Nottingham Panthers v Sheffield Steelers – Preview

The sold-out signs will be hanging outside the NIC once again on Saturday night as Panthers & Steelers renew their bitter rivalry for the first time this season. With around 7,000 fans packed into the building (providing a lesson in marketing to the visitors) the atmosphere should be electric, but will that be matched by the action on the ice?
Sadly it seems that both teams will not be at full strength. Panthers will be missing Marc Levers and former Steeler Jonathan Zion through injury, while new signing Rob Bellamy is unlikely to have international clearance before Saturday. Steelers will be without the suspended Derek Campbell, banned for three games for abuse of official last Sunday, but he could find himself with a much longer ban if the allegations that he mistook linesman James Kavanagh for a Big Mac are proven! However as far as I’m concerned a Steelers team without Campbell automatically becomes a much better side! Steelers also have doubts over defencemen Jerramie Domish (illness) and Rod Sarich (back, but more likely too old and slow!)
Panthers go into the game still smarting from consecutive defeats to Braehead and Belfast, whereas the Steelers have a perfect league record, however this is probably more to do with the level of opposition they have faced so far being from the weaker end of the table and Saturday will be their biggest test so far.
Key to the game will be the goal tending. Panthers Craig Kowalski has not lived up to his pedigree so far, what better game would there be for him to finally start to produce his best form? For the Steelers, Latvian Ervins Mustukovs has already enjoyed three shut-outs so far, but has been suspect when facing higher quality forward lines as was shown in Coventry. The ‘Moose’ will have to be at his best to keep out the potent Panthers forward line who have already managed 40 goals in 8 games.
An advantage for Panther will be tougness. Both Alex Penner and Guilaume Lepine have nothing to prov on that score, whereas Steelers supposed hard-man Neil Clark openly said on radio that he wasn’t a heaveyweight and while Steve Munn will willingly step up to the plate, he is too important to the Steelers on the ice. Panthers should be able to bully the Steelers as the visitors have said that they have the often talked about but rarely seen ‘team-toughness’ (I hate that phrase!)
It should be a cracker and live up to the hype for once. If you haven’t got a ticket you can follow the action via TCW Live or Steelnight Live who will both be providing live text coverage from the game.

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