Dogs snapping at Arena heels

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SHEFFIELD Steeldogs won’t publicly admit they are targeting Steelers’ fans next season. In ice hockey politics, it wouldn’t be very diplomatic.

But the truth is that the iceSheffield English Premier League team means business - and are closing in on sponsors and fans that might set alarm bells ringing over at the Arena. Dogs coach Andre Payette - a battler on the ice - fights shy of saying outright that his club will be courting Steelers fans.

But he told The Star: “We all know it’s a possibility that we might attract a few of their fans, when you compare the ticket prices, theirs are nearly double ours, even though the (Elite League) wage cap is coming down next season.

“We don’t regard ourselves as direct competition, they do their thing we do ours. We have 16 Sheffield trained players out of 19, they have one.

“We’ll market ourselves as a fully Sheffield team, one that works harder than everybody else in our league and there will be fights and goals to keep people coming. I’m getting a lot of hockey players wanting to come here. But apart from our three imports all I can say is that if you are not Sheffield trained, I am not interested.”

Payette said Dogs attracted two 1,000 crowds against Manchester Phoenix last season and had around 500 at other games. He wants to increase the average.

His remarks won’t be lost on Steelers owner Paul Ragan, who is trying to entice more fans to the Arena and has shown an interest in embracing junior hockey in the city - he wants to set up a “Steelers Community Foundation.”

This week The Star revealed that Steeldogs are planning a partnership with an Elite League team, but not Steelers. Payette plans to allow Ben Bowns, Great Britain’s third-choice goalie, to play for the top side in midweek games.

“Teams should rest their first choice and that will give Ben a chance,” he said. “But it’s no good Ben, at 19, going to an Elite club full-time now and just sitting on the bench. I hope he stays with us for another season after the coming one, then it might be time for him to move on.”

Payette believes his side, which will include Ben Morgan and Greg Wood, will be a genuine EPL contender next season.