STEVE GOERTZEN is convinced the Elite League is improving year-on-year as he prepares to lead his Sheffield Steelers team into one of their toughest weekends of the season so far.
The Steelers captain played an integral part of his side’s 2-1 win over current league leaders Dundee Stars on Wednesday night, a match which marks the beginning of a 16-game run of league action which continues with tonight’s trip to second-placed Belfast Giants ahead of tomorrow night’s return home to welcome Cardiff Devils.
In what has been a stuttering start to the campaign for the Steelers – losing five of their opening 11 games (seven of which have been in the Challenge Cup) – 29-year-old Goertzen realises the importance of this weekend to Steelers’ regular season title ambitions, even at such an early stage of the campaign.
“Every game is a huge game at the moment and Belfast have got off to a great start,” said Goertzen.
“They’ve made some good signings there over the summer and they are going to be a team that we need to go through in order to win the league title.
“There are not any nights in this league where you can relax and that’s the beauty of this league – it is getting better every year.”
It will be a special night for Steelers’ head coach Doug Christiansen, tonight’s encounter marking his first return to the Odyssey Arena since he quit in April to take over from axed Ryan Finnerty at the Steelers.
In three years at the helm in Northern Ireland, Christiansen won a league championship as well as finishing runner-up twice in both the play-offs and Challenge Cup.
Typically, the 35-year-old American is determined not to take any notice of the hype surrounding his return.
“It’s not about me, it’s simply about our players playing against their players,” he said. “I had three great years there and enjoyed every minute of it.
“Belfast are going to come out hard at us and they’re going to be energised by their building.
“We’re going to have to weather the storm a little bit, but if we can play in their end, own the net fronts and be more disciplined, hopefully we’ll have success.”
Hull Stingrays head to Fife Flyers in a crucial Gardiner Conference game looking to move on from a difficult week which saw them axe forward Derek Campbell before he was hit with a 47-game ban for violent conduct against Dundee last Saturday.
That comes ahead of a Challenge Cup encounter at home against holders Nottingham Panthers tomorrow (6pm).
Without the influential Campbell, Hull are looking to end a seven-game losing streak which was extended by two defeats to the Stars last weekend.
“We need to get something from the game in Fife. I thought we were unlucky not to get anything last weekend,” said player-coach Sylvain Cloutier. “It has been a difficult week but I feel it will bring us closer. I have told the team we need to stick together.”