The pre-season games are upon us, and for all of the Elite League British ice hockey teams, this can only mean opportunities to warm up players, test out strategies, and set the tone for the next 80 games to come.
Sheffield Steelers will face off against Swedish team Sodertalje SK on August 12th at iceSheffield, in the first friendly match of their pre-season schedule.
Sodertalje were promoted back to the second tier last season. This season they have struggled to stay afloat, hitting the relegation zone before recovering enough to remain where they are, largely thanks to Jonas Westerling, who’s managed 12 points in 10 games. Westerling will be joining the Steelers in the 2017-18 season.
This fixture has many scratching their heads when it comes to predicting the results. On the one hand, you would expect the Steelers to carve through second-tier Sodertalje pretty easily. On the other hand, Allsvenskan league teams are extremely tough to beat, and the league generally offers challenging opponents from top to bottom.
Coached by Mats Walton, Sodertalje SK has only one imported player, Norwegian Thomas Valkrae-Olsen, who was signed this summer. Other than that, the team is made up of high-level Swedish players, many of whom have the skill level to be able to compete in the Elite League. Tennis professional Bjorn Borg even played for them once! In addition to being an avid hockey fan, the Swedish tennis legend was once the world number one and the first player to secure 11 Grand Slam titles (currently, US Open favourite Roger Federer has 11/10 odds of securing his 20th Grand Slam title).
Henrik Nyberg will provide the speed, and proven forward Stefan Grahns will be joined by playmaker Fredric Weigel, who has scored 107 assist points in the last 123 games. Sodertalje might not be on form, but they are certainly a worthy opponent for the Steelers.
The Sheffield Steelers dropped a little of their finesse this season, eventually finishing third and conceding the League title to the Cardiff Devils. They seemed to lack the consistency that has made them regular champions, and although they clinched the Playoff title, they will be looking to improve their game going into the next season.
Proven combinations like Rob Dowd, Levi Nelson and Mathieu Roy will be joined by newcomer Joonas Ronnberg, a defensive player with a big physical presence who could provide a needed boost to Sheffield Steeler’s back row.
Sodertalje will be expecting to win at least a game during their clashes with the Steelers, but ultimately it is the home team that should walk away with the victory on Saturday.
The second pre-season opponent for the Steelers could bring even more of a challenge, and they indeed seem to be the team that skipper Jonathan Phillips is most concerned about. The German DEL side the Nurnberg Ice Tigers is comprised of a team of NHL greats, including Tom Gilbert, a defenceman with 672 NHL games under his belt, as well as with David Steckel, Brandon Segal, Phillipe Dupuis and Brett Festerling, all of whom have had dozens of NHL games.
According to Phillips, the German team has “guys who have been amongst the best in the world”, and he is looking forward to facing up against the former NHL stars.
The friendly games against Sodertalje SK may present a challenge, but it is Nurnberg who present the greatest pre-season warm-up for the Steelers.