SHEFFIELD STEELERS will be taking nothing for granted as they begin the defence of their Elite League play-off title in Scotland tonight.
Having only just last week been crowned league champions, Gerad Adams’s team go into their two-legged first round tie against Fife Flyers as clear favourites to make the Final Four Weekend at the National Ice Centre in Nottingham.
In the four meetings between the two teams this season, Steelers have prevailed in all four, including an 8-1 thumping of Todd Dutiaume’s team at Ice Sheffield in early September.
But, regardless of recent history and league position, Steelers’ captain Jonathan Phillips is wary of a Flyers side who booked their play-off berth - albeit as the eighth and lowest seeds – with a few days to spare.
The Scottish side will also be looking to prove their run to the semi-finals last season was no fluke. After beating 2013-14 Gardiner Conference champions Dundee Stars over two legs in the first round, they were edged out 1-0 in the second semi-final by Belfast Giants, who then succumbed 24 hours later to Drew Fata’s memorable overtime strike in the final as the Steelers won 3-2 to lift their fourth EIHL play-off crown.
“They are understandably going to want to try and get something from this season and make the final four,” said Phillips. “We’re prepared for a tough series against them and it will be intense in their rink.
“What has happened in previous games between the two of us won’t matter at all. As soon as the play-offs come around it’s a totally different game”
Losing out on home ice to Cardiff Devils in the Challenge Cup Final three weeks ago, was enough to spur the Steelers on to deliver a fourth league title when they beat their South Wales opponents 2-1 at the Motorpoint Arena last Saturday.
And while Cup misery put paid to any hopes of a treble for the South Yorkshire club, Phillips insisted there remained a steely resolve to land a memorable double and repeat their triumph from just under a year ago at the NIC.
“It was a great time under ‘G’ (head coach Gerad Adams) last year winning the play-offs and then again with the league this season,” he added.
“This is a very tough trophy to win, make no mistake about it. We’re very determined to make it a double. We lost out in the Challenge Cup FInal which was one trophy that we desperately wanted and that was a big disappointment.
“You obviously want to win as many championships as possible, so we’re very determined to add to the league title.”
Phillips said he and his team-mates were expecting to be put under sever pressure in Kirkcaldy.
“They score a lot on their transition, they have some good forwards, some good speed and always plenty of grit,” he added.
“So we need to make sure that we are skating well off the puck and making life difficult for them.
“It’s going to be intense up there, but we’ve got to go looking for the win, not just being level coming back here. We need to make sure we get ahead.”