Games between the Belfast Giants and Sheffield Steelers are always eagerly anticipated especially doubleheaders which will take place at the Odyssey Arena on Saturday and Sunday.
The tension and excitement is usually ratcheted up even more when the teams are first and second in the Elite League, but when the gap is 15 points it shows how heavily the Giants have dominated the race for the title this season.
That’s not to say there won’t be drama and intense hockey this weekend. These two teams don’t know any other way to play the game.
“We just have to think about the game and not dwell on the standings,” said Giants coach Paul Adey. “I think we’ve played well at home and played really, really good hockey and all the games against Sheffield this season have been exciting to watch, there’s a real intensity about them and I’m sure this weekend will be no different.”
The two sides have met five times this season and the Giants have won four of those clashes. At home only the Coventry Blaze have won at the Odyssey Arena in regulation time with Dundee victorious in overtime and Cardiff in a shoot-out.
While many Giants supporters are circling dates in their calendars at the end of February and start of March as to when the league might be clinched, inside the locker room there is apparently no talk of that yet.
“No, there are too many games left to worry about that, I’m just focused on the next game and preparing for this weekend and then after that we’ll worry about who comes up after that,” said Adey.
“We just can’t afford to look that far ahead, it’s a cliché but we’re taking it one game at a time. We prepare for that game, we come to the rink ready to play hard and we have such a great team spirit in our room, all year long, right from the start and they want to win and you can see that every night and they never quit.”
Under former Giants coach Doug Christiansen the Steelers have begun to find some of their best form this season recently. They’ve played very well against arch rivals Nottingham and are strong favourites now to finish second.