Sheffield Steelers embrace Challenge Cup expectations ahead of Fife Flyers semi-final showdown
In the four previous meetings with Fife Flyers this season, the Steelers have prevailed on each occasion.
But those games were part of the Elite League regular season schedule. Tonight’s meeting in Kirkcaldy brings the two teams together in the first leg of the Challenge Cup semi-final.
While the Steelers look set to be part of an intense four-way battle for the league title, the Flyers are embroiled in a dogfight to secure one of the lower-end play-off spots.
They moved into the eighth and final post-season slot after after a weekend which brought wins against Coventry Blaze and Dundee Stars, part of a promising run of form since the turn of the year which has seen them emerge from a game only once without a point.
That came against the Steelers on January 7, the visitors taking both points in a 3-2 win in regulation thanks to a second-period short-handed strike from Daniel Ciampini.
Steelers’ previous visit to Fife in December brought a 5-1 victory but head coach Aaron Fox – whose team have shut out the Flyers twice on home ice in the league this year – is not about to take Todd Dutiaume’s team lightly.
"They’ve played us well up there so far this season for the most part of two games,” said Fox. “They won both games at the weekend, too, so they’ll be going into this game felling pretty good about their own game.
“They are probably looking at us as a team that isn’t feeling that great about their game, with the loss to Guildford and with how we played on Saturday against Glasgow, so they will see this as an opportunity to make a good impression.
“But, like I’ve said many times, I feel like if we’re on our game and playing confident, good, four-line hockey I like our chances against anybody.”
At stake is a place in the final against either Belfast Giants or Guildford Flames – two of the three teams along with Cardiff Devils, battling for the league title with the Steelers.
The outcome of that semi-final will be known tonight as the two contest the second leg at the Odyssey Arena, with Adam Keefe’s already 4-0 ahead from the first leg at Guildford’s Spectrum pad last Wednesday.
So far, the Challenge Cup is Fox’s only silverware with the Steelers, his team beating Cardiff in the 2019-20 final, a week before Covid brought about an early end to the season.
It is a feeling he would like to repeat and the expectations are on his team to reach the final again, a pressure that Fox embraces and one he was fully aware of from the first interview he had with owner Tony Smith when applying for the job back in the Spring of 2019.
"We know the stakes,” added Fox. “You can look at this as being three wins away from a trophy right now and that’s got to be our mindset.
"Expectations are high here, of course they are, that was one of the things which drew me to this city and this organisation, the opportunity to put together a team to win each and every year.”