Ice hockey column: Optimism building as Sheffield Steelers eye title tilt

Frank Doyle
Frank Doyle
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Did you know that the Sheffield Steelers next home game at the arena, the one against the Nottingham Panthers on Saturday December 6, will be the 100th game played between these two great rivals - in Sheffield?

The first time these two teams met was in fact in Milton Keynes. A pre season event, Tony Hand and Nicky Chinn made their debuts that weekend.

Steelers hold the winning hand in 66 of the games, with 28 losses and five draws. In fact, in the 206 games played between the Steelers and the Panthers, the boys from Sheffield have won 108 of these fierce contests.

It’s ironic that game number 100 should come as, once again, both Sheffield and Nottingham look to be fighting for a league title with the Belfast Giants.

The Steelers’ victory over Coventry last Sunday elevated Gerad Adams’ side to the top of the Elite League table, one point ahead of the Clan but with two games in hand.

The Panthers are tied on games but trail the Steelers by two points, with the Giants a further point back.

Last weekend the Steelers fans, I believe, changed their opinion of this present day side. From thinking it was a good side, and maybe hoping that it was a team with championship credentials, I think that fans, media and the club itself now think that they are right there in the hunt with the other big boys for the biggest prize of all - an Elite League title.

What brings this great optimism? Well, perhaps the fact that the Steelers goalscorers are hot right now is a good starting point. Mike Forney, Mathieu Roy and Tyler Mosienko are 1-2-3 in league scoring, with 18, 17 and 16 goals apiece. I can’t remember a Steelers trio ever being one, two and three before.

Maybe it’s because their defence is looking stronger by the day, having only conceded the joint lowest amount of goals (45) and has the best goal difference in the league (+30).

Or maybe it is because in Frank Doyle, the Steelers have found goaltending consistency not seen since the departure of the great Jody Lehman. Doyle is ranked top EIHL goalie after the weekend’s games with a goals against average of just 2.36 and a 92 per cent saves record.

Every weekend is another ‘huge’ weekend - when you are chasing a league title, every games means so much. This weekend sees the Arena busy with other events, and the Steelers on the road.

Saturday they play in Coventry before heading to Belfast on Sunday evening. To date, the Steelers have home victories against both Coventry and Belfast - though they are looking for their first league road win in both buildings.

New signing Danny Bois will be back in the line up at the SkyDome on Saturday, a game that will see upwards of 500 Steelers fans make the trip to Coventry.

The Steelers have pushed away support to this game and as a gesture, the Blaze organisation will donate £1 for every Steelers fan at the game to the Weston Park Cancer Charity, an organisation that the Steelers support on behalf of their lucky supporter Amy Usher.

If the Steelers can come through this weekend, then that game on December 6, that 100th Steelers game against the Panthers, will take on all types of meaning - with the Championship in the sights of both clubs.

Where once there was hope there is now genuine optimism.

That optimism has legs... and strong ones at that.