New era ushered in at Sheffield Steelers: Aaron Fox is coach and Marco-Olivier Vallerand joins the club

Sheffield Steelers hope to have taken a big step towards 'outfoxing' Elite League opponents, after two years in the doldrums.

By Bob Westerdale
Monday, 15 April, 2019, 11:28
Marc-Olivier Vallerand. Picture by Scott Wiggins

Aaron Fox has been announced as new coach on a three-year contract.

He was picked because of his skills in recruiting - and he's given early notice of that by capturing sniper Marc-Olivier Vallerand, who top-scored for Coventry Blaze in 2017-18 and Lustenau of Austria last season.

On top of that, the club announced that Robert Dowd and Anthony DeLuca have also committed to season 2019-20.

Sheffield haven't won the league since 2015-16, so the new coach is charged with changing that.

Fox was John Armstrong's coach at the financially-troubled Medvescak Zagreb in Croatia.

He had been "sports manager" there for five seasons before becomíng head coach - a post he resigned from in December.

Aaron Fox

As a player, like Armstrong, Fox was a centre. He left the north American circuit in 2002 and has played and coached in Slovakia, Germany, Austria and Slovenia, as well as Croatia. He's won two championships.

He said: “The decision to come to Sheffield is built around being in a top professional organisation that does things the right way and one that expects to win on a yearly basis. I love the idea of being able to build a team that has high aspirations and find a way to create a new identity and culture moving forward that will give us an opportunity to compete for winning championships again.

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“I understand last year was not good enough, from the ownership to the fans, and am looking forward to turning things around. My biggest strength is recruiting. We were the smallest budget in the KHL for four years and found a way to be very competitive even though teams were spending five or six times our budget. We were also the smallest budget in the EBEL and our first year back in the League we finished in fifth place before having financial problems this past season, which led the club to allow all its import players to find new clubs. I'm excited to recruit in a financially competitive team.

"We will have a lot of new faces in the dressing room and finding that team identity and creating that chemistry in training camp, ready to go from the opening night, will be the biggest challenge.

"I know in the UK the regular season is the most important, so finding the consistency for a full season will be critical."

At 42-years-old the man from Minnesota is an unknown quantity for Steeler fans, who have just said goodbye to their last coach, Tom Barrasso.

They want a more dynamic side than last year, and Vallerand promises to be a key part of that.

The 29-year-old right winger will be expected to help supercharge an attack which underperformed when it came to goals.

Coventry coach Danny Stewart regarded him as a player who "consistently put the puck in the net wherever he’s played...He has top-end speed at this level. He’s a player that can create opportunities for other guys as well and plays hard 200 feet."

He has a one year contract.

The club's decision to re-invest in Dowd (two years) and DeLuca comes as no surprise, they are intense players who can win games.

They will form part of the core of the club which will include the likes of Ben O'Connor, Jonathan Phillips (new one year deal), Davey Phillips (two years) and Kieran Brown (two years.)