Sheffield Steelers doing it tough as they look to keep champions Belfast Giants at arm's length
While the impact of the Adam Johnson tragedy continues to unfold off the ice, the Steelers – having made the return to action last weekend – have to try and simply focus on their next hockey challenge.
This weekend, that comes in the form of back-to-back home games, the first of which sees them go up against defending Elite League champions, Belfast Giants for the first time this season. A face-off with Glasgow Clan beckons on Sunday.
After winning their opening four league games, the Giants arrive at the Utlitia Arena in patchy form, having lost four out of their last five.
They sit in fifth spot, four points adrift of the Steelers and having played a game more.
By contrast, the Steelers enter the weekend with Sunday’s 2-1 overtime win against Coventry stretching their league winning streak to five games.
With emotions understandably heightened at the moment, there are many variables to take into consideration and, much like the run-up to last week’s return to action, Fox will have been primarily concerning himself with ensuring his players are in the best possible shape to compete.
“Every game is a tough game right now, there’s no question about that and we’re just going one day at a time,” said Fox.
“Winning those two games last weekend, you really couldn’t ask for any more and just spoke volumes to what we have in that room.
“Belfast are the team that has won all the trophies this last little bit and we know they are going to be there at the very end, too. They are the benchmark.
“I know they’ve lost a couple of games but, watching them back, I felt the Guildford-Belfast game was pretty even and Belfast were by far the superior team against Cardiff.
“They’ve got three really good lines and a top quality goalie (Tyler Beskorowany) who has been very good against us every time that we have played them.
“We know the situation, we know we’re in first place and they are behind us. We know they will want to close that gap but we also know we’re going to get everyone’s best no matter what right now.”
Saturday’s encounter marks a first return to the club for former Steelers’ defenceman Davey Phillips.
The 36-year-old GB international spent seasons in Sheffield before a summer move to Belfast, where he previously spent three seasons between 2012-2014.
Earlier this week, Belfast brought in former Arsenal and Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech to provide emergency temporary netminder cover.
The 41-year-old is currently playing with NIHL One South outfit the Oxford City Stars, having started his post-football hockey career in the UK with Guildford Phoenix in NIHL Two south back in 2019.
The visit of Glasgow will present a different challenge for Fox and his players, although they are in a similar run of inconsistent form to the Giants.
The two teams have met once already this season, the Steelers prevailing 3-2 in overtime in a successful midweek trip north of the border. The Clan went into Friday night’s home clash with Guildford Flames on the back of a three-game losing streak, in which they had conceded 19 goals.
But they are also a team clearly more than capable of scoring, too, registering five or more goals in four of their eight league games.
"They are a team that scores a lot of goals and we’ve got to be ready to play defensive hockey and manage the game well against them,” added Fox.
“They’ve scored a lot and given up a lot but, in saying that, that is not the type of game that is going to suit us. We need to make sure that we make them earn everything and then force them to defend for 60 minutes.”