AHEAD of his first season as a coach in the Elite League, one of the aims Aaron Fox often talked of was for his Sheffield Steelers’ team to close the gap on leading duo Belfast Giants and Cardiff Devils.
As they approach the halfway point of the 2019-20 campaign, he believes they are putting themselves into a position to do that come the end of the regular season in March.
After 25 games, the Steelers sit top of the standings, but with those two main rivals breathing down their necks, both just two points behind with games in hand.
On Saturday, the Steelers kept their part of the title-chasing bargain with a handsome 6-2 win over Fife Flyers to leave their coach reflecting on a positive first half of the campaign.
“One of the key reasons I wanted to come to this league was to win,” said Fox.
“We talked about closing the gap over the summer and after 25 games if you look at where we’re at, we have put ourselves into a position where, if we have a decent second half, we will be in the mix come the end of March - that was our goal.
"Has there been some inconsistencies in our game? Yes, absolutely, I think we have left some points out there. There are some games where we’ve deserved better but, on the whole, with 14 new players in and having had three players out long-term injured and bringing guys in on injury cover, finding that consistency has been hard in our group,
“So I’m hoping to get healthy here and be able to go on a nice run in the second half and really give Cardiff and Belfast a run for this.”
The Flyers had initially stunned the home crowd when they went ahead through James Livingston with just 3.38 on the clock.
But once Eric Meland levelled on the wrap-around at 11:51, it was the home side who established control for the rest of the night, going ahead just under four minutes later on the power play when before Marc-Olivier Vallerand deflected a shot past Adam Morrison.
Less than two minutes into the second period Anthony DeLuca’s power play strike made it 3-1, although the Flyers were back in the game at 36.38 when Todd Dutiaume's team responded with a power play goal of their own from Carlo Finucci.
But any designs the visitors’ had of levelling with the Steelers were soon ended when Vallerand scored his second of the night on a breakaway at 37.29.
Third period strikes from Michael Davies (43.03) and Robert Dowd (52.29) ensured the Steelers would remain leaders at the end of the weekend, with second-placed Cardiff Devils losing in overtime at home to Nottingham Panthers to leave them two points off the Steelers, but with four games in hand.