Saturday’s road game in Dundee is sandwiched between two Challenge Cup fixtures.
Last night at home to Coventry and Sunday’s crucial fixture against the old enemy Nottingham – crucial you say? But the Steelers are almost guaranteed a place in the quarter-finals already.
The answer of course is, yes if a place in the last eight is good enough for you then it’s not important let alone crucial. For the Steelers though the quarter-finals aren’t good enough and the planning for further progression rounds and the best route to the final started last night against the Blaze and will continue on Sunday with the Panthers.
It’s not good enough for Sheffield to finish in the top four and just proceed. They need to finish as high up their Challenge Cup group as possible so ensuring the best (seeded) route to further rounds.
Do you really want to risk finishing fourth and playing Belfast in the quarter-finals? That’s a game of roulette that could go one way or the other.
Steelers have no divine right to beat any team but a quarter-final against a Dundee or Fife would also suggest a safe passage over two legs. It would also set up a semi-final against a team that had finished below them in the original Challenge Cup Groupings.
They should look just 40 miles down the road to the Nottingham Panthers for confirmation of this policy. For the last three seasons they took the Cup as seriously as it could be taken and blew away all-comers in the early round robin stages.
This ensured they were seeded first and benefited from that as the progression rounds followed. Steelers have three wins from three games and have an ideal opportunity to do something similar in this year’s competition. Two wins against Coventry and Nottingham would certainly assist and ensure home advantage in the second leg of progression games.
The Cup is the Panthers’ trophy as they’ve lifted it for the last three years. Others have looked down on the trophy but tell that to the 6,500 that packed into the NIC in Nottingham on finals day, to them it was the Stanley Cup. We in Sheffield must follow their lead and treat these games as do or die, and then celebrate the victories and hopefully the raising of the cup and the banners.
Saying that, the trickiest game of the weekend could be Saturday’s visit to Dundee. They are unbeaten in their last seven home games, mainly due to the outstanding form of their new goalie Riopel. A 94 saves percentage suggests that the Steelers will have to dig deep and find some offence. The Stars also boast a stunning first line of former Nottingham forward Sami Ryhnanan and ex-Braehead Mike Wiril who have already combined for 52 points in just 16 games.
It’s proof again, if ever you needed it, that the new conference style Elite league is far more competitive from top to bottom than anyone had ever given it credit for. No longer are any games just taken as walkovers which is how we, the on-lookers and the supporters of the game, want it.
Another big crowd is expected on Sunday for the first game that Tom Sestito will have played against Nottingham. Expect fireworks, expect passion and excitement as these two old foes battle it out once again.
This time it’s not just for bragging rights, it’s for positioning in the final tags of the Challenge Cup. The game will have real meaning on many levels. See you there for the 5pm face off.