Sheffield Steelers ready for battle-royale at Nottingham Panthers
Sheffield Steelers recognise a key advantage Nottingham have at this stage of the season - but are pretty sure they can do something to prevent the Panthers bandwagon rolling on towards further silverware this season.
Nottingham won the first title of the season, the Challenge Cup, at Sheffield Arena on Sunday, using their depth to eventually master Cardiff Devils.
“To have four lines firing away at this time of the season is an important asset” says Sheffield coach Paul Thompson.
“They showed that depth on Sunday when they used it against a Cardiff side that tired and, like us, has been playing a lot of hockey.
“But we will have Guillaume Desbiens back on Saturday (at Nottingham) and be in a position to have four blocks of wingers and three centremen.
On top of that Colton Fretter has made some progress in his rehabilitation (groin) and we will see how he goes. He badly wants to come back.”
While the League title could end up just about anywhere in the top five, Thompson says his own men have only themselves to worry about.
“It is up to us. If Cardiff win out and we win out, Cardiff will come top because of regulation time wins - but they play Belfast Giants three times: will they really win all three of those?
“Games at Nottingham are always great affairs, a full house, plenty of passion. We have won in that building, and there has been some good games. But we have got to want it more on Saturday. This is going to be about what we do, not about anybody else.”
On Sunday, Steelers host Coventry Blaze, who have presented something of a stumbling block to Sheffield this season.
“They are fighting for eighth place while we are battling for the ultimate prize - we have just got to show up and be men” said Thompson.
“Our focus this week is to practice and prepare for those two matches.
“At times we’ve been hanging in there (near the top of the league) and now we intend to enjoy the run-in. If they’d had said back in August that with four games left we would be two points clear at the top of the table we’d have taken it!”
Great Britain’s squad for April’s World Championship in Zagreb includes a slot for Luke Ferrara, who has had a fine first-full Steelers season. GB regulars Robert Dowd, Ben O’Connor and Jonathan Phillips also made it.
The squad will be cut to 28 for the pre-World Championship training camp which will get under way on 6th April 2016 and will include two games against Poland, taking place at the National Ice Centre in Nottingham and Coventry’s Skydome.
A final 23-man squad for the World Championship will be named after the two games against Poland.
GB will face hosts Croatia in the Division 1B tournament from 17th to 23rd April, as well as Estonia, Lithuania, Romania and Ukraine.
THE 37-MAN SQUAD
Josh Batch - Cardiff Devils
Ben Bowns (N/M) - Cardiff Devils
Jonathan Boxill - Belfast Giants
David Clarke - Nottingham Panthers
Russell Cowley - Coventry Blaze
Jordan Cownie - Milton Keynes Lightning
Ben Davies - Braehead Clan
Matty Davies - Manchester Storm
Robert Dowd - Sheffield Steelers
Robert Farmer - Nottingham Panthers
Luke Ferrara - Sheffield Steelers
Mark Garside - Belfast Giants
James Griffin - Milton Keynes Lightning
Matt Haywood - Braehead Clan
Lewis Hook - Milton Keynes Lightning
Robert Lachowicz - Nottingham Panthers
Steve Lee - Nottingham Panthers
Joey Lewis - Heilbronner Falken
Stevie Lyle (N/M) - Swindon Wildcats
Craig Moore - Dundee Stars
Evan Mosey - Nottingham Panthers
Thomas Murdy (N/M) - Telford Tigers
Stephen Murphy (N/M) - Belfast Giants
Matthew Myers - Nottingham Panthers
Sam Oakford - Nottingham Panthers
Ben O’Connor - Sheffield Steelers
Craig Peacock - Belfast Giants
David Phillips - Manchester Storm
Jonathan Phillips - Sheffield Steelers
Mark Richardson - Cardiff Devils
Colin Shields - Belfast Giants
Zach Sullivan - Braehead Clan
Paul Swindlehurst - Manchester Storm
Ashley Tait - Coventry Blaze
Ross Venus - Coventry Blaze
Jonathan Weaver - Telford Tigers
Mike Will (N/M) - Cardiff Devils