ON paper at least, Sheffield Steelers appear to have little to play for in tonight’s Challenge Cup encounter at home to Manchester Storm.
Long-qualified as Group A winners after winning their previous five games, the Steelers could be forgiven for kicking back somewhat and conserving some energy, particularly with a potentially season-defining Continental Cup third round excursion in Denmark only days away.
Steelers’ head coach Paul Thompson may indeed take the opportunity to ease back on the ice time for some of his more battered and bruised players for the visit of Ryan Finnerty’s team to Sheffield Arena (7pm).
But the lure of reaching the quarter-finals with a 100 per cent win record will ensure the home side’s commitment to the cause.
Rob Dowd, who took his goal tally for the season to 10 in Wednesday’s 8-2 demolition of an admittedly under-strength Dundee Stars, said there was no chance the hosts would be taking the Storm challenge lightly.
“We can’t just turn it on and off and not show up one night and then expect to show up the next night,” said Dowd. “It is all about maintaining good habits as far as I’m concerned, so we’ve got to go out and keep our foot on the gas after winning on Wednesday.
“I know it’s a kind of dead rubber and we’re already through with a 100 per cent record, but we won’t play it like that.
“Manchester are right up there in the league, so it is a chance to send out a strong message to them and the other teams.”
Rather than returning to farm team Blackburn Hawks, 16-year-old forward Kieran Brown will remain with the Steelers after impressing in midweek against Dundee, with fellow teenagers Liam Kirk and Cole Shudra also likely to see plenty of ice time once again, something Thompson insists is “fully deserved”.
Former Steelers head coach Finnerty brings his Manchester team across the Pennines still entertaining hopes of making the last eight themselves, despite currently lying bottom with only one win to their name.
But, such has been Steelers’ dominance in the group, Storm are only two points behind second-placed Nottingham Panthers, who host Braehead Clan.
And with only the top two from each of the three groups guaranteed a place in the last eight, Finnerty must hope his former club Clan can do him a favour by winning in Nottingham tonight.
That will only matter, however, if his own team overcomes the Steelers as well as beating the Panthers when the two sides meet in Manchester for the final group game in two weeks’ time.
It is all about maintaining good habits as far as I’m concerned, so we’ve got to go out and keep our foot on the gasSheffield Steelers’ Robert Dowd