Nottingham Panthers are too weak to be seen as rivals for Sheffield Steelers: claim

Is the Sheffield Steelers v Nottingham Panthers rivalry every bit as passionate now as it has always been?
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Ask a cross-section of the fans inside Sheffield Arena on Saturday, just before face off, and my guess is that they'll say it is.

The problem - and it is a good one to have for Steelers - is that the Panthers seem not to be the power they once were.

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So far this year, Steelers have beaten them 6-0 and 4-1 away from home.

Steelers celebrate at Nottingham pic Karl DenhamSteelers celebrate at Nottingham pic Karl Denham
Steelers celebrate at Nottingham pic Karl Denham

By Saturday night it will be the third time the clubs have played each other in the Challenge Cup in 28 days, and ofcourse they played each other in challenge matches in September.

Are their meetings getting less appealing to the discerning fan?

They suggest that supporters can only sustain a genuine rivalry if parity exists between the sides.

Fight night: Sheffield v Nottingham Sept 2023Fight night: Sheffield v Nottingham Sept 2023
Fight night: Sheffield v Nottingham Sept 2023
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The pod pointed out that in the last 20, competitive, Nottingham home games versus Sheffield, Steelers had won all but five.

It floated the view that Nottingham were pretending to be relevant in a league that is likely to be a three horse-race which they won't be in.

There had been a "predictability" about Nottingham succumbing last weekend at home to Sheffield, '3-on-3' adding that the attendance had dipped below 5,000.

It was all a far cry from the time Panthers used to be "the hottest ticket in town."

Robert Dowd wheels away at Nottingham pic Karl DenhamRobert Dowd wheels away at Nottingham pic Karl Denham
Robert Dowd wheels away at Nottingham pic Karl Denham

At worst, Panthers were now "Sheffield's b*tch."

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And in that sense the rivalry had gone, instead, games represent "a convenient financial gain for each club.. passed off as the biggest rivalry in British ice hockey...all they do is get a golden handshake off each other. There is no competitiveness in that game any more."

It's perhaps worth floating the argument that if Panthers win on Saturday, that derby-feeling will at least start to re-surface, even if both sides have seen too much of each other in recent weeks.

Sheffield have indeed played them four times (in pre-season [split results] and Cup action,) which feels a lot, but Steelers' coach Aaron Fox is not in charge of scheduling and certainly won't be fooled into thinking Saturday's game presents an easy win.

"For us, we are looking for the best path to hopefully win a trophy, we are 4 and 0 (in Challenge Cup Group C) right now, we are top of our group, and I don't think hockey is something you can turn on and off" he says.

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"So we want to come ready to play on Saturday and build some momentum, there is another huge league on Sunday up in Fife, we will see a different team up there (from the one Sheffield hammered 5-0 last weekend.)

"It is just about us focusing on our own game and making sure we come ready to play for 60 minutes and continue to build momentum."

Steelers are homing in on their five millionth home customer, although there are varying views on whether it will be this weekend or not.

Whenever the date comes, it will be a major milestone, says Fox.

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"It is an unbelievable accomplishment as an organisation, we average close to 7,000 fans a game which is a huge number.

"Six or seven years ago before I came to the UK I would never have guessed that the fan following was as good or as strong as it is here. It is pretty awesome."