Dave Simms: Sheffield Steelers will raise the roof to pay tribute to Vicki Thomas

For me the Steelers have always come first, a priority. It’s cost me many things and has been a bit - no, a lot – of an obsession.

Tuesday, 10th September 2019, 4:18 pm
Updated Wednesday, 11th September 2019, 4:31 pm
Sheffield Arena Sheffield Steelers v Nottingham Panthers - Elite Ice Hockey League EIHL February 9, 2019 Picture: Dean Woolley

However even my insular world came to a grinding halt on Monday evening. A text from former Steeler and all-round top man Mark Thomas arrived. I knew what it was before I opened it.

Mark’s wife Vicki had been ill with breast cancer and you will remember last year how we all had our head shaved for the Charity “Prevent Breast Cancer” and how we later walked day and night from Sheffield to Manchester to raise more funds.

Well at 9pm on Monday Vic lost her battle and Mark’s text confirmed that. She had been in hospital for just over a week and the inevitable was expected. She was 36, and her and Mark have two sons, Bailey and Harley.

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Mark Thomas and wife Vicki.

Vicki never wore a Steelers shirt, never played a shift, never scored a goal, made a save or took a penalty minute. She was however part of a group of people who helped bring our identity back to the Steelers.

After the vanilla days of Norton Lea, after losing our British talent the Steelers were in depression. Sure, Jonathan Philips was a bright light but little else. Mark Thomas and Jason Hewitt’s arrival from London would change the Steelers DNA, not that we knew it when they walked through the door. Over the years that followed the group of players then at the club, the likes of Thomas, Phillips, Hewitt, Sarich and Finnerty all became the closest group of players on and off the ice than I can ever remember being here.

A band of brothers, and importantly sisters as well, this group played hard on the ice and boy did it go hard off the ice as well. They were close and they suffered pain as well. The death of Randy Dagenais’ daughter was a major time the group came together.

Vicki Thomas was at the front of that group. She and Mark were Manchester folk but Sheffield was now home for 10 years. They married and started a family here in the Steel City. Vic was at the centre of everything that happened with the club, socially supportive of her husband and the club.

When people say name me the three most important Steelers I’m certain they expect the names Shudra, Priestlay and Blaisdell. They of course were hugely important.

In the last 15 years though the names I would chose are Phillips, Thomas and Hewitt. They changed our club and I don’t just mean the blokes. The three wives were all very different characters. One very quiet and in the background, one very out there and crazy in a great way and then the other one, as Jonathan Phillips described her to me yesterday, “The glue that held the group together” and that was Vicki Thomas.

That Steelers community I talked about above has been strong these past few weeks. The game is now separated all over the world but the phone calls and messages haven’t stopped.

Mark, Bailey and Harley will be at Saturday’s game, ironically against Manchester, the team where his big mate Ryan Finnerty now coaches. The Steelers will ask fans to make applause for Vic before the start of the game, not for a minute but for 44 seconds as Mark wore the 44 shirt 615 times for the Steelers.

In the warm-up the Steelers will wear special Pink “Hockey Fights Cancer” warm up shirts with THOMAS 44 on the back and Vic’s initials on the front. We will raffle all 24 off and make the donation of the funds raised to Mark and his family.

Thanks for everything Vicki. For being there, for caring, for looking after your husband whilst he helped look after us. The Steelers owe you and you know we will be there for Mark, Bailey and Harley every step of the way.

Folks, Saturday will be emotional so be in your seats for 7pm and raise the roof off.