SHEFFIELD Steelers can be forgiven for being a tad envious of Nottingham Panthers when their biggest rivals roll into town on Sunday.
Not only are Panthers leading the race for the league title, but they are selling more tickets than anyone else too.
Sheffield owner Tony Smith said: “Nottingham are the bench mark at the moment. Our average gate is around 4,400 and they are just ahead of us both in numbers and, ofcourse, in league points.
“They are slightly dearer than us but you could argue the fact that they are in the city centre where there are other attractions while we are sort of out on a limb. But you have to compliment Neil Black for what he has done.”
So can Steelers catch up Panthers - at least in the title race, where Black’s club have a seven points advantage over third-place Sheffield?
“I think that this weekend is huge” said Smith. “It will pretty much determine who will win the title.
“If we beat Coventry Blaze tomorrow and Nottingham on Sunday we will really be on their heels and Nottingham will know we have got their number.
“Nottingham have got used to going ahead in games and winning - but if they go behind, it might be a different matter.”
Steelers sold 8,126 tickets for the December 27 meeting with Panthers - traditionally the biggest gate of the campaign. They expect to an attendance of around 6,000 on Sunday.
Steelers will have to control the points-machine that is 38-year-old ex NHLer David Ling.
He scored four goals against Cardiff Devils last weekend and has 54 points from 33 league games.
Smith also commented on an apparently negative remark from winger Tom Sestito, who played 17 games for the club before returning to NHL Philadelphia Flyers.
Sestito had tweeted that he had not received his last week’s pay cheque.
Smith said that the player was actually owed three days pay - but, as is the practice with all players, this was being withheld until all utility and bills which he is responsible for were resolved.
“Tom is a good guy, he deserves his shot in the big time. He spent as much time with our fans as any player did and we wish him well for the future” said the owner.