NICK Duff can look forward to a baptism of fire tomorrow.
The new Sheffield Steelers defenceman makes his debut at Cardiff Devils rink - a tiny, but hostile environment.
Coach Ryan Finnerty says of the American: “He may be in for a rude awakening when he sees how small their barn is, he’ll wonder what he has done to himself, coming to the UK. Going to Cardiff and then (later this month) Edinburgh Capitals, he’ll see some of hockey’s finest establishments!”
On top of the surroundings, Duff will face a test of his reputation as a hard man.
“When new guys come in, others will feel him out see what he’s all about,” said Finnerty. “Some guys may test him and go after him.”
Finnerty describes the 26-year-old signing as a “very tough stay at home d-man, not offensive, he is just here to clean up his area of the ice2.
“He has dropped his gloves seven or eight times this season but generally is pretty smart; he doesn’t run around taking silly penalties, but he won’t let anybody take liberties in front of the net and that’s something we need.”
Finnerty said he did a “ton of research” before signing Duff, including watching some of his scraps on You Tube.
“All the coaches said he is a hard nosed d-man, he can handle himself and enjoys it too. He steps up when needed.
“The kid needs a chance and that is what we are going to give him. There won’t be a lot of pressure, we just need him to be good in our zone and stop opponents getting to second and third rebounds.
“He’s going to clear front of net. His physical presence is his natural game. We’ve been lacking that, I feel. He hits and finishes his checks and is just a hard guy to play against.”
Finnerty will hope Duff will have the same impact as Steve Munn had. When Munn and Kevin Bolibruck left the squad, they took a fair amount of the toughness away - something Nottingham Panthers, in particular, have exploited this term.
The coach broke the news of the import’s arrival immediately after Sunday’s win over Dundee Stars.
“It’s always a shock, guys get concerned when you bring in import but we’ve got a long schedule injuries will come and go,” he said.
Duff will fill in for the injured Matt Stephenson, for the time being.