Payback time for Sheffield Steelers

Mark Thomas in action

Mark Thomas in action

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The fixture list has conjured up a bizarre twist for Sheffield Steelers as they attempt to cruise towards the later stages of Play Off hockey.

For the past two years, Steelers haven’t made the finals, having been knocked out unexpectedly by Coventry Blaze and Hull Stingrays.

A quirk of the programming has installed both those teams as Steelers opponents in this weekend’s end of regular season games.

Defenceman Mark Thomas, who has returned from a back injury would like to see an element of pay-back when they meet Blaze tomorrow and Stingrays on Sunday.

“It will be in the back of our minds that these two teams have previously put us out the competition” said the blue-liner. We have to play well against them and set a tone as we head towards the quarter finals. Both of these last two League games are going to feel like Play Offs.”

Thomas recalled that Hull had recently put five past Sheffield, while Coventry, have a reputation as a dangerous offensive side.

“They are both tough opponents, but we have players in our side who have a special presence at this time of year.

“Steve Goertzen plays the game in a hard, physical way and is a great leader, while Jeff Legue has a knack of coming up with big goals in big games” said Thomas.

Blaze beat Nottingham Panthers 4-3 last Sunday and in Ryan Ginand they have the League’s most explosive forward with 97 points in 58 appearances.

*Hull Stingrays player-coach Sylvain Cloutier believes Sunday’s final-day decider with Steelers at Hull Arena is one of the biggest games in the club’s history.

A bumper crowd is anticipated as Stingrays look to secure a play-off place but know even a victory may not guarantee them extending their season.

Two years ago Stingrays produced one of the biggest upsets in British ice hockey by knocking Steelers out of the play-offs to reach the final four weekend in Nottingham.

A semi-final defeat to eventual champions Nottingham Panthers saw Stingrays’ dream come to an end but Cloutier feels Sunday’s game is just as huge.

The 40-year-old said: “We all know what the game means. If we play our game and play the way we can we will give ourselves a chance.

“We have a lot of experience in the team and these are the games you want to play in. It will be like a Game Seven, there will be a full house and it is going to be a fun game to play in.

“No-one gave us a chance to get to the final four but looking back I think we were just happy to be there. This game is just as big and we all know what is at stake. Hopefully we can get some help from the hockey gods.”

* Meanwhile Sheffield Steeldogs hope to arrest a horrible run of results with a home win against Slough Jets tomorrow. The EPL side have lost their last eight games.