Icy wind of change blows through game

The future is orange: Steelers top man Tony Smith
The future is orange: Steelers top man Tony Smith
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STEELERS’ owner Tony Smith believes the upheaval which has stunned British ice hockey this week has only just begun - and some of it will be for the long-term benefit of the sport.

The Sheffield boss, who took over from Paul Ragan, is upbeat following the decision by chairman Eamon Convery to step down.

GB’s coach Paul Thompson also quit on the same day to focus his efforts on keeping troubled Coventry Blaze afloat.

Yet Smith feels the wind of change blowing through the sport will make it more stable.

The Star understands Smith attended a hastily-called meeting last Friday to discuss League strategy with the power brokers who run Coventry, Cardiff Devils, Hull Stingrays, Braehead Clan and Nottingham Panthers.

Smith declined to discuss their agenda, but said: “The Elite League has to move on and I honestly believe that the decisions that have been taken will leave the league in a better and must stable form than ever before. I can see good people coming in and playing a big part in a more vibrant set-up.”

Smith added that he favoured the idea of “regionalisation” in the sport. He did not expand on that theme. But that could indicate a desire to end the League’s involvement with far-flung, relatively unsuccessful teams like Fife Flyers, Edinburgh Capitals and Dundee Stars.

Currently, clubs are spending a lot of money to drive teams north for games which attract a few hundred fans.

It could also mean a return to the top flight for Manchester Phoenix, a club that has been missed by the Elite League since they dropped into the English Premier League.

If Phoenix did move up that would seriously upset Sheffield Steeldogs who have a healthy rivalry with Tony Hand’s men. It is unlikely that other top EPL teams like Guildford Flames, Slough Jets and Milton Keynes will want to go up, though.

Smith added: “Generally, the League has been bumping along for years but we need a fresh impetus now and I am pretty buoyant about the future.”

For the moment, Steelers management faces the more immediate task of filling seats at Sheffield Arena for the visit of Fife, on Saturday. The club will broadcast a five-minute video they have filmed. It is a humorous piece of work, involving all the playing staff. The Star will show the film on our website, on Monday.