Fox leading the Steelers charge

Sheffield Steelers coach Aaron Fox added Balint Pakodsi to his team after the Elite League changed their decision on 'taxi squads' (PHOTO: Dean Woolley)

A year ago, Sheffield Steelers found themselves in uncharted territory, limping into seventh place and as far away from any honours as they could ever be.

Now, they’re potentially 60 minutes from a first major honour since that epic play-off final in 2017 when they needed double overtime to see off Cardiff Devils in a 6-5 saga.

It’s been quite the climb back into the reckoning for Steelers and their coach, Aaron Fox, who could have something shiny to show for his efforts in his first year since taking over from Tom Barrasso.

And his pre-season desire for his team to be back in the conversation is paying off as they battle the Devils for the Elite League title as well.

“If the aim was to win trophies and close the gap on the top teams, we’ve definitely done that and I think the boys will be ready to go when the big game comes,” Fox said.

“Cardiff were the team we wanted to get closer to and we’re up there with them at the top. I felt like the Devils and Belfast were the ones to reign in.

“We have the quality and if we’re dialled in defensively and ready to battle for 60 minutes then we can do it.  If we’re a little bit vanilla, we can be easy to play against.

Dejected Steelers watch as Cardiff celebrate their Challenge Cup victory in 2017 (PHOTO: Dean Woolley)

“The fact we played each other on Friday is interesting for the league as well so with this game following that, it should be a good one.”

Fox arrived at the club in April and spent his time researching the league and everything about it as he plotted a way back to the top.

He admits it’s been a long campaign as the final weeks loom into view, but the fact they’re up there gives him something to build from when he starts preparations for next season.

Steelers now find themselves in second place after Friday’s 7-3 defeat to the Devils and on the face of it, looks like they could miss out on the big prize.

The Challenge Cup is a different beast and Fox knows all about their record in the competition, especially in the Elite League era, but he insists there’s no pressure on them to deliver it.

He added: “The season gets extremely long at times with every game meaning so much down the stretch.  I’ve always been used to building a team to be the best going into March for that huge play-off run.

“We’ve taken a few nights off, which I hope won’t be costly for us looking further ahead, but it’s a grind, that’s for sure.”

“We’re chasing all three trophies and I think we’ve done a good job putting ourselves into a position to go for all three of them at this stage. It’s certainly nice to be there.

Steelers beat Glasgow Clan comfortably in the semi finals to reach Sunday’s final (PHOTO: Dean Woolley)

“I’m aware of the club’s record in this competition, but there’s definitely no further pressure or strain on us to overcome that.  I feel like if we can play our game, it gives us a chance to win it and that’s all you can ask for.”

As Fox looks ahead to his first cup final and a chance to bring home a first ever Challenge Cup in the Elite League era for the Steelers, he’s confident his side will rise to the occasion.

He weighed up his opponents ahead of today’s game and picked out the ones who have impressed him through the course of the season.

Fox said: “Cardiff are a big heavy team with a lot of depth.  They play hard, there’s scoring in their line-up and have a good powerplay unit.  They were the tape mark when I signed in Sheffield last year.

“They’ve got a number of players to watch, with Joey Martin and Blair Riley doing so well for them.  Gleason Fournier is a premier D in this league as well.

“Sean McMonagle has also impressed and the biggest thing for them is depth when you see that Joey Haddad is having the heck of a year.  They have a full four-unit group with a lot of experience and it’s tough to overcome that.

“We had a tough stretch for those couple of weeks and to be honest, I’m happy where we stand. Nothing’s ever perfect of course, but to be where we are is definitely a good thing.”

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