Andre Payette - one of the hardest players to have played at the top level in Britain - believes Sheffield Steelers will more than hold their own in the physical stakes this season.
Payette, Canadian player-coach of Sheffield Steeldogs, faced the Elite League side last Tuesday in an iceSheffield derby friendly and has practised with Steelers a dozen times or so.
His own EPL side ran Steelers close in this week’s challenge match, but he expects much more force from the Elite champions tonight (against Dundee, home, 7pm) and for the rest of their campaign.
“I wasn’t surprised how well we played against them because we have a good, fit young team that is very committed - as we showed when we played another Elite team, Hull, and drew,” said Payette, aged 35. “But Steelers will be a force this year, I am sure. They have skill and are quick and won’t get pushed around.
“They have players in Neil Clark (who should be fit to play at the Arena tonight after injury), Colt King and Matt Stephenson who can bring a physical presence when they need it.
“I think Ashley Tait and Ryan Finnerty will lead a team to the top of their league again this year.”
Meanwhile, Steelers defenceman Mark Thomas believes that John DeCaro could turn out to be the best Steelers goalie he has played in front of.
“I’ve been lucky in my time here to play with Jody Lehman who I thought was outstanding,” he said.
“We faced a problem replacing him but then last year Ervins Mustukovs did an incredible job.
“I believe that in the first week or two in John’s company that this guy will be the best of the bunch.
“He gives the defence so much confidence, he makes that big first save so we can mop up afterwards.”