It’s the business end of the year, that important time when minds are focussed on championships, where players have to dig that extra bit deeper and show us that they’re winners.
For the Steelers it’s the start of a brutal spell of fixtures that will determine if Ryan Finnerty can defy all the odds and, in his first year, deliver a championship that was totally unexpected in August.
They play 11 games in just 22 days in February starting with two home games at the Motorpoint Arena this weekend, against Hull Stingrays on Saturday and the present table toping Belfast Giants 24 hours later.
The schedule is crippling but Ryan refuses to use it as an excuse. “If we’re good enough we’ll win, if we don’t we won’t use any excuses, the schedule being one of them,” he said.
“It will be a tough ask and we hope the hockey Gods take care of us. The schedule only causes you an issue if we start to lose guys to injury and have to play short; staying healthy is the key for the next few weeks.”
The man they call the British Bulldog, Jason Hewitt shares Finnerty’s approach: “I’d rather play than practice” he said.
“The schedule is only an excuse if your looking for one and we aren’t.
“If you think about it too much it will kill you, so we don’t think any further than one game at a time.
“I don’t want to go to bed on Sunday having beaten the Giants but not taken the Stingrays seriously enough and lost to them. That’s a bad weekend. I’ll think about Belfast after the final hooter against Hull,” he added.
Steelers fans will get their first look at new signing Nick Duff. The D man has played four games already but all have been on the road. “I’ve heard so much about playing at the Arena from the rest of the guys that I can’t wait,” he said.
“I’ve come into a team with a great spirit, a great desire and a will to win. They have welcomed me with open arms, now it’s my turn to try and repay that with some good performances starting this weekend at home.
“I’m looking forward to both games. You realise in Sheffield that second best isn’t an option; that only your best will do. Well the fans will have the whole team giving their best on both Saturday and Sunday I guarantee you that,” he added.
The advantage the Steelers have is that they’ve players that have been there and done it before. Forward Jeff Legue is one and his goals are once again so important in this run in.
He said: “We have won when we were front runners and we have won when we have been chasing. The key is not to get carried away, don’t get taken in with all the talk of championships and we don’t. We don’t think about it, we don’t talk about; we just get on with the job and see where it takes us.
“It does focus your mind that every game, no matter who it’s against, is equally as important. So Hull on Saturday is equally as important as Belfast on Sunday.”
See you at the Arena this weekend: Saturday: Steelers v Hull Stingrays (7pm); Sunday: Steelers v Belfast Giants (5pm). Arena Box Office: 0114 2565656