ICE hockey’s top six Brits will play a huge part in the title race this weekend.
League leaders Sheffield Steelers take on closest contenders Belfast Giants tonight and fourth place Nottingham Panthers tomorrow, trying to claw their way to the Elite League title.
The fact that home-grown players are such an influence in the fate of games and titles is testament to the strides made since the Superleague days when the quality of imports almost exclusively dictated who won what.
Top Brit, in terms of points, is Panthers’ David Clarke, who has 72 points from 56 games. He is followed by Steelers pair Ashley Tait and Rob Dowd – Tait the winger who has seen it and done it all before and Dowd the apprentice who seems destined for a star-studded future.
Nottingham’s Matt Myers, Belfast’s mercurial Colin Shields and Sheffield terrier Jason Hewitt form the rest of the nation’s top six.
In goal for Giants, Scots-born Stephen Murphy is leading the league in goals-against averages, a fraction above Sheffield’s Ervins Mustukovs.
One British Steeler out of the scoring limelight is workhorse Jonathan Phillips. He has had less ice time since returning from serious injury.
On Thursday, Giants moved to within three points of Sheffield with a 6-3 home win over Hull Stingrays. Hull, missing five players, managed only 18 shots. The win used up Giants’ game in hand – but was their 11th straight win.
Sheffield player coach Ben Simon – who has scored five in his last six games – will lead the charge to try and ensure that does not become 12, this evening.
With six games left, Giants coach Doug Christiansen describes tonight as “a massive game”.