Dave Simms’ Sheffield Steelers column: Zack signals return of law enforcement

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It’s been a while since you saw a policeman in Sheffield, hasn’t it? But don’t think this is an article on public spending cuts and taking bobbies off the streets.

Today, we are talking about the return to the Sheffield Steelers of a good old fashioned law enforcement officer. Zack Fitzgerald has some big boots to fill in terms of Steelers of the past who have played this most difficult role.

Perry Doyle, Mike Ware, Dennis Vial and the last heavyweight to wear the orange shirt, Tim Spencer, were all fan favourites. Well, we all like the toughies, don’t we?

Now if you are reading this, we are certainly not endorsing violence; we are, however, endorsing self policing. That message that says if any of you come anywhere near one of my team mates, I will make you pay the price, and eat your dog.

It’s playground policing, I guess. Pick on Jeff Legue, Mathieu Roy or Fredrik Vestberg and you can expect to see the 6ft 3in frame of Zack Fitzgerald heading in your direction. Very quickly.

The importance of a Fitzgerald-type character is two fold. One, as stated above, to offer protection to the skilled players on the side but also, to give confidence to those players that they won’t be assaulted by the opposition for fear of repercussions.

The job of enforcement is the most difficult in professional sports and Fitzegerald is one at the top of his game.

A larger than life character. A leader.

Also, the toughest of men, the toughest in the Elite League - and that’s not me saying that, its the coach who lost his services this summer, Ryan Finnerty.

Ask Finner why Braehead had the success they did last year and he puts a lot down to having Fitzgerald patrolling the Clan blue line.

Now Paul Thompson will call upon those services. Thompson, though, will be expecting Fitzgerald the player to be an impact, as well as Fitzgerald the policemen.

With huge American league experience there isn’t any reason why that won’t be the case, either.

Last year Zack proved he was up for the job of playing and destroying.

“I know my role,” says Fitzgerald.

“I know why I am here. It’s a role I have played all my professional career.

“I’m there to look after my team mates... they expect that from me, and they won’t be left disappointed.”

Fitzgerald is one of six Steelers defencemen who will take part in this weekend’s two exhibition games at iceSheffield, against his former Braehead Clan team.

The two games will serve as Paul Thompson’s only fixtures before the all-important Champions Hockey League games in Sweden and Finland next week.

This week, Thompson and his new assistant Darrell Hay have held an intense training camp with on-ice and off-ice work outs, meetings and video sessions.

It’s the start of the new Thompson era in Sheffield.

Some 25 years since he was one of the original Steelers players that helped start this great hockey in Sheffield story - what has he left for the latest chapter?