Bob Westerdale: Importance of Sheffield Steelers’ double header against Belfast Giants can’t be understated

This weekend's back-to-back conflict between Belfast Giants and Sheffield Steelers will likely be as intense as anything fans have seen so far in the EIHL.

Friday, 11th March 2022, 10:55 am

Certainly, Steelers will have to be a lot more robust, energetic, and mistake-free than they have been in recent weeks if they are going to return to South Yorkshire with any rewards.

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They have lost six out of their previous nine games, letting slip their EIHL top spot and tumbling out of the Challenge Cup.

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Giants have been on a winning rampage in the same spell.

Last weekend, Giants sent out a chilling message to Steelers and the other Elite League teams.

They had treble back-to-back games against Guildford Flames.

They won the first two games at home before travelling to Surrey where they had enough left in the tank to find a winner with three minutes remaining.

Kevin Schulze.

That's the kind of thing that champions do - and resembled Sheffield's apparently unstoppable march towards the title earlier this season.

Previous to that nine-game sequence referred to above, they had lost only once in 17 games.

While injuries have been responsible for their change in fortunes, they have a more experienced line-up than the Irish and have shown earlier in the season that they can triumph over adversity.

Fox spent much of this week putting a game plan together without knowing exactly what chess pieces he'll be able to put on the board.

More of the above needed: Steelers celebrate their win over Belfast earlier this season.

"It is a huge weekend obviously," he said on the eve of Friday's game at the SSE Arena, with half an eye on three meetings against Belfast in six days in April.

"We have got five games against that team down the stretch, we are going to go one game at a time.

"We haven't helped ourselves out in the last couple of weeks, but I think it was expected for a team to go through a down part of the year.

"Ours is right now," he said, hoping for an end to that sequence.

Aaron Fox.

"It seems we are losing more (injured) guys on a nightly basis than we are getting back, it would be nice to go in there with as close to a full line up as we can."

One player that he will be leaning on more than most is Kevin Schulze, who normally tops the minutes-on-ice statistic for the team.

With Daine Todd's season wrecked by a broken leg, Schulze appears to be taking on even more responsibility.

"He is playing a lot of hockey- and some good hockey for us," said Fox.

"Kevin is a great offensive defenceman and I think he has run pretty good numbers for us.

"His back-checking ability when he does join the rush is really what sets him apart.

"He can join in and then be the first back so you get that extra dimension there."