Sheffield Steelers: Davey Phillips says long way to go in Elite League title race with Belfast Giants

THERE’S no doubt this weekend’s double-header between Sheffield Steelers and Belfast Giants will have some kind of a say in the destination of the Elite League regular season title.

Sheffield Steelers' defenceman, Davey Phillips, left. Picture: Dean Woolley/EIHL.
Sheffield Steelers' defenceman, Davey Phillips, left. Picture: Dean Woolley/EIHL.

But, given Aaron Fox’s team have 14 games in total remaining, sit just two points behind leaders Belfast with a game in hand and – most importantly – have to face-off against them three more times after this weekend, it is not the all-or-nothing scenario some may believe it is ahead of the first puck dropping at the SSE Arena on Friday.

Going into the two games, there is indeed some concern about the form of a Steelers team who have generally been the model of consistency all season, never losing twice in a row in the league all season until the past week.

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Three straight losses – once to Fife Flyers, twice to Dundee Stars, don’t scream championship-winning form and head coach Fox admitted after Sunday’s reverse in Tayside, that his players are not playing their best hockey at the moment.

Sheffield Steelers slipped to a third straight defeat at Dundee Stars on Sunday. Picure: Derek Black/EIHL.

But even in the two defeats to the Stars at the weekend, the Steelers still salvaged something, losing in a shoot-out on home ice before suffering an overtime reverse in Scotland.

As with all teams at some point during the course of any season, injuries are playing a part – four first-choice players were missing all weekend – but the Steelers have been able to bring bodies in, with two imports arriving ahead of the Dundee double-header.

And while there is an element of frustration at an uncharacteristic poor run of form – albeit a short one – defenceman Dave Phillips insists there is no cause for doom and gloom.

“On the whole, I think you can say this has been a good season so far,” said the 34-year-old defenceman. “Apart from getting knocked out of the Challenge Cup the way we did – that was majorly disappointing, especially given that it was at home in front of our own fans.

Sheffield Steelers' head coach, Aaron Fox. Picture: Dean Woolley/EIHL.

“But, overall, so far we have been good – we’ve been really consistent. It’s literally these past couple of weeks where we’ve had a blip when we have lost two, three in a row.

“Previously this season we’ve kind of lost a game, but always come back and won the next one and then, quite often, gone on a run of winning six, seven or eight games or so. I just see this is as a bit of a blip.

“It happens to every team throughout the course of the season, in any sport. If a team can go through a full season and, say, lose one game, then win six or eight, lose one game, win six or eight again, then that’s a team that is always going to be in with a chance of winning something.”

Phillips acknowledges this weekend is crucial for the Steelers’ title hopes, but is also quick to point out that there remains plenty of hockey to play once they return home to South Yorkshire.

“These are two big games, obviously,” he added. “Even if we hadn’t dropped the points that we have recently, we’ve still got to go and beat Belfast if we want to achieve anything.

“We had a bit of a points cushion a while back but we always knew that we would still have to beat them. There are still plenty of games to come after this weekend. Realistically, we need to bring back two points from Belfast, halve the weekend. That would be the minimum but, even so, there’s still a long way to go.

“We still feel like we are in control of our own destiny, we’re neck and neck with them and there is still a lot of hockey to come, including against them.”

Phillips and his team-mates are aware of the expectations on their shoulders having got themselves into the title-contending position they have.

It’s a pressure that has followed the Hull-born D-man around most of his career, having also spent four seasons playing for the Giants, his time in Northern Ireland bringing a wealth of success, including an EIHL championship, two Conference titles and two cups.

“The expectations are similar to how things are here in Sheffield,”explained the GB international. “They are a big club, they’ve got a big arena and they have plenty of loyal fans who want to see a winning team.

“Since they first came into the league 20 or so years ago, they’ve always had good teams, the same as in Sheffield.

“You’re talking about two clubs that have got used to success over the years – it is expected.

“I loved my time playing over there. They are really nice people and the club is first class, the way they look after players. They treat you like you are one of their own I’ve still got lots of friends there, friends for life.”