Elite League weekend preview

Coventry Blaze could be boosted by the return of Boris Valabik when they head to Sheffield Steelers in the Elite League on Friday night.

The Slovakian defenceman has missed the last six matches through injury, but was back on the ice skating with the team this week.

Coach Chuck Weber said: “We are hopeful over Boris. He has skated with us and we will know for sure on Friday whether he can play.

“Boris is one of our leaders, he is a big guy who controls the net front and he eats up a lot of space.

“He is someone who holds other teams accountable but also his own team. He blocks shots and does all the little things which go unnoticed. You certainly miss a guy like that.”

Blaze were shut-out in their two defeats to Steelers in the Challenge Cup in September.

“Those games were a long time ago,” added Weber. “They were coming out of the Champions League and we had just finished training camp. Both teams have made changes since then, but we just need to make sure we take care of our own business.

“Sheffield are well prepared and very structured. They don’t give up a lot of shots, they have the least shots against in the league.

“They are going through a bad patch right now and are not getting the results consistently as before but they are still a very strong team.

“They work hard in front of their net, they are one of the better tracking teams and they are very active in the offensive zone.”

Steelers head into the weekend without Jonathan Phillips. The forward has battled through the last six games with pain-killing injections, but has finally had to concede defeat to two muscle tears and a hernia.

Head Coach Paul Thompson praised his captain: “I appreciate his efforts – he has played through the pain barrier once again for this team and waited until the time was right for the club to have the operation,” said Thompson.

“It would have been easy for him to go to the hospital two or three weeks ago. He knew we were short and gritted his teeth and played on – we can all see why he is the captain here.

“With hopefully a full import line-up this weekend, we felt that this was the best time for Jonna to go in rather than risk any long term ill effects.

“I have said before Jonathan is as good a captain and as professional a player as you can get and we are lucky to have him here. He has gone that extra mile for the club. Our captain is a super-fit individual and hopefully his recovery time will be short.”

The top two do battle on Saturday as Cardiff Devils face-off against Nottingham Panthers.

The Welsh team are looking to extend their winning home to 14 games, but Player/Coach Andrew Lord recognises the threat posed by the league leaders.

“The three games we’ve had against Panthers have been the most enjoyable ones of the season – the competition, the speed of game – it really feels like a different level,” said Lord.

“Their goalie is great, their coaching staff is solid and it’s exciting as a young coach to go up and test my coaching skills against someone like Corey Neilson.

To hear more from the Devils’ boss please click the video above.

WEEKEND FIXTURES

Friday

Dundee Stars v Fife Flyers
Sheffield Steelers v Coventry Blaze

Saturday

Cardiff Devils v Nottingham Panthers
Fife Flyers v Braehead Clan
Manchester Storm v Dundee Stars

Sunday

Belfast Giants v Manchester Storm
Braehead Clan v Fife Flyers
Coventry Blaze v Cardiff Devils
Edinburgh Capitals v Dundee Stars
Nottingham Panthers v Sheffield Steelers

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