The Steelers arrived in Jonkoping, home of Swedish hockey giants HV71, on Tuesday evening ahead of Thursday’s first Champions Hockey League fixture.
The Kinnarps Arena boasts four ice pads, and all of them were in operation when the team dropped off their bags before heading to the hotel. The four rinks didn’t have public skating “we don’t do that in the winter” the chap at the rink said to me. There wasn’t any figure skating either “they get a couple of hours a week” the same guy replied.
No, all four rinks had hockey being played on them, under 10s had the one rink split in two, the other kids shared the other two ice pads and the Under 20s were flying around the main rink where the Steelers will play of Thursday. It was paradise. To see a facility totally geared to hockey, where it’s first, second and third priority was hockey. HV71 has a tradition of playing locally trained players and within 15 minutes of walking in here we could see why.
The building smells hockey. You walk up the hockey corridor and the dressing rooms are arranged in such a way that the kids can see a pathway to the first team. If you are under 12 you don’t get your own permanent room, you share one and have a basket your hockey gear goes in. After that there are designated rooms for all the junior teams, you walk past the 14’s room then next to it the 16’s and then next to that the under 18’s – then the second team (the under 20’s) - then at the top of the corridor the main HV71 dressing room.
From the age of 10 the kids can look down that hallway and see their own future years to come. How I wish my six numbers on the triple roll over lottery would come up and then Sheffield we could have a building and more importantly programme like this.
Steelers skated twice on Wednesday, we couldn’t skate too early as the kids have the ice on three of the pads from 6am in the morning until 9am – the average 12, 13, 14 year old will get 12-14 hours of ice a week before games – and we wonder why they are so good. I’ve seen facilities like this all around Europe and this matches anything. It’s not super modern, it just works.
Steelers are complete underdogs. But I think we will surprise them, I don’t think we will roll over. Saying that a realistic chance of victory may be more likely on Saturday in Salzburg or back home when these two powerhouses visit Yorkshire.
Last weekend Steelers played their two exhibition games against Aalborg – two victories played in front of two sold out crowds at Ice Sheffield – I think the Sheffield public are excited this year.
Mustokovs between the pipes gives the Steelers stability at the back, something they struggled with last year. The new defensive core skates well and moves the puck quickly – something Thompson wanted “I want, I need my forwards to be on the puck” he said – those forwards, all four lines of them also bring blistering speed. The crodws last weekend got excited watching Markus Nilsson killing penalties – he bought Mosienko-like intensity.
The biggest plus was seeing a fit and aggressive Colton Fretter, he is a gem in the Steelers team. He played 12 games last year, a year wrecked by injury. Now he is smiling, playing hard and back to his best.
The Champions Hockey is back and I can’t wait. We can only dream...