Sheffield Steelers v Nottingham Panthers: the big one

Ice hockey's biggest UK derby
Ice hockey's biggest UK derby

Here's five reasons why this ice hockey match at Sheffield Arena on Saturday should be well worth its ticket price.

1. Background.

Saturday's game will be the 216th played between these two. They met for the first time in 1992 in an invitation game at the Arena – the Panthers won 4-3. Since then they have contested several Challenge Cup, Benson & Hedges Cup and Play Off Finals as well as League championship deciding games.

Twice, in 1996 and 2004, Steelers have won games in Nottingham to claim the sports biggest prize. Sheffield Arena has been a happy hunting ground for the Steelers against Nottingham. In 104 Arena games against the Panthers the Steelers have won 68 and drawn five scoring 383 goals to Nottingham’s 274. The clubs hate each other.

2. Characters.

Panthers fans will gloat about the night in 2004 when Kim Ahlroos scored the game winning goal that secured the Panthers a Challenge Cup win on Sheffield ice.

Steelers fans are lucky though, they can trump Ahlroos and come back with Priestlay, Szysky, Wilson, Cowley, Allison, Darling right up to the modern day and last year's goaltending Cup hero Sam Gospel.

Ahlroos might have scored a cup winning goal in Sheffield but Ken Priestlay scored five in Nottingham in 1995 to secure the Steelers their first league championship.

Eight years later and the Panthers had a new venue, the NIC Arena – this time Warren Norris found Chris Szysky who slotted home to bring the league title back to South Yorkshire.

3. History.

Nottingham fans will tell you about their great history and how old their club is, the reality is that longevity is the most impressive part of their history. Steelers' history is based on winning the biggest domestic prize of all, the League championship. Only once since 1956 has the Lace City club won the league championship. In just 24 seasons the Steelers have over shadowed their local rivals. In fact Steelers have been crowned league champions eight times in that short period, add to that another eight play off titles

Steelers also collected the 2001 Grand Slam, a proper four trophy Grand Slam of the League, Challenge Cup, Benson & Hedges Cup and Play Off Title.

4. Coaching

Jobs can live and die based on success or failure in these Steelers v Panthers fixtures.

After leaving Nottingham Alex Dampier joined the Steelers in 1993. His five years in charge brought the Steelers incredible success, often at the Panthers expense.

In 1995 Dampier took his Steelers side into Lower Parliament Street to claim the club's first league title. The following season at Wembley the Steelers took a play off championship at their expense as well.

Mike Blaisdell started his coaching career in Nottingham. Steelers stole Blaisdell in 2000 and what a decision that was. The following year came a Grand Slam followed by several more league, cup and play off titles.

In another twist of coincidence both Dampier and Blaisdell returned to Nottingham after their Steelers career had ended, neither enjoying success.

David Matsos was another who enjoyed great success against the Panthers beating the Nottingham club in the 2009 play off final on Nottingham Ice. In all Matsos raised three championship banners for the Steelers two of them lifted in NGpost code.

Present day Panther coach Corey Neilson has stopped the rot of his predecessors. Neilson has lifted all the trophies on offer beating the Steelers to win the Challenge Cup in an fantastic 5 year period where Nottingham went unbeaten in the competition.

In fact Neilson has stood up to the Steelers better than any other Panthers coach in the last 25 years.

5. Future.

The good news for both sets of supporters is that it looks like this incredible rivalry will continue into the future.

Today the Panthers sit on top of the Elite League with nine points from five games – Steelers unbeaten with three wins from three on their tails.

The Steelers Panthers rivalry is envied by all who witness it. It has raised the bar for hockey in this country. It has provided the biggest games and continues to do so. 70,000 people will watch these two sides play this season. Boxing Day in Sheffield will provide the largest single attendance of the season close on 9000 for one game.

It has produced the biggest moments, the most talked about incidents in the sport – the 2001 bench clearance has been watched over 250,000 times on you tube.

The simple truth is that there is no other game like the Steelers and the Panthers. Coming on Saturday?