Dave Simms column: Now’s the time to bet on a home win...

Zack Fitzgerald - on a mission this weekend
Zack Fitzgerald - on a mission this weekend
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Both the Steelers twitter account and my self re-tweeted two interesting posts from commentator Jonathan Fearnley on Sunday

“The win percentage for home teams this season is up to 78%. It had been 62%, 62% and 61% in the previous 3 seasons (Conference era).”

“Home teams in the EIHL this season: 51-7-7. 109 points from a possible 130.”

Interesting reading and maybe something we should consider when discussing the form of Steelers especially on the road to date. Sixty-five Elite League games played and a record of 51 – 7 – 7 (or more simply that’s 109 out of 130 points earned) that’s a home win percentage of 78%. Put that into context, for the last three seasons the home win record was 62%, 62% and 61%.

Steelers’ own record mirrors those stats, in 12 league games Sheffield have dropped one point at home (a penalty shot loss to Edinburgh) winning 6 out of 7. On the road the story is different only collecting one victory (Dundee) and losing their four other road games in Cardiff, Nottingham, Belfast and last Sunday’s defeat in Edinburgh.

Its not just the Steelers, take Belfast Giants, Nottingham Panthers and Cardiff Devils. Belfast have played 9 road games and have lost a third of them. Panthers have played just two games away from Nottingham in the league and haven’t registered a regulation win in either. Cardiff have won all 8 of their home games and like Sheffield have just one win on the road out of five. Funny thing is that Devils have lost to Sheffield, Belfast, Nottingham and Edinburgh – the same teams Steelers have (plus Cardiff in reverse).

So rather than panic that Steelers are in trouble perhaps accept that the league is stronger. Also in my article four weeks ago I suggested that a team would lose 15 plus games this season to win the league.

Why is the league stronger this year? It’s a combination of things, firstly as a result of conferencing. Conferencing brought some financial reward to the lower placed teams, especially those in Scotland. More local derbies meant bigger crowds meant more financial income for those clubs to spend on their teams. Secondly the rise in import numbers. Now all teams can afford 13 good quality import players, in the past when there was say 10 they had to fill with young Brits that weren’t up to the challenge, the gap was too big to compete with the likes of Sheffield, Nottingham and Belfast who owned all the National Team lads.

Now a new club like Manchester with just three recognised, established British lads can compete because ahead of them are 13 quality players. Conferencing, though, brought the teams closer together not just through the amount of games played against each other but in terms of being able to afford to compete.

Edinburgh, the whipping boys so many times now don’t have to rely on little Jimmy McTavish on their third line, now they have an East Coast Hockey League player on it. Rather than some skilled Slovak they now have one of the top scores in the ECHL last season leading their charge.

The days of playing at home on a Saturday and then getting on a bus the next morning and driving to Dundee, Glasgow and Edinburgh and just expecting to bring back the points are long gone.

Every hockey fans wanted this five years ago, we all wanted more competition, we were all fed up of waking up on a Saturday and knowing the result of that night’s game before we got out of the house. Be careful what we wish for because it can come back and bite you .

So think before criticising your Steelers team now when they return from an away venture pointless. For sure be disappointed but remember none of us have a divine right. Every team in our league is a good one. Every team will beat one another. It’s sport and we love it.

It also means every weekend is a big one so a trip to Braehead on Saturday and a home game with Nottingham the following night takes on even more importance. The game in Glasgow will be Zack Fitzgerald first game back in Braehead since his summer move from the Clan. I still think to win the league title a finish one point above Braehead would be a good place to be. Their schedule to start the year was crazy from Braehead management.

Dundee on a Saturday, Cardiff on a Sunday? Then in Belfast on a Saturday and in Nottingham the next afternoon, by the way not by plane (Belfast to East Midlands) no by ferry and bus, do their owners want to win?

Sunday is game two of the league series between the two biggest clubs in the sport, Sheffield and Nottingham.

Panthers took game one two weeks ago and now it’s imperative we hit back on Sunday. David Ling returns to the Sheffield Arena for the first time and I sense he will be in the middle of it all once again on Sunday. Keep your eyes on Ling and Fitzgerald, there is no love lost there. It goes back to their time in North America and you could see two weeks ago that the flame still burns brightly. I can’t wait.