Dave Simms Steelers column: Room for improvement after 8-1 Devils demolition

Paul Thompson on the Steelers' bench
Paul Thompson on the Steelers' bench
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The best is still to come. At the end of the first period last Sunday, the Steelers led the Cardiff Devils 4-0.

Over 4,000 Sheffield fans had probably just witnessed one of the greatest periods of hockey the old barn had seen. The Arena was buzzing - not so much in a state of shock, but in a state of excitement.

In the previous two weekends, Steeler fans had witnessed two incredible performances against the best of European opposition in the Champions Hockey League. They hadn’t seen a win, though.

They knew their team was good but had nothing to judge it against. Last weekend we got a great gauge. A 4-0 road win in Coventry followed by an 8-1 drubbing of the Devils.

The bar has been set by Paul Thompson and his team; fans now know that this is a team that plays hard for 60 minutes. They know their team is fast, exciting, tenacious and gritty.

They know that they have three balanced lines that come in waves offensively, back check dogmatically and, when given chances, finish clinically. This Steelers team has Sheffield excited and has the hockey tongues intrigued.

Paul Thompson said something to me on Sunday that is important.

“These two wins didn’t just happen this weekend,” he said.

“These two wins have been six weeks in the making.”

Thompson was making the point that this new look, new style Steelers side had trained, practised and played this way since he got them together before their European experience.

“We practise like we play,” he went on.

“We practise with intensity, with speed. Then we take that into games.”

It was the speed and the tenacity of the Steelers that impressed most of all last weekend. Coventry chased pucks all night.

It was a reminder of the first Frolunda game when the Steelers were the ones doing all the chasing of the Swedish giants.

When Coventry had puck possession on Saturday, it was for the shortest time before Dowd, Mosienko, Duco or Nelson said: “Excuse me, if you don’t mind, we will have that puck back.”

Cardiff had their chance in the opening minutes on Sunday, two breakaways and a failed penalty shot. Maybe if they had converted, then the score might have been different.

But they didn’t; Tyler Plante made the saves that Ben Bowns didn’t. The Steelers converted when the Devils couldn’t and the 8-1 scoreline at least reflected the difference on the night.

And folks, that’s an important line from Thompson: “The difference on the night.”

Because, as he said post-game, there will be dark nights.

As much as we would like to hope that every night will be like last Sunday, they won’t.

You do, though, see a very different team. A workaholic Steelers side.

Mosienko receives a standing ovation on a penalty kill where he didn’t even touch the puck, such was his work ethic closing down and preventing the Devils from any powerplay momentum.

Robert Dowd the same as he danced through three, four or five Devils. Steelers fans love hard work because they are hardworking, whether it be in the mills, on the factory floor or in the office.

Steelers fans graft for their pound to come and watch this team play. Graft is the very least of what they expect and is exactly what they got on Sunday, though it was graft with a purpose, graft with meaning and graft with an end product.

Thompson’s message post-game was that on Tuesday, after a well deserved day off on Monday, his team would go hard again. That he wanted them to get faster, stronger and better. That this was the start, not even close to the end of where he wanted them to be.

That message should make us all excited, if this is the style of hockey we are to watch and enjoy this year.

Top marks, too, to Mathieu Roy; we never expected anything less, of course, but when a player has such a great season as he did last year it is always difficult to come back and start as you ended.

Roy had a two-on-one breakaway early in the second period in Coventry. Having not found the net for a few games a player with any mental weakness would have off-loaded the responsibility and made the pass. Not Mathieu Roy, though; that pass was never being made. He shot past Brian Stewart and scored the Steelers’ game-clinching 3rd goal. His reaction moments after showed how much that goal meant.

On Sunday we saw the league’s number one goalscorer doing what he does best, going to the net, scoring goals, three of them plus a great assist on Legue’s goal. In fact a five-point night for the great Canadian.

This weekend is a one-game weekend for the Steelers; Saturday, at home against Coventry. The Blaze, a proud organisation, were embarrassed at home last week. Their coach will have, and should have, rode them hard all week in preparation for revenge. Thompson will have forgotten last weekend’s games. That’s history.

Only the next game matters.

It’s going to be a cracker and most of all we are excited to see this Steelers team again. Excited to be entertained, excited to be thrilled.