DESPITE whatever predictions have been made of a Mayan-style apocalypse, the world will probably not end if Sheffield Steelers fail to win all their matches over the Christmas and New Year period.
But Ryan Finnerty’s men will probably have to write off pretentions of winning the League title if they don’t emerge with the lion’s share of points from their eight league games in 16 days, starting tonight at Hull Stingrays and then hosting Belfast Giants on Sunday.
Sheffield have struggled against some smaller-budget teams this season, but should have too much for Hull. And away-form has not been a problem. Second-place Belfast, at home, tomorrow will, perhaps, bring more of challenge.
Giants will arguably be more rested than Steelers - they played last night at home to Coventry Blaze but have no game tonight.
Sheffield coach Ryan Finnerty said: “I think Sunday will be a battle of two similar teams. Like us they work hard and most things that happen for them come from their work ethic and persistence.
“They press hard, they will try and force us up the ice which is good at last to have.
“So many of the other teams just sit back and ‘park the bus’ as they say over here. Belfast will force” added the Canadian.
“Special teams will be key, their power-play is potent especially if Robby Sandrock plays, everything goes through him on the Power Play.
“If we take penalties they had better be good ones, no silly offensive zones hooking minors on Sunday or I will be an unhappy coach.
“The two goalies are also key, can John DeCaro out-play Stephen Murphy?
“We think he can and he will. If he does we have a great chance to win the game. Our record against Belfast is good, when we have had success Johnny has been our best player.
“We have to be tight, physical and dominant. We had 54 hits against Dundee Stars on a night when we had the puck all night.
“We know Belfast will have more of it than Dundee did so again we have to aim for at least 60 hits. We have to make life uncomfortable for them in our barn.”
Defenceman Matt Stephenson isn’t concerned about the number of games heading his way over the next 16 days.
“Really, it is no different to last year” he said. “And we played with four defencemen for 20 games last year. But it won’t be a picnic. Nottingham Panthers (December 26 and 26 away and home) and Belfast (Steelers play them again on January 5) will be important games and we have to take advantage of them.”
* Belfast Giants beat Coventry Blaze 4-1 last night in the Elite League. Sam Roberts’ early opener was equalised by Brad Leeb but Noah Clarke, Gregory Stewart and Matt Towe secured victory for the Northern Irish team.