Ice hockey interview: Bitter-sweet memories of Sheffield Steelers’ debut year for Tom Zanoski

Tom Zanoski felt he never got the chance to shine at Steelers - partly because of the time it took to earn the trust of then-coach Tom Barrasso.
Tom Zanoski in Steelers actionTom Zanoski in Steelers action
Tom Zanoski in Steelers action

The 35-year-old Croatian left winger arrived in January when the Sheffield team were in 10th place in the league, and knew he had a battle on his hands just to try and contribute to the struggling side.

While he scored on his debut and stayed the course for 22 more games, he feels he never showed more than 60 per cent of his true capabilities.

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Having said that, Zanoski praised Barrasso and said he loved much of his time in the Elite League.

"I truly enjoyed Sheffield and have nothing but great things to say about the organisation from top to bottom," said Zanoski, who played the first half of last season under new Steelers’ coach Aaron Fox at Medvescak Zagreb.

"From the first night I arrived in Sheffield, I was treated with open arms and everything I could ask for was taken care of.

"The ownership, staff, and players were definitely some of the best I have ever experienced in an organisation, and as a player, especially joining late in a season and not knowing anyone, it is something you really appreciate."

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Having him time to reflect on his 2018-19 experiences in two countries, he told The Star: "Obviously everyone knows what happened in Zagreb, (financial problems) and it was a tough situation for everyone involved.

"Once I arrived in Sheffield, I was really excited, I knew I was coming into a top organisation.

"Obviously the team was struggling and I was excited to come and help, make a push for the play offs and do everything I could to help the club finish the season in the best way possible.

"As a player, when a big change happens like it did for me, mid-season, you literally move your life overnight.

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"It's tough as it is, so you really just want to be able to focus on hockey and hit the ground running with your new team.

Tom Zanoski in happy times with SteelersTom Zanoski in happy times with Steelers
Tom Zanoski in happy times with Steelers

"I felt it (the transition) took the wind out of me once I arrived, and saw that Tom wasn’t familiar with me and that it would take some time for me to earn his trust and confidence to play me in the areas I was used to playing.

"I only had 20 games to play, so to spend half that time waiting for a made it a little confusing for me.

"Usually if a team brings in a player at that point in a season, it is to make a difference, unfortunately, I never felt I got that chance.

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"I did finally get some time on the Power Play and had success, but when you come so late to a team, it's tough to waste a month and not be able to show what you were brought in to do."

Zanoski, a Croatia international, was moved around different lines by Barrasso, the big-name, former NHL star who inherited a struggling line-up.

He was on a unit with centreman Josh Pitt and winger Tanner Eberle at the beginning, had a first line shot with John Armstrong and Jordan Owens, and was even placed on the fourth line at one point as Barrasso sought a spark.

"I never had a line to play with, I was only spotted in if a player was hurt, or suspended. I don’t think I played more than three or four games on the same line the entire time" he commented.

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"Maybe these are some details most people don’t notice, but as a player, it makes it extremely difficult to have success, especially on a new team joining late in a season" said the veteran, who scored one of his five Steelers’ goals against Nottingham Panthers.

"I know I could have done much more, and honestly I feel I showed maybe 60 per cent of what I feel I can contribute.

"I wish I could have made a bigger impact, unfortunately, I didn't feel I got that opportunity until it was a little late."

Zanoski doesn't lay the blame at the then-coach's door, though.

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"Just to make it clear, there are absolutely no hard feelings from my end, Tom had a tough job, and I had a really good relationship with him.

"He also came in later in the season, and did everything he could for the club to have success."

The skater started feeling better about his place in the order of things after around 10 games in an orange shirt.

"Our Power Play wasn't doing so well at the time, and him (Barrasso) and I had a good chat, got to know each other a little bit better. "I kind of expressed what my strengths were as a hockey player and how I can best help the club.

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"Once he gave me that opportunity, I felt it worked out positively, for sure.

"I started producing more offensively and obviously that helps with confidence. Our PP was having some pretty good success so I was happy about that.

"It's just too bad that there wasn't very much time left in the season” said Zanoski.

"I never really felt I settled in so to speak, never really got comfortable to play my best hockey.

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"I could honestly say that it was a pleasure being there; everyone involved gave it their all.

“I enjoyed my time with all the guys there."

*Around the EIHL: Nottingham Panthers' new starting goaltender next season will be Canadian Kevin Carr - who played for some of the season in Zagreb last year.

The 28-year-old also spent time at Utah Grizzlies in the ECHL.

He saved 90.% of shots faced in 34 league games for Utah, rising to 93.5% in five playoff matches.

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Steelers' biggest rivals have also captured Canadian centre who last term iced in the Slovak league with Hungarian side Miskolc.

Defenceman Jordan Heywood has inked a contract with Glasgow Clan. The 30-year-old has spent the past three seasons in the DEL2.

And another blueliner Drew Schiestel, 30, has left Cardiff Devils for Coventry Blaze.