Simmsey column: Sheffield Steelers lead the pack in youth investment

Cole Shudra
Cole Shudra
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If any message came through loud and clear last weekend it was that Sheffield Steelers future is bright with young Liam Kirk, Cole Shudra and Kieran Brown all seeing a lot of valuable ice time as they make their mark on the game.

Add to that Brad Day’s outstanding performance between the pipes in the 3-2 win in Braehead.

Liam Kirk

Liam Kirk

When Paul Thompson added Kirk and Shudra last year he was thinking three to five years down the line. He was thinking who replaces Robert Dowd, Jonathan Phillips and Ben O’Connor.

The Steelers were the first club to make the step of bringing in full time paid apprentices. Some scoffed. Then this summer when we let Luke Ferrara go they scoffed again. What a risk letting an established Brit on the verge of the national side leave, they said.

It was a risk, a huge one but what’s the point in having this talent if it’s only going to sit in the wings.

We are never going to know how good Kirk can be if we don’t play him. In the short term that was a risky strategy but in the last few weeks we have seen another step up in his development. The play he made on Sunday for Andreas Jamtin’s opening goal showed we are in store for some good times ahead with him.

Shudra thought he was a forward. We all thought he was a forward. Paul Thompson and Jerry Andersson said, no, he is a defencemen. For young Cole the process has been the hardest of all the youngsters, changing position and then trying to break into the team.

By his own admission Thompson will tell you he has been harder on Cole than anyone. But after Friday’s game his first words to me were “Cole played well tonight: I think he is getting it”

Thompson will also tell you that Shudra has kept his head down and worked so hard these past few months, grafted to be better and it’s now paying off.

Shudra and Kirk and young, smart, polite, diligent professionals.

Kieran Brown is a bull in a china shop and we love him. The players call him the Bull Dog. Maybe, this 16 year old is the most exciting of them all.

How many other clubs would take a 16 year old and not only train him with the first team every day but then take him to Braehead last Friday and play him in the Cup game. So good was he that Thompson kept him with the Steelers on Sunday to play him against the Clan in the league game rather than send him back to his farm side in Blackburn.

Brown is a rat, he runs men twice his age and twice his size, he is fearless. He possesses offensive talent and pure raw energy that excites his coaches, fellow team mates and fans.

n So Steelers lost Colton Fretter for six games last week and there were many questions asked following that ban. The one I asked myself was nothing to do with the suspension, nothing to do with the league or DOPS – my question was “who is going to step up, take on the load that the loss of the Great Colton Fretter would leave?”

Step up Big John Armstrong, he had a great weekend contributing as much as anyone as the Steelers collected five out of six cup and league points.

When Armstrong is going, in full flow there are few better sights. His form for example in last year’s play offs was sublime. On Sunday playing his 3rd game in as many nights he was unplayable.

Big John has now set his own standards. We know how good he is, how good he can play. Armstrong can become the League’s most dominant centre.

On Saturday he will go head to head with the man who probably holds that title, Joey Martin of the Cardiff Devils. Two very different players but both so important to their team.

There is the King Mathieu Roy, there is The Great Colton Fretter, forwards we talk about and eulogise over week after week. Now is the moment for Big John to lead the Steelers in to battle.

John goes into the weekend after being recognised by the league with their player of the week award.

We see John week in and week out, we know his talents and aren’t surprised that he is now leading the league in scoring. Long may it continue.

I mentioned above that last weekend the Steelers took five of the six points on offer in league and cup games.

The point dropped in Fife was the latest one to slip by after playing well enough to take all the points.

Just like the dropped ones to Cardiff, Belfast and Nottingham.

There is a long way to go, a lot of hockey to be played but those who have won before in the Steelers dressing room will know better than me that we can’t keep letting these points slip away – otherwise it will come back to haunt us in the stretch.

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