International break over so focus back on league run-in for Sheffield Steelers

The international break is firmly in the rear-view mirror - now there is the little matter of the 12 remaining league games awaiting Sheffield Steelers.

Tuesday, 11th February 2020, 1:59 pm
Updated Tuesday, 10th March 2020, 9:55 am
Sheffield Steelers' players celebrate - will they have a title to show off at the end of the season?

The EIHL table sees them sitting handsomely at the top, with a five points advantage over Cardiff Devils.

That figure doesn't tell the whole story, of course.

For a start, second-placed Cardiff have four games in hand over Sheffield, a potential eight points that would put them in the driving seat.

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Belfast Giants have a two games advantage and coming up in fourth place, Nottingham Panthers are four to the good.

On top of that, Steelers underwent something of a form dip, just at the wrong time.

In their last weekend of league play they won just one period out of six, dipping 6-5 at Guildford Flames, 24 hours after a 5-1 mauling at the hands of Panthers.

Additionally, they go into the forthcoming weekend matches against Dundee Stars (Saturday) and Fife Flyers (away) without Ben O'Connor, who is suspended and Robert Dowd, who will be lucky to see any action until next season.

But while there are question marks over whether Steelers can win their first league championship since the 2015-16 campaign, a moment of reflection is perhaps needed.

Let's pause to look at the bigger picture.

With an almost-new team and a fresh coach in Aaron Fox, Steelers have secured some 57 points in 42 games.

Compare that with last term, when the Paul Thompson-Mark Matheson-Tom Barrasso coached outfit harvested just seven more points from a whole season of 60 games.

And as for entertainment, consider this: last season Steelers scored 184 goals over the entire regular season...that's just one more than they managed with this February just two days old.

Coming back into the squad soon will be a rested and fired-up Anthony DeLuca, too - who has been something of a revelation since finding his feet at the South Yorkshire club.

Marco Vallerand will also have benefited from a break - he has been playing injured, at times.

Brendan Connolly should come back from his debut performances with Great Britain fuelled up and ready to go.

Dowd, from his unfortunate position in the stands, at least has a full view of how well the current squad is measuring up, compared with last season.

"It is really nice, obviously, to be part of winning and striving for trophies, it's a Sheffield team we are used to seeing and I am used to playing with.

"Last year was a very frustrating year for everyone involved and to be moving in the right direction is great."

Dowd says it is not just goals that is the difference.

"Not goals alone, performances, defensively, offensively, everything, the whole of the team it's nice to be a part of."