How are battered Sheffield Steelers still in contention? True grit!
It is the question that Sheffield Steelers, their fans and some rivals keep asking: how is the club still in the hunt for the League title?
The South Yorkshire side are a good bet for the title with five games remaining, two against Fife Flyers, and one against Coventry Blaze, both teams in the bottom half of the table.
Title rivals Cardiff’s last five matches must include three games with third-placed Belfast, who are on fire at the moment.
And Cardiff’s 6-1 loss at Nottingham Panthers last night seems a hammer blow to their confidence and their chances.
Yet considering Steelers’ recent record of results and catalogue of illness and injuries, it is pretty baffling they are still in with a shout.
In cup and League competitions, Sheffield have lost nine of their last 16 games.
They have only won two consecutive games twice during their last dozen.
It is hardly the consistency you associate with silverware.
And they go into tonight’s home game with Fife Flyers without suspended Guillaume Desbiens and injured Colton Fretter.
Rob Dowd is back but after 16 games out, will only be ‘spotted’ in.
still, it’s a welcome return.
So let’s review the side that will go out there on Saturday.
Star man Mathieu Roy has had upper body injuries for months, he shares a line with Levi Nelson, who has suffered illness and, arguably, form issues since Dowd was injured, and Tyler Mosienko.
The second line of Conny Stromberg (aged 40) Jeff Legue (34) and Frerick Vestberg (33) aggregates a heady 107 years in total. Good players and dependable servants to the club, but a line clearly at the latter stages of its career.
And then there is the third unit. Coach Paul Thompson this week referred to the ‘ageing’ British players on that formation - Jason Hewitt is 32 and Jonathan Phillips a year older.
Veterans maybe - but they can still do a job.
Then Steelers have a defenceman icing with, it is rumoured, not one, but two fractured hands.
It doesn’t sound all that promising.
But the fact remains Steelers have remained joint top as other sides have fallen off - Cardiff and Nottingham who met last night had previously dropped important games.
Braehead blew it a while ago.
While Steelers will always be expected to beat any Fife team at home, the fact remains Sheffield are not as good a team without Desbiens, Fretter and a fit Dowd.
If they are to win any game - let alone a title - without their big power winger and best shooter, they will have to rely on that grit they have shown at times earlier in the season.
Fife have fit imports and the confidence which comes with being top of the Gardiner Conference, although they did lose 4-1 at home to Belfast on Tuesday.
While many Steeler fans have been weaned on success over the years, they can no longer expect it as a right. The League is too competitive and this year, wildly unpredictable.
But at least Sheffield’s goaltending has improved in recent weeks, and the side will be better rested to go again in this gruelling, marathon of a season.
Anything could happen - and with Steelers it normally does.