Sheffield Steelers: Aaron Fox not worried by mini-slump as Elite League double header at Belfast Giants beckons

THE roles may have been reversed, but Sheffield Steelers’ head coach Aaron Fox is simply pleased his team are still in there fighting for the Elite League title with the Belfast Giants.

Sheffield Steelers head coach Aaron Fox 
Picture: Dean Woolley
Sheffield Steelers head coach Aaron Fox Picture: Dean Woolley

For weeks, the Steelers have been the team to catch in the EIHL, their consistency and ability to avoid back-to-back defeats in the regular season a key reason behind their success and ability to remain ahead of the chasing pack for so long.

But, last weekend, after losing twice to Dundee Stars, they were caught and overtaken by a Belfast Giants team that have matched them all the way - both teams boasting an 80 per cent win percentage going into this weekend’s tantalising double-header between the two at the SSE Arena.

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Like many, Fox doesn’t believe the two eagerly-anticipated games will decide anything, particularly with the Steelers still having 12 games remaining once they return across the North Sea, three of their last four against the Giants.

The Steelers head over to Belfast on the back of a three-game losing streak, the kind of poor form they have not encountered previously in 2021-22, but a situation Fox believes is not a true reflection of his players’ efforts over the last six months.

“I don’t want to take the past week or 10 days or so as indicative of what kind of team we are,” said Fox. “I’d prefer to look at the first six months, at what we have battled through and the adversity that we’ve dealt with and the way we have still found a way to give ourselves a chance of winning the regular season title with these last 14 games to go.

“And that is with what is basically a different team to the one that we built and recruited at the start of the season.

“If you’d have told me before the season started that we would have the same points percentage as the first–placed team with 14 games to go and be in with a chance to win the league, I would have taken that.

Sheffield Steelers' Tanner Eberle and Robert Dowd celebrate during their 7-1 win over Belfast Giants back in November. Picture: Dean Woolley/EIHL.

“A month ago, six weeks ago maybe I’d have been a little disappointed if this is where we’d be right now, with some of the hockey we’ve been playing - but that’s just the way it works.”

Due to the original scheduled weekend in Belfast being cancelled due to Covid, it has produced a strange quirk in the calendar that leaves the Steelers and Giants facing off against each other so many times between now and when the regular season ends on April 16.

But even if his team achieve the perfect result and return home with four points in regulation while Belfast take nothing, Fox is wise enough to realise there will still be many twists and turns to come in what he still regards as a three-horse race, with Cardiff Devils sat in the wings waiting for the top two to mess up.

“Our goal at the minute is to simply go in there (Belfast) and win a hockey game on Friday night - then we go from there,” said Fox.

LEADING MAN: Belfast Giants' head coach Adam Keefe Picture: William Cherry/Presseye/EIHL.

“If we win two games this weekend, the title race is still completely on. If they win them both, it is also completely still on, particularly with us playing them three times in the last four games.

“There is so much hockey still here to play. From my point of view, we’d like to get fully healthy here and be able to play our game down the stretch.

“Cardiff have hung around too, there are three teams involved in this. Cardiff have one game against us and Belfast and we play each other five times, so I wouldn’t say Cardiff are out of this either.

“If us and Belfast were to beat each other up a little bit and they got hot, who knows what might happen?”