Sheffield Steelers’ owner Tony Smith has called on his players to rediscover the passion and appetite that took them to the top of the table before a disastrous festive period slump.
Four successive defeats saw the side go from top to fourth spot in the Elite League, with Nottingham (Saturday’s visitors) just a point behind them in the standings.
Smith believes the four defeats were a blip - but he also accepts that may have been caused by a dip in commitment from some players.
Smith said: “I remember a while ago when Ryan Finnerty was here, and his team suddenly played without passion. He immediately ordered his guys to throw something like 60 hits a game, 20 in each period. It seemed a bit extreme but Finner could see what I was after and the passion came back. Right now our passion and aggression seems to have gone. The players have to stand up and be counted. Are they giving it everything? I don’t think some of them are.”
Coach Gerad Adams accused some of his squad of being “incredibly weak, mentally” after the fourth loss on the bounce.
Smith agreed: “I think we are weak mentally. Yet they are grown men, many of them with experience of hockey in the best leagues in the world. It is something that has been creeping in, which wasn’t there at the start of the season when we were a tough, quick and entertaining unit.
“Some players have got into a comfort zone, here. The club looks after its players as well as some of the bigger football teams do - nice houses, cars etc.
“Maybe it is a club failing, making it too comfortable. They like being here, but seem to forget why they are here: to play fast, entertaining, aggressive hockey.
“These are the same players that had the place buzzing at the start of the season - we need to see the four defeats as a blip and start doing what we did before.”
Steelers take a de-tour from League action on Thursday, when they travel to Dundee Stars, for a Challenge Cup Quarter Final first leg.
They then face Nottingham on Saturday and are at Coventry Blaze on Sunday.
“From Thursday onwards we have to find that winning mentality again” said Smith.
“Gerad had the players in on Monday (normal day off) to address the problems of having one or two players who have taken their eye off the puck.”
Meanwhile Mathieu Roy could be back, at Dundee, after all, despite lung issues.
He was kept in hospital at Belfast on Saturday, but fears that he’d suffered a collapsed lung were discounted.
Adams said: “He is our hardest working forward so as soon as he’s fit we need him back.”
* Pete Russell has been appointed as the new head coach of Great Britain Men’s team.
The 40-year-old, who won gold with GB Under-20s last month to lead them back into Division 1B of the IIHF U20 World Championship, replaces ex Steelers boss Doug Christiansen.