Simmsey column: Markus can make his mark on Sheffield Steelers’ top line

Markus Nilsson - the surprise package of 2016-17
Markus Nilsson - the surprise package of 2016-17
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The business end of the year. The time when the trophies are up for grabs and when the Steelers come to the party.

Will the same be said in 2017? Well I think so.

Last weekend the Steelers showed true character in Belfast. They collected three of the four points on offer, closed the gap on the second place Giants and remain within striking distance of top of the table Cardiff.

They are now back to full strength, the return of Andreas Valdix is a major boost for the club. His partnership with Levi Nelson and Robert Dowd will be vital if the Steelers are to close the gap on Cardiff and lift that third consecutive championship.

Balance is a word that coach Paul Thompson uses a lot, he believes we are the most balanced side in the league when at full strength running four lines. Thompson mixed those lines up a little last Sunday.

He rewarded Markus Nilsson with additional responsibility and ice time promoting him from fourth to first line alongside the one-two punch of Roy and Fretter. John Armstrong moved on to the Desbiens and Ratchuk unit whilst Yared Hagos played with Jonathan Phillips and Luke Ferrara.

Andreas Valdix: back from injury

Andreas Valdix: back from injury

The changes worked, three of the four lines scored five on five, something the Steelers have struggled with recently.

Nilsson has been a major hit this year, when he arrived as a fourth line centre it was clear to all that he had a bit more in locker than that. He has frightening speed and perhaps whilst not a gifted goal scorer his ability to set up those around him is outstanding. It will be interesting to see how a prolonged spell with the club’s two most dynamic goal scorers will end up. We all know that if you get the puck to Mathieu and Colton they will score.

Nilsson’s emergence has come from hard work and commitment. In just one outstanding penalty kill shift in Belfast last Saturday he earned a standing ovation for blocking two shots, one to the chest and one to the shoulder, never flinching. He has shown he can kill, he is good defensively and given the chance he can contribute offensively. Now he has his big chance, the move on to the top unit. To play with Fretter and Roy he has the chance to show Thompson that he is a big gun himself. He has earned he chance, now he has to show us all he is the man for the the first line centre’s job.

Back at the other end of the ice Steelers have the hottest goalie in town, Ervins Mustukovs. Moose has become Mr consistent, over 92% on the saves percentage. In four games against Belfast he has let in just five goals. Every night Moose gives you a chance to win, even when you aren’t scoring as freely as you’d like.

Moose has quietly gone about his business, shutting the door night after night.

Back to back games with Coventry lie ahead this weekend with the home fixture at the Arena on Saturday. It’s an interesting line up between Moose, the goalie of the moment and Brian Stewart, the Blaze’s man between the pipes, the man who single-handedly took the Steelers on last season and caused us more issues than any other player in the league.

Last time Blaze played in Sheffield the Steelers fans went after Stewart. He has a short fuse and the supporters realised that and went for the jugular. I’m sure they will again on Saturday with the unnerving chant “BBBBRRRRIIIIAAAANNNN” ringing out around the Arena.

In a funny way attacking an opposition player in this way is a sense of respect, everyone realises what a destructive force Stewart can be. On Saturday it will be the chant of MOOSE supporting Mustukovs that will ring out loudest.

The battle of perhaps the two best goalies at one end whilst Nilsson tries to cement his position with the two immortals at the other end. Quite a night in store.