Why Sheffield Steelers fancy their chances against Dundee Stars in EIHL play-offs

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Dundee Stars - one of the teams which put the skids under Steelers' title charge - will be Sheffield's opponents in this weekend's Play-Off quarter finals.

The Scots beat them home and away at the start of March, those games coming in a four-match losing segment which saw Steelers go from being two points clear at the top of the EIHL table to a point behind eventual champions Belfast Giants.

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On Sunday, Stars ended up in seventh place, courtesy of a battling 4-3 overtime win at Coventry Blaze.

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Coach Aaron Fox said: “There is no easy game or opponent in our league so we really had no preference in our opponent for next weekend.

“We are very confident that if we come ready to play the type of game we are capable of we like our chances against anyone.

“It will be good to get a full week in and prepare for Dundee. I expect a group that’s refreshed and ready to go after a couple of days off here”.

Steelers must go into the mini-series (Saturday home 7pm, Sunday away, 5pm ) with little thought for the last four league defeats where they fell three times to Giants and once at Glasgow Clan.

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Matias Sointu scores against Dundee Pic Dean Woolley.Matias Sointu scores against Dundee Pic Dean Woolley.
Matias Sointu scores against Dundee Pic Dean Woolley.

Fox said his team, having known the League was out of reach from April 10, had a different mental focus for the two 'dead-rubber' matches which followed.

"We knew it would be a different feeling after losing that (title-deciding) game to Belfast at our rink; we rested some injured guys for the remaining two games.

"We didn't go into those last with a full squad, although we felt it was important that tried to get something out of it. I felt we did that it; wasn't the prettiest but it could have been much worse after the (title) loss.

"In the second and third period at Glasgow I thought we played real well, I think the last Belfast game wasn't intense. Overall, we had a long trip, having taken a ferry and bus, but we'll be good to go from now on."

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Steelers face off against Dundee again Pic Dean Woolley.Steelers face off against Dundee again Pic Dean Woolley.
Steelers face off against Dundee again Pic Dean Woolley.

Steelers' owner Tony Smith thinks the cluttered fixtures list towards the end of the campaign contributed to Sheffield's unimpressive string of results.

"I said many months ago that the one factor that will determine the winner of this league, amongst other things like skill and recruitment, will be schedule and injuries; that has come back to be absolutely true," Smith commented.

"The schedule hurt us we had a few Wednesday nights in a row because of the losses (postponements) we'd had at Christmas during Covid, and other teams were a bit more fortunate. That had a part to play in it.

"At Christmas, we were looking really good. Then Covid came along and took three or four games off us and we had to slot them in towards the end.

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Sheffield concede to Dundee in March Pic Hayley Roberts.Sheffield concede to Dundee in March Pic Hayley Roberts.
Sheffield concede to Dundee in March Pic Hayley Roberts.

"The number of times we had to play Saturday, Sunday and Wednesday eventually told on us.

"Belfast had slightly better run in, that is not to do with anything we got wrong in the planning stages, it was having to cram the games in."

Smith said the topic of the fixture pile-up would be discussed at an EIHL board meeting tomorrow.

"We have got to see if there are lessons to be learned about the number of games played in the time currently available. Is it the right format? I don't know.

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"Could we extend the season? Or play fewer games, it's something we'll have to talk about. Maybe it will just stay the same and we won't have to write Covid into the situation again."

Smith acknowledged that the notion of playing fewer games would have revenue implications but said a slight reduction in Challenge Cup matches might be an option.

"If we are getting to the point where we are wearing players out then we have got to look at the situation."