How Sheffield Steelers plan to close the gap on Belfast Giants on and off the ice

Sheffield Steelers go into the close season determined to build a team that will close the gap on Belfast Giants - on and off the ice.

Tuesday, 3rd May 2022, 10:39 am

While Giants lost the Play Off final last Sunday, the League and Cup double winners remain the yardstick that all other in the EIHL must measure themselves against.

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Sheffield Steelers coach Aaron Fox on his watching brief in EIHL Play Off finals

Sheffield owner Toy Smith admits it is a challenge, but one that the whole club is relishing.

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And the strengthening of links with the city's two universities will be key to their ambitions - luring top imports with the promise of free education.

"Belfast have something we don't have at the moment and that is they have a fantastic deal with the Ulster University" said Smith.

"That sort of arrangement is something I am discussing right now with Sheffield Univerity's Management School and Hallam University.

"We desperately need to be on an equal-footing with Belfast who have, from what I can gather, an unlimited amount of spots available.

Belfast's Conway powers in a shot on Sheffield's Stojanovic, pic Dean Woolley

"We need to get University deals back on track, Covid closed everything down, they were not too keen to look at partnership agreements last year and we are hoping to resume partnership and get further deals on the table," said the proprietor.

"We had no University of Sheffield people this year, while Giants built on their great relationship with Ulster.

"Would you have had better players if we'd had a deal with Sheffield? It is possible, you can never really tell.

"It could be that one or two very good players possibly looked at Sheffield and realised there was no University available.

Sheffield v Belfast action shot by Dean Woolley.

"We had two with Hallam this year (Kevin Schulze and Barry Brust.) That was just with Hallam; I need to get both Hallam and Sheffield on track with a better deal and that is what I am working on at the moment."

Belfast finished seven points clear at the top of the regular standings and Smith said the Irish deserved such a hefty margin ahead of his second-placed roster.

"I don't think any team can be flattered by the points they have got in the bank - they worked hard, and they took it to another level.

"You can't argue they got those points on merit and Steelers came up a bit short in the games against them."

Sheffield on Belfast's tail.

Coach Aaron Fox also had praise for the Giants' side which boasted the likes of JJ Piccinich, Scott Conway, and Mark Cooper.

"They are a good deep hockey team, their goalie (Tyler Beskorowany) won the Goalie of the Year award for a reason, he is very high quality and gives them a chance every night. He plays the puck really well and their first line had a ton of success.

"We have talked about it prior but they didn't lose any of their top guys, they had a little bit of luck that players didn't get hit by the injury bug."

The club will be announcing new deals for core players at some point, Robert Dowd and Sam Jones are the only ones on multiple-year deals seeing them into 2022-23.

Import Adrian Saxrud-Danielsen has thanked the club for his season with them, tweeting: "Thank you for giving me the opportunity to wear the orange jersey in front of the best fans, a fight for a league title, and giving me a second home. Until next time."