The Monday After: Are Steelers the real deal?

Sheffield Steelers coach Aaron Fox had a busy on Thursday (PHOTO: Dean Woolley)

Are Steelers the real deal?

It’s the week where we’ll find out who’s going to be Christmas number one – and there’s every chance Sheffield Steelers’ tune could still be top of the pops by the end of the season.

In a season that’s provided lots of twists and turns already, we’re seeing the Steelers get themselves to the top of the tree and bunkered in for a lengthy stay.

But what has Aaron Fox done to transform their fortunes after such a poor campaign last season? And are they the real deal as they look to recapture the success they’re so accustomed to?

All the signs are good and so far, Fox has delivered on what he wanted to do when he arrived at the Fly DSA Arena in the spring.

When it became clear that predecessor Tom Barrasso was on his way, Tony Smith, the Steelers’ owner wasted no time in finding his replacement and bringing him in so early meant the groundwork was laid early.

Since then, Fox has brought in scorers such as Marc-Olivier Vallerand and Brendan Connolly, while reinvigorated the likes of John Armstrong and Robert Dowd to make them a deadly outfit on the offensive lines.

Tomas Duba saw off Pavel Kantor to establish himself as Steelers’ first pick goalie (PHOTO: Dean Woolley)

The fact they have 112 goals is a huge reflection on where their strengths are. Even more so when the next highest scorers in the league are Coventry Blaze with 85.

At the other end though, it’s not quite the finished article and there is room for improvement in the defensive lines and perhaps an area that Fox will look to upgrade as time goes on.

In terms of goals conceded, they have the fifth worst record in the Elite League and that can be attributed primarily to injuries, that has left them shorthanded for much of the season.

Jonas Liwing has been out since the end of September, Aaron Johnson got hurt in early September, returned in November and is out again while James Bettauer has had his issues as well.

As a result, Fox has had to make the necessary moves to bring in the necessary cover, which is Marek Troncinsky, who has since earned himself a deal for the remainder of the campaign, Mikko Kuukka, who has since left and Josef Hrabal, arriving last week, all come in.

Tomas Duba won the battle of the goalies involving him and Pavel Kantor, which has since seen the latter move on.  While he’s decent enough, he doesn’t impose himself in the same way a Ben Bowns or a Shane Owen does.

Needless to say, improvements in those areas and you find a Steelers side that could be much stronger than it is.  A strange thing to say considering they’re top of the league.

Brendan Connolly (right) has kept up his good scoring record in the Elite League (PHOTO: Dean Woolley)

Perhaps their apparent weakness in the back lines has made their achievement of reaching the league’s summit all the better.

As we approach the halfway point, we are still looking for the one team that can grab the league by the scruff of the neck.  Consistency is in sparse supply across the board and Steelers have shown they can drop points along with the best of them.

Question is, do they have it in them to be the team that can go on the sort of run that can help them stand out from the rest?  If they can keep their defensive lines healthy, definitely.

Going forward isn’t the issue and Fox made it clear that if his team were up there with Belfast and Cardiff, he would be happy.  They’re in that position now and after such a poor campaign last year, the fans are relatively happy with the progress made.

There are always expectations with the Steelers of course and their history backs that up.  Being top of the table will feel like their rightful place and to see them lose that grip, if it were to happen, would be very disappointing.

A disaster?  Some might feel that way, but coming up against two teams in the Giants and the Devils who have been the top dogs in the last two or three years, just putting yourself in there is a great thing.  But they’ll want more.

We’re heading into the busy Christmas period and this is a time when we really start to see who are the genuine runners and riders.  Will Steelers be a contender?  It’s hard to see why not.

Guildford Flames’ Ian Watters has been on an impressive run (PHOTO: Scott Wiggins)

Watters flowing for Guildford

I came across this stat the other day when I was working on my commentary notes for the Glasgow Clan-Guildford Flames game on Saturday and one that leapt out at me was the numbers for Ian Watters, the Flames forward.

Since 4th October, Watters has played in 21 games in all competitions, scoring 17 goals and assisting in nine.  At the weekend, he scored three goals in games against the Clan and Fife Flyers.

That’s a phenomenal stat and it’s why we’ve seen such a resurgence in Guildford recently as they make their way in the top half of the table.

They’ll certainly need him on Wednesday in their Challenge Cup quarter final second leg against Nottingham Panthers, where they trail 5-1 from last week’s first encounter.

Undoubtedly one to watch as he continues to build up the points and a man Paul Dixon can lean on when required.

(PHOTO: BBC)

No surprise at SPOTY snub

We knew it would happen. No mention of GB’s phenomenal achievement in staying in the World Championship top group after one of the biggest dramatic moments in sport this year.

Ben Davies’ goal over France that secured safety, at the very least, should have been worthy of a mention in dispatches.  But nope, nothing.

Overall, it’s been a good year in sport in general and I accept the BBC have a lot to cram into their showpiece event, but when it comes to the BBC, it’s a case of out of sight, out of mind.

Some regional stations throw some love our way, with Nottingham, Wales and Northern Ireland springing to mind with regular content instead of paying it lip service like some others do.

So with that in mind, it’s not something that should come as a surprise, but it’s certainly disappointing when you think back over the course of the last 12 months.

There’s always next year.  Aye, right!

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