Steelers take the hard route in bid to end Panthers’ Cup dominance

THERE ARE plenty of people who will have already written off Sheffield Steelers ahead of tonight’s Challenge Cup semi-final, second leg at the National Ice Centre - but that’s probably the way they prefer it.
Gerad Adams: Sheffield Steelers' head coach hopes his team can secure a place in the Challenge Cup Final.Gerad Adams: Sheffield Steelers' head coach hopes his team can secure a place in the Challenge Cup Final.
Gerad Adams: Sheffield Steelers' head coach hopes his team can secure a place in the Challenge Cup Final.

Trailing 3-1 to arch-rivals Nottingham Panthers after last Thursday’s first leg at the Motorpoint Arena, Gerad Adams’s team have given themselves a mountain to climb, particularly against opponents who have won the competition for the last five years running.

In four visits to the East Midlands this season, the Steelers have won only once, although with that solitary success coming on their most recent trip down the M1, they will be confident of repeating it tonight (7.30pm).

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Steelers’ captain Jonathan Phillips felt his team were unlucky to come off second best in front of their own fans last time out and is determined to turn things around in front of a hostile crowd.

“We made two mistakes in that first period and they capitalised on both of them,” said Phillips, who led his team to a 5-4 overtime victory at Belfast Giants on Sunday night.

“If we had managed to come through that first period unscathed then I’m convinced it would have been a totally different story. We dominated for large chunks of that game, but we’ve left ourselves with a lot do.

“But it’s certainly not over and we fancy our chances and it helps us going in knowing that we were finally able to get a win there the last time we went.

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“We’ve got a full 60 minutes to turn it around, not just one or two periods. We’ve been playing well recently and we’re confident we can do what we need to.”

Steelers are likely to leave a decision on their starting goalie for tonight as late as possible again with all three options - Frank Doyle (hand), Josh Unice (head) and Geoff Woolhouse (groin) - carrying an injury.

Former Panthers netminder Woodhouse drew high praise from Adams after playing through the pain in both weekend’s games after pulling his groin early on in Saturday’s 2-1 home defeat to Coventry Blaze.

Nottingham will go into the game hurting from a weekend which yielded no points after defeats to Coventry Blaze and Cardiff Devils, results that left them nine points behind Elite League leaders Braehead Clan and, with nine games of the regular season remaining, six adrift of second-placed Steelers.

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With their hopes of repeating their league title success of 2013 fading fast, it will give Corey Neilson’s even more reason to focus keenly on a competition they have won for six out of the last seven years and eight times in all.

But with the final scheduled for the Motorpoint Arena on March 8, the Steelers have reason enough to book their place and finally bring an end to Nottingham’s domination of the competition.