Playing alongside Sheffield Steelers veterans proves invaluable experience for Sheffield Steeldogs' Charlie Thompson

There was no glittering trophy to brandish aloft when Sheffield Steeldogs won the tournament which brought ice hockey back from coronavirus lockdown.

Wednesday, 2nd December 2020, 1:58 pm

A keg of Bradfield Brewery beer sufficed to mark the achievement of winning the pathfinder 'Streaming Series' tournament.

But the experience of young NIHL skaters playing alongside former Sheffield Steelers' veterans in Jason Hewitt and Ben O'Connor proved more than adequate reward for those at the beginning of their careers.

Charlie Thompson, 24, was one such beneficiary.

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He'd started watching Steve Munn and the Steelers aged around six - cheering them on from the arena seats launched his love affair with the sport.

To be playing, in recent weeks, alongside those who graced the EIHL has certainly left its mark on the electrician from Brinsworth, Rotherham.

"I started going to Steelers when my dad got us free tickets. My mum started coming and now she loves it as much as I do," he said.

Charlie Thompson battling for the puck

At heart, Thompson remains a Steelers' fan. He didn't get to see them much before lockdown because of his Steeldogs' playing responsibilities. But he treasures his memories as a young supporter.

"I remember when Steelers had won a trophy in Nottingham and my mum took me down to the arena where they were going to parade it around. I couldn't believe it - there was Jonathan Phillips standing on top of the team bus with the cup."

As a centreman on the modern-day Dogs, the South Yorkshireman, who rates Joey Talbot and Jeff Legue amongst his favourite players, doesn't over-inflate his own importance to Ben Morgan's side.

"I am under no illusion, the (NIHL) level I am at is a pretty good standard and I am happy and content playing in it.

Jeff Legue - Steelers legend.

"I play third line centre at the minute so I am more of a role player.

"I do my bit, get the puck in, get it out, I don't mind dropping the gloves if and when, I don't mind getting stuck in to support the team when it's called upon."

But playing alongside the ex Steelers has certainly helped him.

"I sit next to O'Connor in the changing room. He's a nice guy and at the end of practice he'll ask if there was anything I wanted to run through again, then for 10 or 15 minutes we'll have one-on-one stuff, all to help make me a better player.

Ben O'Connor - former EIHL d-man who is mentoring Thompson

"As a player, he is just on another level, it is like he is 10 steps in front of you mentally.

"He knows where the play is going to be before the play is actually there.

"Watching him from the bench you think; 'How is he doing the things he is doing? He is a lot sharper, quicker and more clinical."

As for Hewitt's temporary addition to the iceSheffield team, well...it's complex.

"That's a weird one - obviously Hewy is normally the coach at Hull Pirates and they are massive rivals for us.

"At first it was like a crazy signing - just seeing him on Steeldogs' first line!

"Playing against him, these last few years, well...he plays with an edge and I play with an edge.

"We've had a couple of little battles but when he arrived (at Dogs) he just got on with it and helped the younger guys out. He was giving pointers on things, when to press when to stay passive, for example."You need role models at young age and Hewy and Ben are definitely that."

*Nottingham Panthers’ owner Neil Black believes a minimum of six EIHL teams, all featuring a reduced-import-number line up, could play each other in a covid-safe tournament, starting in January and lasting 12 weeks. The games would be financed by the promised Government grant and streaming funds.

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