Whilst the Flames will have to sit out of any action on Saturday night, the game at the Spectrum on Sunday marks the first of 4 games over an 8 day period. It also marks the first league game of the season for the Flames, and sees the return of the Sheffield Steelers, who very much made their mark against the Surrey side last season.
Last Season Vs. Sheffield:
P 2 W 1 L 1 OTL 0 GF 7 GA 9
P 4 W 1 L 3 OTL 0 GF 10 GA 19
Last Game: 01/04/18 Flames 5 – 4 Steelers
The Flames beat every side they faced last season, but it took until February for the Steelers to finally fall at the Spectrum to complete the collection. Although just 2 points separated the teams at the end of the season, Steelers finished 3rd overall and Flames 6th, which lead to the final head-to-head of the season in the playoffs. The result? An incredibly painful one for the Flames, who just didn’t have the roster depth to survive at the Fly DSA Arena, as 4 goals in the final minutes of the first leg was just too much to overcome, despite winning the return leg at the Spectrum.
The on-ice salute to the fans marked an end to an incredible season which deserved so much more than another quarter final loss, and marked the last time 9 of those players would ice for the Flames; 6 of which are no longer playing hockey.
Both games last weekend saw the trio of Janssen – Ritt – Davies get the unexpected nod for first line duties as Coach Paul Dixon continued to experiment with lines and systems. Following a minor injury on Saturday, Kevin King was replaced the following night by Lindhagen to pick up centerman duties alongside Crooks & Waller and as usual, the star line of Dunbar – Reddick – Watters saw a decent amount of ice time, especially on the powerplay.
The defence was changed from pre-season – Craige was paired once more with Lundin, Baldwin saw ice time with both Ackered and Phillips over the weekend, Lindhagen played D on Saturday and Abt also had mixed pairings.
Once again, the expectation is that the star line of Dunbar – Reddick – Watters will be starting the game on the first line, but with the Flames not expected to be firing on all cylinders for another 6 games due to a lack of pre-season, Coach Dixon may well choose to experiment some more, especially with potential absentees ahead of the game. Fullerton is yet to ice a game at home, however, Carrozzi was faultless against Coventry so Fullerton may have to wait a little longer for his debut on home ice. With 3 of the games over the next 8 days at home, there is every chance he will line up at some point though.
The Steelers are off to a very mixed start with their new-look team for the 18/19 season. They kicked off with a heavy defeat at the Motorpoint Arena against their fierce rivals in the Challenge Cup. A week later in front of a sold out Fly DSA arena crowd of 9,252 for their season opener, MK Lightning spoiled the party with a 3-2 win. The next night they very much returned the favour with a 5-2 win at Planet Ice but were then lucky to scrape an overtime win against the Fife Flyers on Wednesday night.
Unlike the Flames, Saturday night they will also be in action as they welcome the Manchester Storm to the Fly DSA Arena for what will no doubt be a physical encounter in the Challenge Cup.
#1 Jackson Whistle
The young British netminder has been signed as the starter for the season following his move from Belfast, and the pressure is very much on. Replacing a shot stopper like Moose is not an easy task, but despite being young, Whistle has shown with Belfast that he can win you games and if he can consistently perform to the high standards he is capable of, then he will earn himself a long career in the Steel City.
#25 Mark Matheson
Fresh from picking up the Man of the Match award mid-week, the 34 year old who is one of the only players to earn himself a contract renewal with the Steelers, now doubles up as an assistant coach alongside playing duties. He is a D man with years of high level experience who can pick up points, and more importantly, knows how to stay clear of the penalty box whilst effectively dealing with attacking plays.
#19 Evan McGrath
3 Elite League games, 7 points.
McGrath is an offensive center with a good shot, but has shown in his few games that he knows how to pick a deadly pass. He can defend well, has quick, skilful hands and is a very good skater. He has been selected to wear an A on his jersey this season, and rightly so. It’s not the first time in his career – The first time he wore it was for the Grand Rapid Griffiths in the AHL.
#46 Josh Pitt
Whilst the obvious choice for this would be Evan McGrath, Josh Pitt comes to the Spectrum with 6 points in his 3 league games, 4 of which are goals. Following what was deemed a disappointing season, Pitt is starting to show he might be the sniper that Steelers have been looking for. Pitt looks like he could be a star in the UK – Just 26 years old and coming in off the back of a 31 goal season in the ECHL, he will be the difference maker on many a night this season.
Fitzgerald has not been directly replaced, however, Steelers certainly do not lack when it comes to physicality. #18 Chris Lawrence dropped the mitts away against MK and dropped them again against Fife mid-week. Kevin Phillips’ brother, #13 David is not adverse to a fight if provoked; the same can be said for #23 Jordan Owens and #44 Ryan Martinelli.
#53 Aaron Johnson
He may be 35, but this tough, physical D-man is one of the biggest stars to play in the EIHL this season. Coming directly out of the DEL after 2 years, he has captained 3 teams in the AHL and played 429 AHL games. Impressive? Did I mention that he has played for 6 NHL teams and iced in 291 games on top of that?
#32 Matt & #33 Ryan Rupert
The Rupert twins ice their first season abroad this year, following their signings from the Indy Fuel. They are still adapting to the UK game, but it’s only a matter of time before they come good. Both are 2-time OHL champions and Ryan was selected 157th overall by the Maple Leafs in the 2012 NHL entry draft.
Jonathan Phillips has been the most successful winning EIHL captain in the club’s history, and has been captain of the club for all but two of the 13 seasons he has been with the Steelers.
One big blow for the Steelers going into the weekend is the expected loss of star Brit, Robert Dowd, who has been out with an unspecified upper body injury.
16 new faces make up a massively reshaped Steelers squad, and whilst it will take them time to gel, the pressure is very much on in for Paul Thompson right from the off – He absolutely has deliver this season
Venue: Spectrum Leisure Complex, Guildford, GU1 1UP
Box Office: 01483 443 333
Featured Image Credit – Olly Birth Photography