Simon looking for Steelers to stay fit and healthy

WHILE the finishing touches were put to the deal which will enable Paul Ragan to take control of the Sheffield Steelers on Thursday, player-coach Ben Simon continued with his preparations for what is potentially a make-or-break week for his title-chasing team.

It's anticipated that the arrival of Ragan as the club's new owner will help boost ticket sales over the 6,000 mark for Boxing Day's Sheffield Arena clash with rivals Nottingham Panthers.

The following day's clash at the NIC is expected to attract more than 7,000 fans as the race for the Elite League title enters the second half of the season.

Steelers then face a difficult double-header against 2009-10 league champions Coventry Blaze later in the week. The most recent meeting between the two sides saw Simon's team clinch a hard-fought 3-2 victory.

Belfast Giants remain top of the table, seven points ahead of Steelers, Nottingham and second-placed Cardiff Devils who edged ahead of their rivals on points difference with a 4-1 win at home to Hull Stingrays on Wednesday night.

Coventry – who have already lost eight games – are in danger of losing touch with the top four, currently sitting eight points behind Cardiff, Steelers and Nottingham, who are all tied on 38 points.

Steelers will go into the Panthers double-header without defenceman Steve Munn, who is still recovering from the concussion he suffered in the recent 3-2 defeat at Cardiff.

Simon - who has provisionally agreed to return to the club for next season – admitted the four games in eight days faced by his players could prove pivotal.

"I think it's a very big week for us," said Simon. "I've said before that the team which stays fit and healthy the most will win the title.

"Doing that is probably even more important over this next week or so."

Simon said he had been impressed with Ragan - who also runs elite League rivals Cardiff Devils - over recent days and was looking forward to help him build up the club's attendance figures to the heights of previous years.

"He has great intentions and is very excited about what he wants to do with this team," added Simon.

"He wants to create awareness around the city and get more people coming to games to try and get it back to the level that it was a few years ago.

"There is so much potential to fill that arena and Paul has proved already that he has a history of going in and turning businesses around.

"They (the new owners) seem very happy with the job I am doing which is always nice to know. Of course I'm delighted that they want me to return.

"I've told them that I'm happy to do so and after the holiday period we will sit down properly and move forward."

While Steelers will be without Munn, and captain Jonathan Phillips (knee) Nottingham will also be depleted with defenceman Danny Meyers and Alex Penner suspended following the infamous bench clearance brawl at Coventry earlier this month.

There are also doubts over the fitness of Panthers' netminder Craig Kowalski (groin) who was injured in the same match.