Preview: Blaze vs. Steelers (17/09/16)
Genting Casino Coventry Blaze return to Challenge Cup action this evening, facing off against the Sheffield Steelers for the first time this season at the Skydome Arena (7pm).
Blaze began their cup campaign with a 3-1 victory over the Nottingham Panthers, whilst Sheffield overcame Manchester 6-4 in their opening game.
Steelers arrive into Coventry high in confidence after securing their first Champions Hockey League victory over Red Bull Salzburg last weekend, a feat also achieved by a Paul Thompson led Blaze side in 2007 during the Continental Cup.
The Steelers' Head Coach will have been pleased to see Jesse Schultz hit a hatrick in the game after a self-admitted slow start. The Canadian being just one in a handful of new import forwards for the reigning Elite League Champions. Andreas Valdix with over 500 games in the Swedish SHL and Allsvenskan joins countryman Markus Nilsson whom Thompson previously coached at Troja-Ljungby, whilst 6'3" centre John Armstrong offers the Yorkshire size good size through the middle.
A relatively large core of players return in attempt to lift the Elite League title for a third year running, including Mathieu Roy, Tyler Mosienko, Colton Fretter, Gui Desbiens, Levi Nelson and British trio Robert Dowd, Jonathan Phillips and Luke Ferrara. On defence the intimidating Zack Fitzgerald has signed a two-year contract extension and is joined by another returnee, ex-Blaze and GB star Ben O'Connor. Another former Coventry player in the form of Davey Phillips, Mike Ratchuk (a Kelly Cup Champion with Blaze's Matt Marquardt), Anders Franzon and Swede, Christoffer Björklund make-up the new look Sheffield defensive unit.
Perhaps the biggest move for Sheffield this summer was between the pipes, with Paul Thompson bringing in "Mr 92%", Ervins Mustukovs who lifted the Elite League Championship in his first stint with the Steelers.
Assistant Coach of last season Darell Hay has also been replaced by the vastly experience Jerry Andersson who previously spent near 20 years at Troja-Ljungby in Sweden.
Liam Kirk and Cole Shudra (son of BNL Champion with the Blaze, Ron Shudra) round off the Steelers roster, both on apprenticeship schemes.
Saturday will be the first meeting between the club's since Blaze ended Sheffield's season, knocking them out of the Elite League playoffs at the quarter final stage last season.
Blaze made history becoming the first number eight seed to qualify for the final-four weekend, going on to lose to the Nottingham Panthers in the final.
Over the 2015/16 season, Blaze recorded an extraordinary seven victories in the twelve games against the Champion Steelers, drawing once and losing four times.
Goaltender Brian Stewart was often the star of the show, posting a save-percentage of over 92% whilst Brett Robinson was Coventry's top-scorer in games between the two scoring six goals.
Blaze will be without Matt Marquardt this weekend after the Canadian flew home to take up best man duties at a close friend's wedding.
Steelers' Head Coach Paul Thompson said to Seth Bennett for the Elite League website, "Danny has put together a good team, I've seen them live once and watched them on video and I like what he has done. They have better speed, and manage the puck better on the back-end. They obviously have a great goaltender, always a nemesis for us last year, and they have depth. I think they are better than last year, but I think we're better as well so it's going to be a great challenge."
Blaze Head Coach Danny Stewart commented, "I expect Sheffield to be structured and drilled. They are deep and have been playing at a higher level than us for weeks. In saying that, we have been getting better every week and I expect our guys to be up for it."
Tickets are still avalable for the visit of the Sheffield Steelers to the Skydome Arena on Saturday (7pm).
Or call: 02476 630693
Full game information available, here.