SHEFFIELD STEELERS’ head coach Aaron Fox is hoping today brings some welcome positive news in terms of injuries as he gets his battered roster ready for this week’s New Year double-header against Nottingham Panthers.
So often a staple of the Christmas holidays, the annual two-game showdown between the long-standing rivals has been put back a few days with the Steelers heading to the National Ice Centre tomorrow before heading back up the M1 to play host to Tim Wallace’s side on New Year’s Day (4pm).
The Steelers extended their winning streak in the Elite League regular season to six games by finally ending their wait for a win at Manchester Storm on Saturday night – the 4-3 win coming just 48 hours after Ryan Finnerty’s team had been put to the sword 7-0 in front of a near-8,000 crowd at the FlyDSA Arena.
But Saturday’s clash at Altrincham Ice Arena – played out in front of a sellout 2,000 crowd – only increased Fox’s injury concerns, with defenceman Ben O’Connor ruled out before the game, along with forward Marc-Olivier Vallerand who struggled to complete the warm-up.
Both picked up knocks in that rampant Boxing Day win over the Storm, but were joined on the treatment table later by in-form forward Anthony DeLuca and defenceman Eric Meland, who both took knocks in Altrincham.
One ray of positivity was the impressive return to the ice after a near-three month layoff for Swedish defenceman Jonas Liwing.
But with fellow defencemen James Bettauer and Aaron Johnson still up to a month away from a return, Fox is keen for further positive news from his backroom team later today.
“I’m not sure on the status of Ben O’Connor and Vally,” said Fox. “We will re-evaluate on Monday and see how they are feeling.
“Both of them are lower-body injuries and I don’t foresee either of them being long term.
“But those two are definitely questionable for Nottingham.
In terms of DeLuca and Meland, I don’t think either one of them is too serious, but we’ll be making several decisions on Tuesday in terms of fitness.Aaron Fox
“We’re hoping to have John Armstrong back although, again, that will be decided after Monday when he’s had a full day of contact.
“In terms of DeLuca and Meland, I don’t think either one of them is too serious, but we’ll be making several decisions on Tuesday in terms of fitness.”
On the ice on Saturday, DeLuca showed why he is such a favourite with fans, following up his four-goal/seven-point display on Boxing Day by firing the Steelers into the lead at 6.32.
Just over five minutes later, Lucas Sandström double the visitors’ advantage, only for Manchester to respond almost immediately through Cameron Critchlow.
By 13.33, however, the Steelers had gone 3-1 ahead with Sandström’s second of the night and things got even better at 16.53 through Brendan Connolly’s strike, only for Mario Puskarich to hit back with 64 seconds left in the period.
A big goal from Puskarich brought the Storm back to within one at 36.37 but despite putting 18 shots on Tomas Duba in the final period, the home side couldn’t find the equaliser they so desperately craved.