Simmsy's Steelers column: Visit to rivals Nottingham Panthers is opener for Sheffield ice hockey team

So we start for real on Saturday, a road trip to Nottingham in Challenge Cup action.

Wednesday, 29th August 2018, 4:22 pm
Updated Wednesday, 29th August 2018, 4:26 pm
Aaron Johnson playing for Steelers v Timra. Pic by Dean Woolley

It will be strange to visit Lower Parliament Street and not see Corey Neilson, he has moved on after a decade at the club and there is a new villain in town, Rich Chernomaz.

The press office in Nottingham had done their work earlier in the week well, prepping the new coach who was quoted as saying “of all the colours to choose, I hate orange” referring to our good selves.

So we have learnt that the new Panthers boss is a follower and not a leader, always good to know. At least try and get to know us a little bit Rich before trying to rubbish us.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

So the new coach of the Panthers is up for a rivalry and as you know we aren’t known to back down when confronted so let’s roll the dice and see where we go.

Steelers head coach Paul Thompson had hoped to be at full strength for game 1, however both Robert Dowd and Brandon Whistle are doubts heading in.

Whilst it would be lovely to drive out of Nottingham with the points, I think for once this is a game where we look to see just what kind of team we have. Who the leaders are, are there any signs of a new star.

Will Buzzeo’s speed be a factor, will McGrath be able to dominate, how will Johnson control the back end and can Jackson Whistle continue his outstanding pre-season form?

We are all a little obsessed with the initials NHL but for good reason.

It’s the pinnacle of our sport, the top of the mountain. We know how hard it is to make the National Hockey League let alone stay there for as many years as Aaron Johnson did.

To go from there to one of Germany’s biggest clubs and then to come to Sheffield gives us a front row seat in seeing what it really takes to be a top professional for so many years.

The word on Johnson from the coaches and team mates is that he is the ultimate professional. Yes a beaming smile, good manners, a soft voice and a great demeanour but you don’t do what he has unless underneath you have a killer instinct, an incredible ruthlessness and huge determination. You don’t stick around as long as he has without that.

Paul Thompson tells me that Johnson “does everything well” and at “100%”.

Captain Jonathan Phillips says as relaxed as he is off the ice when he steps onto it “he is all about the business”.

We look for leaders all over the ice and in Phillips we have one of the ultimate leaders of men.

However, it was noticed last year that we missed a Guillaume Desbien and I’m hoping that Johnson might be able to fill that role with us. His experience and guile surely will be vitally important over the next 32 weekends.

He will have experienced the caldron that is expected in Nottingham on Saturday, the atmosphere will once again be electric. I don’t see it affecting the players on either side. They will relish it, look forward to it and enjoy the latest chapter in this great rivalry.

When the schedule was finalised, I did like that we didn’t play last weekend and then just had this one game this weekend.

The perfect build up to our home opener next weekend against Milton Keynes. One of the six special £5 games at the Fly DSA (Sheffield) Arena.

I love the excitement that is building up to this home opener, over 4,500 tickets sold already, over 8,000 expected for the game. What a way to open, what a way to welcome 16 new players and from a club point of view what a way to attract new fans – all tickets just £5 – it’s a risk from the Steelers but one that could work spectacularly well and encourage more support.