MK Lightning v Sheffield Steelers (19th January)
By Paul Brookman
Sheffield Steelers are welcomed to Planet Ice for the second time this season on Saturday when Smith Milton Keynes Lightning will be looking to avenge the 5-2 loss the last time the two sides met in the city at the start of the season.
Uncharacteristically Steelers are, like Lightning, struggling at the wrong end of the Elite League table, currently placed 10th one spot and nine points ahead of MK who have played a game more. It means that a win for Ryan Lannon and Tim Wallace’s outfit will be all the more valuable as they try to make a late dash for the final play-off spot.
This season threatens to be Steelers’ worst ever – if they fail to make the play-offs it will be the first time in their Elite League history that they have missed out. For a club with one of the biggest fan bases in British hockey that would be considered a disaster by their fans who have seen their heroes win the end of term competition five times and the league the same number of occasions.
It has been season of changes for Steelers – dissatisfied with missing out on a trophy for the first time since 2013 head coach Paul Thompson made wholesale changes to the roster for this campaign.
When it was apparent that the players he brought in were not the answer to the problems it was Mr Thompson who parted company with the club within weeks of the start of the season. His successor Tom Barrasso has had no better luck in turning around the team’s fortunes, even though a number of last year’s squad who ‘only’ finished third in the league have returned after brief sojourns abroad and elsewhere in this country.
Swede Jonas Westerling was back in early October and John Armstrong returned last month. In between, Steelers tempted Lightning’s Eric Neiley back but he suffered a freak hamstring injury in training after playing only three games and hasn’t played since.
On Tuesday Steelers, who lost both games against Dundee stars last weekend, released goalie Matt Climie. He only played 11 games after joining at the end of October, while fellow Canadian forwards Justin Buzzeo and Stefan Della Rovere were also shown the door.
At the time of writing no replacements had been announced although a club spokesman said they hoped to have one new player in time for Saturday’s clash with Lightning.
On Sunday Lightning make the trip up the M1 for the return match against Steelers at the FlyDSA Arena, face of 4pm.
Saturday’s face off Planet Ice is at the usual time of 7pm. Tickets are available by visiting mk-lightning.co.uk/tickets. Alternatively buy your tickets on the door or in advance at Planet Ice. Call us on 01908 540020.