Sheffield Steelers: Brendan Connolly only complimentary about Belfast Giants ahead of first meeting
Sheffield Steelers are preparing for this season's first clash with champions Belfast Giants with forward Brendan Connolly paying a surprise tribute to the Northern Ireland club's fans.
Connolly was a member of the Giants' Challenge Cup winning squad of 2017-18 and looks back fondly over their win over Cardiff Devils.
The forward, who scored 73 points in 53 games for Belfast, recalled: "We had a really good group of Belfast fans that made the trip.
"It was not an easy trip, there was a lot of rain and snow. It wasn't easy for them to get there and I just remember a few guys were able to score goals into that section and get our crowd into it."
Around 500 Giants followers went to that game in March 2018.
There won't be anything like that many expected at the League match at Sheffield Arena on Wednesday night.
But Connolly, scorer of Steelers' overtime winner against Nottingham Panthers last Saturday, knows his side are in for a tough challenge.
"They always have a good roster, obviously defending the league title, they have got a lot of high-end guys on their team," he said.
"They have made a few changes too so they are trying to change things up.
"I am sure they are going to come with a lot of energy, they are a physical group, if you watched them play Champions League they skate hard, they are physical, so we are going to have to match the intensity...and let our skills take over."
Connolly, 34, is happy to see Michael Davies back in the side after a long suspension.
"He is a huge part of our team, especially playing in the middle of me and Val (Marco Vallerand.)
"He is kind of similar to myself, he likes to make plays and has a high hockey IQ so we blend pretty easily together.
"He makes our power play much better more dynamic."
Connolly was less happy with the news of Aaron Johnson's misfortune, a slash to the hand means he must undergo a second operation on the same limb.
"He is a great guy, a great team-mate, he is a good coach, you hate to see that happen. You spend so much time off trying to get it healed and healthy - he comes back and plays one really good game and then one whack on it and it's back to square one.
"It is tough, we feel for him for sure it is never a good feeling when guys are injured, especially the way it happened.
"I think our D corps are going to have to pick up the slack but he definitely is sorely missed."
Connolly scored in Sunday's 8-3 win at Coventry Blaze, but it's his overtime winner on Saturday that will stay in the memory for a long time.
"I was pretty tired on that shift to be honest, it was late in the shift, obviously in overtime you don't have much energy anyway and I just put one on net and luckily it went in. I was relieved to hear that crowd go crazy, it was awesome.
"When you are that tired you kind of just close your eyes, you pick your spot and you shoot it and just hope it goes in.
"I was so tired I was just worried about where the rebound was going to go!"