REVEALED: Sheffield Steelers team for EIHL mini-series - Kirk and Connolly lead the charge
Sheffield Steelers will skate into April's EIHL mini-series feeling they have more than a fair chance of winning it, following Monday evening's draft and the naming of five core players in their so-called 'protected' group.
Coach Aaron Fox is hoping to have pulled off a coup by persuading Brendan Connolly (Canadian, but dual national) to leave Greenville Swamp Rabbits in the ECHL to return to South Yorkshire where he was Steelers' leading points scorer last term with 55 points in 48 games.
And if that wasn't enough, it became clear that Liam Kirk had already re-signed for Steelers after his term with Peterborough Pirates (Ontario Hockey League) had ended.
The mix of veteran Connolly, 35, and Kirk, 21, alone is a potent one, added to the other 'protected' corps of Jonathan Phillips, Davey Phillips and Robert Dowd (subject to his ability to leave Eppan Pirates, Italy, after the play offs.)
Kirk is scheduled to play for Steelers in 2021-22, but will be allowed to return to north America if the call comes.Monday night saw Steelers, Manchester Storm, Nottingham Panthers and Coventry Blaze select players each from a pool of 81, the action relayed over the EIHL's Facebook account.
The honour of first draft pick of the night went to Nottingham Panthers who went for Swinton-born Ben Bowns.
Fox went on to select GB centreman Matthew Myers, ex Fife d-man Sam Jones, Guildford's Josh Waller, Steeldogs' Alex Graham, Steelers' own Summer netminding recruit Ben Churchfield, Jason Hewitt, (Steeldogs/Hull Pirates) and Adam Jones (Sam's brother.)
Fox had wanted Cole Shudra, too, but Coventry nipped in for his service.
In an additional three rounds, Fox picked potential reinforcements to cover injuries, in Jack Musil (Glasgow) Curtis Warburton (Steeldogs)
Former Steeler Kieran Brown was a surprise choice by Nottingham.
Holmfirth-based Ben Lake, currently with the Sheffield Steeldogs, goes to Manchester Storm.
Teams are now permitted to trade picks until March 28, if coaches so desire.
Fox will now be working on adding his eight work permit imports to join the party, with goaltenders being one area of interest.
Ex Steelers' goalie Jackson Whistle will be competing with Bowns for starting spot at Nottingham.
The four English teams will compete with each other behind closed doors at the National Ice Centre, Nottingham, next month from April 3.