Bob Westerdale: 'Can we play you every week? Oh, wait a minute...'

Sheffield Steelers are about to embark on a crazy ten-match programme in just over three weeks.

Friday, 22nd October 2021, 4:39 pm

If Aaron Fox's men are to remain at or near the top of the table they are going to have to do well in six league games, along with the scattering of four Challenge Cup qualifiers.

After that, the domestic season goes into the freezer as Sheffield become the EIHL representatives in this year’s Continental Cup.

Sheffield will return from that gruelling tournament in Aalborg, Denmark to play Nottingham Panthers, at home, and Guildford Flames, away.

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Wait - Nottingham Panthers again?

That means that in the first 21 domestic matches of this season (including exhibitions) Sheffield and Nottingham fans will have seen each other no fewer than six times.

Yes, it's the biggest and most passionate derby in UK ice hockey by far.

But such familiarity can breed contempt.

In the exhibition at Sheffield Arena on September 19, 8,627 fans attended, lured in part by a return to action after the long pandemic lockdown.

But when the two teams locked horns in the more serious business of the Challenge Cup last Saturday, that number had shrunk to 7,663.

It's nobody's fault.

Glasgow Clan pulled out of the Cup contest in July, which left administrators to come up with a format of three groups of three teams each.

Steelers won 3-2 at Nottingham Panthers last month.

Each team takes on the other two twice at home, twice away.

To tie the deal up in a geographically sensible way, Sheffield were pitched in with Nottingham and Manchester Storm.

Thus the inevitable diluting of the Yorks-Notts and Roses derbies.

It will be nice to break up the sequence with games against Fife Flyers, Coventry Blaze, Belfast Giants, and Cardiff Devils over the next three weeks.

Nottingham Panthers 'welcome' Sheffield.

This weekend hard-core Orange Army fans will again travel to Nottingham, (ok, I admit it, it's always great to win there) before Fife Flyers become the first Scottish visitors to Sheffield Arena for many a moon.

There is now some degree of clarity over who will likely be in Sheffield's net.

Fox has said he will likely continue to split duties between Barry Brust and Rok Stojanovic during this busy stretch, before reverting to the normal policy of "riding the hot goalie."

The Canadian has played in three matches so far, the Slovenian five.

While the fans haven't seen as much of Brust as they'd imagined, the departing centreman Travis Oleksuk certainly has in practice.

"His numbers throughout his career speaks volumes," the forward, who has left Steelers for Austria side EC Villach for personal reasons, told me.

Sheffield entertain Nottingham last weekend Pic Dean Woolley

"When you shoot on him in practice, he seems to always be one page ahead of me, seems to know where I am shooting before I do.

"He really thinks the game well, he is going to be a huge part of this team and win us a lot of games. We just need him to keep playing his game and we'll be alright."

Fox has moved quickly to bring former Cardiff Devil Matias Sointu to replace Oleksuk and he could go straight into the side this weekend.