Sheffield Steelers believe the Elite League title is “Braehead Clan’s to lose.”
Senior official Dave Simms says that if the reigning champions drop points when they play Coventry Blaze this weekend, it will further Braehead’s advantage in the hunt for the championship.
Simms is of the view - and one which is bitterly contested north of the border - that Clan benefit from playing in an “easier” Conference where they can pick up more points from so-called inferior opposition.
Whatever the strength of his argument, the fact is that Clan are in third place, five points behind leaders Cardiff Devils, with four games in hand.
Simms said: “To win the League this year we have to be at least one point ahead of Braehead. With the easier nature of the Gardiner Conference and the run-in they have, the League is their’s to lose.
“They choked last year at the end of the campaign, but there is no doubt they will be in a stronger position this year.
“Ofcourse we target the likes of Nottingham Panthers, Belfast Giants and Cardiff, but staying above Braehead is the single most significant factor.”
Steelers will be pursuing four points from this weekend’s back-to-back games with Coventry.
There is a tiny chance that goalie Marek Pinc will be available, but Guillaume Desbiens is definitely out, along with Robert Dowd and Colton Fretter.
There is a noticeable feel-good factor in the Sheffield camp after the midweek testimonial event for Jason Hewitt.
Former import wing Colt King described him as “the glue” that holds the side together and says he “keeps guys honest” in the dressing room and out on the ice.
Wednesday 27th January
Challenge Cup Quarter Final 2nd Leg
Braehead Clan 3 v Nottingham Panthers 5
(Nottingham Panthers win 10-7 on aggregate)
Cardiff Devils 7 Dundee Stars 6
(Cardiff Devils win 10-6 on aggregate)
Friday 29th January
Braehead Clan v Fife Flyers – 7.30pm
Saturday 30th January
Fife Flyers v Belfast Giants – 7.15pm
Manchester Storm v Edinburgh Capitals – 6.30pm
Nottingham Panthers v Cardiff Devils – 7.00pm
Sheffield Steelers v Coventry Blaze – 7.00pm
Sunday 31st January
Belfast Giants v Nottingham Panthers – 5.00pm
Cardiff Devils v Edinburgh Capitals – 6.00pm
Coventry Blaze v Sheffield Steelers – 5.15pm
Dundee Stars v Manchester Storm – 6.30pm
Fife Flyers v Braehead Clan – 6.30pm