Steeldogs’ Payette promises play-off scrap

SHEFFIELD Steeldogs’ head coach Andre Payette has promised an intense, physical clash when his team take on newly-crowned EPL champions Manchester Phoenix in the play-off quarter-finals this weekend.

The Steeldogs first host Phoenix on Saturday night (7.30pm) before travelling to Altrincham for the second leg on Sunday.

Phoenix have won all six regular season games between the two sides as well as the pre-season ‘War of the Roses’ but Payette - a former Phoenix player - believes it will prove different in the play-offs.

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“We’ll have a full squad and we’re really looking forward to it,” he said.

“It’s going to be a real competitive weekend and we have a few tricks up our sleeve - in the play-offs you do anything to win.”

Payette’s side showed signs of their new, more combative style in the 4-1 defeat to Basingstoke last Sunday when, first, Craig Elliott fought former Steeler Nicky Chinn before man of the match Lewis Bell dropped the gloves with Chris Wiggins.

“It’s going to be real physical hockey and I don’t think Manchester are going to like playing us,” said Payette.

“We have to think defence first. We have, I think, the best goalie in the league. We have a pretty solid ‘D’ and we have to work from the back end,” he said.

Payette - who took over the player-coach role when former head coach Matt Darlow was axed midway through the season - believes his young team possess enough skill and determination to cause an upset this weekend to qualify for the ‘final four weekend’ in Coventry on April 9-10.

“Of course we’re the underdogs,“ added Payette who found out he would be eligible to play in the double-header after league bosses cleared all outstanding penalty minutes so players can start from scratch in the play-offs.

“They’ve just won the league and we finished eighth. But we have a good, hard-working team and we know our fans are going to support us and we’re going to have a good weekend.

“I think we can do it. We’re really looking forward to the challenge. I can’t wait.”

The Steeldogs are expecting a bumper crowd for the home leg at Ice Sheffield and hope tickets will sell out.

Many of the fans who turn up will be expecting a renewal of the tussles between Payette and Phoenix’s ’enforcer’ Andrew Sharp, which have dominated recent meetings between the two teams.