SHEFFIELD Steelers must leave their respect for league leaders Belfast Giants behind as they step on to the Arena ice tonight for the Elite League’s biggest game of the season.
Giants are seven points clear at the top of the table, although a home win would see Sheffield narrow the gap to five, with three games in hand.
Last time they were at the Arena, Giants won convincingly. And player assistant coach Ashley Tait believes the champions afforded them too much admiration.
“When you are preparing for a game like this there is a lot to be said about thinking about your own strengths, rather than anybody else’s,” he said.
“Maybe we gave them too much respect last time and put the focus too much on them and not on ourselves.
“They are coming to our rink, so I’d like to see them worry about us, not the other way round.
“Let them adjust to how we play - we need to come out of the blocks hard and dictate the game.”
Giants had a perfect weekend last time out, winning 5-0 at Coventry Blaze and 8-0 at Hull Stingrays; 13 away goals without one conceded.
That put the Irish as huge title favourites, if they weren’t already.
“Being underdogs may put a bit more pressure on us, but we still have to play them three times and I can see us taking points off them,” said Tait, who will miss tonight’s match with an ankle injury.
“We were unhappy about losing at Braehead last Friday, but I recall last season we lost to Hull, Belfast and Nottingham and then had to beat Belfast - and we did and went on to win the league.
Steelers had their own big win last Sunday, 7-0 over next to bottom Edinburgh Capitals.
“That match was about going in front and making sure we got into some good habits that we can take into future matches,” he said.
“Belfast have found their groove right now, they have got where they are through momentum. But we have to break that.”
Tait expects some of the teams who have made the Play-Offs and are now, in his words, “treading water” and won’t mount a serious challenge to Belfast, so he knows how important the two points, in regulation time, would be.
“We will be staring down the barrel of a gun, if we don’t win,” he accepted. “We have to go for their throats, play as if there is no tomorrow.”
After a three month spell out through injury Rod Sarich returns for the Sheffield Steelers tonight.
Sarich was injured on the November 20 in a freak incident with Nottingham forward Jordan Fox. Some thought Sarich may never play again after it was feared he would lose his kidney. Despite 15% of the Kidney now none functional Sarich started training with his team mates three weeks ago and declared him self fit to play on Thursday afternoon.
Head coach Ryan Finnerty confirmed “Its great news and the news we have all been waiting for. If Roddy tells me he is fit and good to go then he plays. As simple as”.
Sarich had previously told The Star he wouldn’t chose such a powerder keg game to return - but he is dtermined to come out all guns blazing.
See analysis of the game in Saturday’s Star.