We all knew that the Steelers would have to sign their team for the 2015/16 season a little quicker than normal due to starting the Champions Hockey League but I don’t think any of us thought that the signings would come as thick and fast as they have.
Over the past seven days coach Paul Thompson has answered two questions that many fans had posed: 1) Would he go European with any of his signings and 2) Would toughness return to the Arena.
Well firstly toughness has returned and with some punch. The move for Zack Fitzgerald, perhaps the meanest and nastiest of the Elite League toughies last season shows that Thompson doesn’t want his Steelers side pushed around. He wants protection for the likes of Roy and Fretter something they didn’t have last campaign. To be a toughie in Sheffield you also have to be a character, big enough to police the biggest building, the biggest team in the EIHL – Fitzgerald is just that.
With Thompson’s experience in Europe and more so Scandinavia it comes as no surprise that a Swede has signed for him. Maybe the surprise is that more haven’t. Fredrik Vestberg arrives with 13 years experience in the Allsvenskan and that is a tough league to ply your trade.
Vestberg’s main attribute is his speed, like all Swedes he handles the puck well, is well disciplined and in great shape. It’s the speed though that has Thompson licking his lips “speed kills” he keeps telling me and if two years in two different Pool A nations have taught Thommo anything, it is that.
Just going back to Fitzgerald for a moment. I don’t think Thompson will stop there on size, presence and a certain amount of toughness. He keeps telling me “We are the Sheffield Steelers, the biggest, the best, when we walk in to an arena I want us to have the presence that comes with being the Steelers.” I like that. I don’t think any of the remaining signings will be ‘knuckle draggers’ but I do expect to see more grit, more size and presence.
Geoff Woolhouse has retired and young Brad Day arrives at the Arena after making the 200 yard move from the Steeldogs at iceSheffield.
Don’t underestimate Woolhouse and the job he did for the Steelers. He played an important part in both of the years he won league championship medals. In 2012 under Ben Simon he played important minutes when Ervins Mustukov went away mid season to play for Latvia, those points were vital as we won the championship on regulation wins. No other back up in the league would have won those points.
Last season with Doyle and Unice out Woolhouse came to the party once more. He shouldn’t have done, he was the most injured of our three goalies. He was a month away said the doctors from being able to skate let alone play yet on a Saturday against Coventry he strapped the pads on and won the game. The bad news was that he ripped his groin once again and made it even worse. Steelers were in Belfast the following day, Woolhouse arrived at the Arena car park and needed his team mates to help him from the car and on to the bus. Then on to the plane.
Don’t ask me how but House not only played in Belfast but won in Belfast. He sacrificed his body for the team, he knew by playing that weekend that he was ending his season and probably his career. His team though needed him and he delivered. You win games but more importantly you win championships when you have the people with the mindset of a Geoff Woolhouse.
Young Brad Day has an incredible opportunity, he is a lucky lad, it’s a chance that every young goalie in the country would give their right arm for.
The first thing he should do is sit down and talk with Woolhouse about what it means to be a Steeler because House certainly knows. I will miss him.
Four places remain on the Steelers roster, a goalie, D-man and two forwards. We are all hoping that Rod Sarich returns for a 10th season, here is another chap that goes the extra mile.
He lost part of his kidney playing for Steelers a couple of years ago.
Ticket sales for the Holiday Inn Royal Victoria Cup on August 15 and 16 against Braehead Clan at iceSheffield are going well. Those two games will be the preparation for the Steelers Champions League fixtures that will start the following week with a road trip to Sweden and Finland to take on two of Europe’s finest Frolunda and Jyp. Steelers will then play their home games against Jyp on Sunday 30th August and Frolunda on Saturday 5th September, the day before the clubs first EIHL fixture.
I wish June, July and the first two weeks of August would hurry up – I can’t wait.