, but Phillips said that should not detract from the seven straight wins the club posted beforehand.
“We’ve had some fantastic results and performances lately, so we’re rightly confident going into this weekend,” he added.
While it will have no impact on this weekend’s games, yesterday saw the Steelers suffer further Elite League disciplinary woe.
Swedish forward Andreas Jamtin has been hit with a three-game ban after being thrown out of the Belfast defeat for cross-checking.
And Zack Fitzgerald – missing from that match after incurring a four-game ban for an illegal check to the head in the previous night’s win for the Steelers over the Giants – has been handed an additional one-game ban for gestures he made to the home crowd when being escorted off the ice.
We’ve got great expectations. It’s something we want to win desperately because we know it will guarantee us a CHL spot for next season and we want to experience that again.Sheffield Steelers’ captain, Jonathan Phillips.