If Paul Thompson has told me once, he’s told me a hundred times over the past eight weeks that his players “have bought in.”
The person who has bought in the most, however, is Thompson himself. He has placed his individual stamp on the club. He is certainly his own man, not distracted or swayed by others. But more than many for a long time he has identified the Steelers’ way. He has bought into what the Steelers are, their history, their past, their position in the sport and he wants everyone to recognise how important this club is.
Thompson came back to Britain to coach a big club that had the chance to win. He came back for the big nights and to win!
He has stood behind championship benches before and led teams to glory. He has stood behind the Great Britain bench at World Championships against some of the best teams in the world and pulled off incredible results leading to medals on the world stage.
This Saturday though he stands behind a different bench for the first time. That of a Steelers coach facing the club that has helped define the Steelers history – Nottingham Panthers. There might not be a title on the line, or a World Championship medal but to the 6,000 plus inside Sheffield Arena the game will mean just as much.
Thompson gets what this Sheffield v Nottingham series is all about. He doesn’t need to try and buy in, he already has. Over the years some coaches and new players never bought in. They said they did but I looked into their eyes and they didn’t. Doug Christiansen didn’t. He never felt it like Mike Blaisdell did, like Gerad Adams did. Gerad had it as a player for Sheffield against Nottingham and knew what it meant. Whether he got the message over to his players is a different question, but G felt it.
Despite great success against Nottingham I always felt Dave Matsos never quite understood it. Don McKee didn’t get it, it wasn’t in a book so he couldn’t digest it. Alex Dampier got it, he helped create it. My view is that the men at the top have to get it for it to come down the food chain to the players.
I think Corey Neilson gets it in Nottingham. He hates the sight of the Steelers. Over the years he has got that message over to his players. I see Nottingham play Coventry, I watch the Panthers play Cardiff and I see a different team to the Panthers side that turns up to play the Steelers. Oh yes Neilson gets it alright and gets the message over to his players, the importance of the games to the club and the community.
So for the first time in a while we have two motivated, hungry coaches leading their troops. I can confidently say that Steelers and Panthers are about to move up a notch into a new rivalry. The Thompson v Neilson rivalry, one that is also fuelled by unfinished business as well.
These two were never the best of buddies in the days of the big Coventry v Nottingham rivalry when the Blaze were winning championships. Neilson was perturbed about how some British, yes British upstart could out-coach him to championships.
Thompson equally motivated to prove himself against these foreign souls who had taken over the sport and were looking down on him. This Saturday, the battle commences again. Steelers vs. Panthers. Thompson vs. Neilson. Both men will be the benefactors of a great night of sport and entertainment. Make sure you don’t miss it.