Sheffield Steelers coach Aaron Fox reveals which players he hopes to have back for Belfast Giants Elite League double-header

AARON FOX says he will make game-day decisions on the fitness of Sheffield Steelers forwards Marc-Olivier Vallerand and captain Jonathan Phillips ahead of their crunch double-header with Belfast Giants.

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

The Steelers head to Northern Ireland on Friday for two games against the team who usurped them as Elite League leaders last weekend, the Steelers in the midst of an uncharacteristic three-game winless streak, while the Giants are on a roll, winning their last nine league games.

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Two points separate the two, the Steelers also having a game in hand. Having met only once previously this season - the away double-header was postponed from earlier in the season due to Covid - the Steelers and the Giants will lock horns five times between now and the end of the season.

Three of the Steelers’ last four games are against Belfast, Fox’s team wrapping up their regular season campaign with another trip to the SSE Arena on Friday, April 15.

Fox acknowledges his team’s current mini-slump - defeat at Fife Flyers followed by a double-header loss to Dundee Stars - is not ideal timing, but believes they have the quality and the character to battle through it and maintain their push for a first EIHL regular season championship since 2016 right through to the end.

“It would have been a little unrealistic of us to think that we wouldn’t have some sort of down part of the year,” said Fox. “Obviously it’s not great timing right now, this down part of the year that we’re on, but we’ve had a couple of good days here now and we’ve been able to give a couple of guys a couple of extra days rest with there being no midweek game.

“We’ve been running pretty thin, we’ve had some injured bodies playing games, some guys out of our line-up so, hopefully, we’ll get closer to a full, healthy team by Friday.”

Marc-Olivier Vallerand will be the subject of a game-day decision on his fitness for Sheffield Steelers' clash at EIHL title rivals, Belfast Giants. Picture: Dean Woolley

Phillips missed the two losses to Dundee Stars at the weekend and is racing to be fit in time for Friday night’s clash, as is fellow forward Marc-Olivier Vallerand, who has not iced for the Steelers since the 5-3 loss at Glasgow Clan on February 16.

“Vally had a decent skate on Wednesday, the same with Jonno and we’ll give them another load before Friday,” added Fox.

“Whether one or two of them are in our line-up, I dont think you’ll get them in at 100 per cent but I do feel like it would be a big boost to get Vally back in our line-up just because of the goalscoring ability he brings, the straight line speed he brings.

“The one thing about Vally that doesn’t get a lot of recognition is that he is a really, really solid defensive forward too.

Captain Jonathan Phillips missed Sheffield Steelers' two losses to Dundee Stars last weekend Picture: Dean Woolley

“Then you’ve got Jonno the leader who has played through some crazy stuff the last five weeks that we didn’t even know about. Man, he’s a warrior that guy and he’s chomping at the bit to get back and lead this team through the weekend too.”