RYAN FINNERTY will look to his big game hunters tonight as Sheffield Steelers try and built a healthy first leg lead in the Challenge Cup final against Nottingham Panthers (7.30pm).
The coach knows that his top men must be at the peak of their best form if they are to give themselves a decent lead to take to Nottingham on Tuesday, April 2. “Nottingham will be riding high after winning the League, but we have matched up well against them this season, especially in our own rink,” said Finnerty. “Tonight, though, our best players have to be exactly that, our best players. We will need to produce our best game to have success.
“Jeff Legue is familiar with winning trophies like this here and we’ll be drawing on his experience. Simon Ferguson is becoming more consistent and is comfortable on the top line. Last weekend was probably the best I have seen of him.
“I have a ton off respect for the likes of Shawn Limpright and Steve Goertzen because they put in such huge minutes out there.
“Goertzen is the first over the boards when we are killing a five-on-three penalty and his positioning is so good - little things like that are invaluable.
“All those little things have to be right, but it’s not just the top players who have to perform.
“Our unsung heroes like Jason Hewitt and Jonathan Phillips must not concede any goals when they are out there - and if anything comes from them (offensively) it will be a bonus. We have to take control of the game and while we have to be assertive, we must remain on an even keel. We won’t be changing anything, we will play the way we are strongest.”
Inevitably, Panthers’ fans will be in party mood at the Arena, this evening. But Finnerty said: “Our players’ hangover associated with Nottingham winning the League has gone. We played pretty good hockey at Coventy (8-3 win; Saturday) and feel like we are getting back to our old style. We did it in spurts against Cardiff (4-3 win; Sunday) but it was an uneventful game, in comparison.”
Forward Scott Champagne will sit out again tonight, a healthy import scratch. Finnerty said: “His season is not over, he is part of our club and he is waiting in the wings for us to call if we need him. There is no tension involved in this, he and the boys understand that one has to sit out. There is a lot of hockey left to play; Scotty will get his chance.”
* Meanwhile, Steelers’ official Dave Simms has been on a self-imposed ‘hunger strike’ since Panthers won the League.
“It’s depressing I haven’t eaten since Friday lunch time,” he said on a film at thestar.co.uk/video. He speaks of the title being “surrendered” and former player David Longstaff wearing a black arm band in a game for Guildford Flames. But Simms feels redemption is at hand - as long as Sheffield overcomes Nottingham in the Final.
* Steelers’ d-man Chris Frank is helping organise a charity bowling night for the homeless, at Hollywood Bowl, Valley Centertainment, on Thursday, March 28 (7pm). Funds raised will go towards refurbishing Roundabout’s hostel for homeless youths.