HOW STEELERS ARE GETTING THEIR GROOVE BACK
If there was one team that needed work on it after a very disappointing season, then it was Sheffield Steelers and on the face of it, are not prepared to make the same mistakes again.
Aaron Fox, their coach, has taken a metaphorical broom to the team that underachieved so badly under Tom Barasso and to a lesser extent, Paul Thompson and has ripped it all up to start again.
The signings made by the new coach have captured the imagination of the fans again and they’re looking forward to the new season. If they were underwhelmed last year, then it seems to be the polar opposite this time around.
Keeping the core of Brits was important. After all, guys like Davey Phillips, Ben O’Connor, Robert Dowd and Jonathan Phillips don’t become bad players overnight and Steelers didn’t see the best of them at times last season.
Under Fox, they’ll get their mojo back and there’s absolutely no doubt there will be marked improvement in those four alone, which should bode well for the World Championships for Great Britain next year.
Cole Shudra returns from his year at Milton Keynes Lightning and it’s unknown how much of a role he’ll have this season, but you can be sure he’ll return a better player for the year’s experience he got.
The netminding issue is the immediate one for Fox right now and if some of his skaters are anything to go by, you can probably expect someone with a good calibre.
Jackson Whistle’s scenario is maybe the only wrinkle in what’s been an otherwise good summer for the Steelers, but they of all people know only too well that when matters like that are concluded, then you move on and don’t look back.
Two signings stand out for me as a real statement of intent are Nikolai Lemtyugov and Martin St Pierre. Combined, there’s over 650 games of KHL experience which adds real quality to the team in terms of what they bring to the offensive lines.
If those guys can adapt quickly to the Elite League, Fox will have a couple of gems on his hands and could be the difference in a title race.
Signing Brendan Connolly is a good move on the face of it and he’s enjoyed two good seasons in the UK, but there’s a hunger behind him this year.
The bad injury he sustained for Glasgow Clan at the end of last season could still be a concern going into the season, but if he can overcome that and do well, he can also be a threat.
Connolly has the GB carrot dangling in front of him after missing out on this year’s trip to Kosice because of that injury so the motivation is there for him to really go out and do something.
Signings aside, the news that Steelers would be partnering Sheffield Steeldogs as part of a development pathway is great news and one that should excite young prospects in the area.
It’s bizarre to think that the two teams wouldn’t have had a tie in and the early signs are good, with Alex Graham and Jordan Griffin heading to the Dogs to start with.
Reading between the lines, it’s something that the club wanted, but that Fox pushed for and that suggests he’s in this for the long haul. A great message to send to the fans that have watched Cardiff and Belfast take the honours the last couple of seasons.
As for where they could end up in the title race, they’ll certainly be up there. That can’t be doubted. The Devils will join them as that core of players that has the history of success can certainly deliver.
Belfast have recruited well, but the changes made have certainly been perhaps more than Adam Keefe would have liked at the start of the summer.
Steelers will be the third horse in the race this year, which could set up another fascinating Elite League championship this season.
PRIDE WEEKEND A WINNER FOR EIHL
The announcement of a designated weekend to promote Pride and equality by the Elite League is a huge step in the right direction for the sport.
My former partner, Rob McGregor and I put forward an idea like this during our term as EIHL Media Officers, but it never really got off the ground so we’re delighted to see it come to fruition at last.
I’ve seen a few people dig up the Dave Simms incident as a way of trying to throw mud at the league’s intentions, but this is something that should be positive.
No-one is condoning what Dave allegedly said at all, but we’ve moved on to a place where the teams and all the fans will embrace it and it will do the league a power of good on the PR front.
If people don’t want to get involved – and I’ve seen those comments too – then that’s up to them. It’s a loud and clear message from this little pocket of sport in the UK that hockey is for everyone. You can’t say better than that.
FIVE BIG NIGHTS COMING UP
Testimonials are the in thing this season, with a fifth player confirming they’ll get the special treatment as Robert Lachowicz announced he’ll be honoured by Nottingham Panthers.
He joins Matthew Myers (Cardiff), Ross Venus (Coventry), Mark Garside (Belfast) and Matt Haywood (Glasgow) who all have testimonials coming up in the next few months.
All five have been great servants to their respective clubs and one or two events are coming up already so well done to all five players in what’s sure to be special nights for them all.