Exclusive: Sheffield Steelers blocked from buying lower tier Steeldogs

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Sheffield Steelers appear to have been blocked in a behind-closed-doors bid to buy neighbouring club Steeldogs.

Steelers' owner Tony Smith wants to create a pathway that will bring more players, like Liam Kirk, Ben Bowns and the late Alex Graham, through the ranks.

Steeldogs' owner Ali Cree feels the same way and believes the sale to the EIHL club would be in the best interests of youngsters, and the sport generally, in the city.

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But the National Ice Hockey League, which Dogs compete in, has not rubber-stamped the sale, which now appears to be...on ice.

Liam Kirk in Sheffield Steeldogs coloursLiam Kirk in Sheffield Steeldogs colours
Liam Kirk in Sheffield Steeldogs colours

No League fixtures have been announced yet, which means a frustrating wait for clubs including Dogs, who had been poised to appoint ex-Steeler Jason Hewitt as head coach, with Ben Morgan underneath him.

Cree, asked by The Star if his club was a take-over target for Steelers, replied: "That is correct, yes.

"The proposal that has been put across is very good for the future of the kids of Sheffield and all that upcoming talent we have here."

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"We think it is the right thing" added Cree. "When you see all the good things that have happened since Tony took over Steelers, it makes sense that they come in, take over and develop kids into bigger and faster players than we could. At the moment, though, the NIHL is not allowing a change of ownership."

The late Alex Graham playing for SteeldogsThe late Alex Graham playing for Steeldogs
The late Alex Graham playing for Steeldogs

The NIHL programme currently runs under the auspices of governing body, the English Ice Hockey Association, but Cree suggests that might change.

"The National League owners have reached out the Ice Hockey UK organisation so they might fall under their banner, instead.

"That is going on currently so I think they don't want any change of club ownership while they are in the middle of that."

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Cree said the Dogs' outfit fully intended to continue playing in the division: "It would be criminal if there wasn't a team in the NIHL from Sheffield, as it is a hotbed for hockey.

"Junior development is massive here and while the sale of our team has been refused we intend to participate with the League.

"It is upsetting that it (the sale) has not been approved but we will be looking to working with Steelers more closely and getting advice on working (practices) and marketing. We want to learn from the best and get good guidance. And the League has suggested we could work together."

Financially, Cree said Dogs did not owe money to any creditors.

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"We have been speaking to sponsors telling them that there are different things ongoing, but it has been frustrating we have not been able to say much."

Cree said he expected his team to be part of the NIHL 2023-24 fixture list, and they had given their potential dates to the NIHL but there had not been a great deal of dialogue between both camps in recent days.

"I am hoping we will get some degree of clarity, so we can get things moving."

Asked if he thought NIHL wanted Dogs out of the League, he said: "Directly, that has not been said to us."

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Steelers have declined to comment. The Star has asked for comments from the two national governing bodies.

Meanwhile, two Steelers from last season's team have moved on.

Flying winger Martin Latal has switched to Cracovia Krakow of Poland and defenceman Kevin Schulze has moved to Italian side Gherdëina in the Alps League.