Old ‘uns bring back Steelers’ glory days

Tommy Plommer and family
Tommy Plommer and family
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Age (and a fair few beers the night before) may have wearied them.

But the veteran players who came from all corners of the world to celebrate Sheffield Steelers’ 20th anniversary did themselves and the club proud over the weekend.

New boy Colt King in the Cardiff Devils challenge match.         Pictures: Rik Rayner

New boy Colt King in the Cardiff Devils challenge match. Pictures: Rik Rayner

Saturday’s ‘Legends’ game was a heart-warming stroll back to the good old days, with the famous unit of Tommy Plommer, Les Millie and Tim Cranston (which started the home win over a Cardiff Devils Legends side) back in their pomp, Alex Dampier ruling the bench and Ron Shudra marshalling forces on ice.

There were a few grey hairs, bald patches, wrinkles and pot bellies.

But this nostalgic look-back at former greats proved to us that Rick Brebant, now a personal trainer in Ohio still retains that wily old skill and astonishing positional sense, Neil Abel (even more astonishingly) can score goals, David Longstaff and Tony Hand could both still hold down a place in the Elite League and that, even at 42 years of age, you wouldn’t ever want ex Detroit Red Wings/Ottawa Senators enforcer Dennis Vial bearing down on you near his goalie’s crease. Or anywhere else come to that.

Saturday’s 7-3 Legends victory, not that the score was important, proved that there is an unbroken affection between fans and players of a certain age.

Tim Cranston in the Legends match.         Pictures: Rik Rayner

Tim Cranston in the Legends match. Pictures: Rik Rayner

Around 4,600 turned up on a Bank Holiday weekend for the pre-season event; compare that in footballing terms with Yeovil v Sheffield United, 5,001, Exeter v Chesterfield, 4,113 and all-conquering Rotherham United v Gillingham, 3,740.

It was the sort of afternoon that may never happen again as many of the participants who flew in from Canada, Sweden, America and South Africa won’t perhaps, be passing our way again.

But after the emotional interlude with players from the past, what did this year’s crop of Steelers tell us, when they took on modern-day Cardiff?

Ryan Finnerty’s debut as player coach at the Arena served up a 3-2 win and gave us all a definite insight into what we can expect under his command.

It is clear that he will be demanding work ethic and industry from his side and, while you can take little for definite from friendlies, there were signs that some individuals will be worth the entrance fee this season, which starts next Saturday, at Belfast Giants.

Skipper Jonathan Phillips, after a season blighted by injury last term, was fresh and inventive. While the team will doubtless miss Rob Dowd’s pace Tom Squires might well blossom and fill his role.

Jeff Legue is clearly going to be the most important player in team in terms of offence, getting the most from his power forwards and burying power play opportunities.

(Quite why Legue was wearing a number 11 shirt on the day it had been formally retired in Plommer’s honour remains baffling, however.)

Of the new crop, of which there are eight, if you include player coach Finnerty, Canadian right winger Mike Ramsay looked the pick of the bunch.

He and the returning Neil Clark should profit from Legue’s vision and passing range with a fair few goals.

Defensively, American blue liner Chad Huttle is a small mobile defencemen in the Gerad Adams mould, he will take no time at all to settle into Elite League hockey. Steve Birnstill seems another resolute defenceman.

And most importantly, Sheffield’s new goalie, 6ft 3ins American John DeCaro, gets down quickly for a big man and looks solid and focused.

Squires and Rod Sarich scored the home goals, along with Colt King on his debut.

King us a big player who seemd to cope well on the big ice of Sheffield Arena and could be quite a force.

Last night, in the return leg of both games, fatigue finally got to the Sheffield Legends, who lost 6-4.

But Steelers present roster stormed back from 2-0 down to level with 18 seconds left with back-up goalie Geoff Woolhouse withdrawn for an extra skater.

Canadian wing Scott Dobben had opened the scoring for Devils. After the first break centreman Mark Smith punished Sheffield further.

But Ashley Tait struck back after set up play by Jason Hewitt and King. And with 18 seconds left and the goalie pulled Ramsay equalised to ensure a 2-2 tie and a fine weekend for Finnerty.

WHAT THEY SAID:

Vial: “It didn’t feel much different coming back to Sheffield Arena, the building is like it was and the fans were too. I have played with bigger clubs, but not better, in terms of team spirit and comraderie.”

Dampier: “I wouldn’t have missed this for the world. There were a lot of great people involved with Sheffield and there still is. I’d come back for the next one - if I’m still around!”

Abel: “People shouldn’t have been surprised with my goal scoring prowess. I have hidden my skill in front of goal for years.”