Grand Slammer Tony Hand judges if his Steelers' team would beat today's line-up

Is today's Steelers' team the best Sheffield ice hockey line-up of all time?
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People who have watched the club since it surfaced kicking and screaming into the UK ice hockey scene in 1991 have plenty of previously successful Steelers teams to compare with.

One player who would have graced any generation is Tony Hand, who played 245 games for Steelers between 1995 and 1999.

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In his first season, Steelers swept to their first Grand Slam, in the British Hockey League, before the Superleague came along.

Sheffield won the league with four points to spare over Cardiff Devils, won the Autumn Cup, and then beat Nottingham Panthers in the Play-Off final.

Steelers would certainly like to emulate that scale of achievement this year, and many observers think they are capable of winning all three domestic trophies.

They host the Challenge Cup final on Wednesday, against Guildford Flames.

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Hand, currently recovering from a heart operation, frequently views Steelers games on web streams.

Team Steelers 2023-24 - good enough to beat Hand, Shudra and Priestlay?Team Steelers 2023-24 - good enough to beat Hand, Shudra and Priestlay?
Team Steelers 2023-24 - good enough to beat Hand, Shudra and Priestlay?

And he finds it hard to guess whether the 1995-6 side could measure up to the 2023-24 one.

"I have watched the present-day team, they are way ahead of other teams, with all respect to the others" said Hand, who scored an amazing 424 points for Steelers.

"You can just see that superiority in their organisation and the way they control and manage the puck.

"You can tell they are very well structured.

Tony Hand back in the dayTony Hand back in the day
Tony Hand back in the day
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"They don't make too many bad choices when they have the puck, they don't just throw it anywhere hoping it will find their guy's stick.

"The chemistry of the team is fantastic and their work rate, puck management, and skill are very difficult to beat."

So how would they go on if they could be transported back in time to face the 1995-6 Grand Slammers?

"It is difficult to say, looking back, we had a fantastic amount of quality in that team.

Ken Priestlay back at Steelers with club photographer Dean WoolleyKen Priestlay back at Steelers with club photographer Dean Woolley
Ken Priestlay back at Steelers with club photographer Dean Woolley
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"You have to recognise that the game has changed, the speed, the would be tough to say as they are two teams stacked with lots of skill.

"They have four lines I'd give them that, probably had more depth over us, which is something you need now, when you are playing the schedule they and the EIHL are, you need a full roster and then some" said the Scotsman.

"You see teams like Fife Flyers playing sometimes with 14 guys or 4 defence and eight forwards, it's just crazy - Sheffield has so much depth in their squad.

"But three lines v three lines against the 1995 side would have been a good contest, I would think.

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"We had a lot of NHL guys like Wayne Cowley, Steve Nemeth, and Ken Priestlay. David Longstaff was fantastic and went on to play at the top level in Sweden.

"There was so much quality in our team, that it is almost close too close to call.

Full retro: Wayne Cowley with Tim CranstonFull retro: Wayne Cowley with Tim Cranston
Full retro: Wayne Cowley with Tim Cranston

"But if you want me to go out on a limb I'd give this year's lot the edge, the speed of the game is certainly faster than when we were playing."

Former team-mate Priestlay, now also aged 56, returned to Sheffield for last Saturday's 'Retro night' at the Arena, and is impressed with today's team but says: "There is a conversation to be had as to whether they are better than we were back then.

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"This year's team has no Tony Hands, no me and no Ed Courtenay!

"But you can tell this group is well-structured and coached. We were more loose back in the past.

"All I know for sure, having come back, is that our players obviously made a huge impact on the community in Sheffield at that time.

"I was talking to Les Millie and agreeing that returning to a parking lot full of fans at the Arena after winning trophies was one of the best times of our lives."

"To see fans who were kids turn into adults and adult fans turning into older adults was amazing. I was so appreciative of what was said and I had an emotional 60 hours in Sheffield!"