Sheffield Steelers coach braced for rocky Christmas period as Covid-19 bites

If you can work from home during the pandemic, you are lucky - the benefit carries with it a smaller risk of infection while your income remains pretty much guaranteed.

Monday, 20th December 2021, 10:36 am

That's not the case for professional ice hockey players and staff of course and the run-in to Christmas has been a distracting one for Sheffield Steelers and the other EIHL clubs.

Steelers were unable to travel to Belfast Giants last weekend, as scheduled, after the Northern Irish club succumbed to Covid.

Giants, Dundee Stars and Nottingham Panthers had all been placed into the Elite League’s COVID19 protocol.

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Mainly masked fans celebrate a Cardiff goal against Sheffield on Saturday Pic Rebecca Brain

There was only one surviving fixture across the top flight on Sunday.

Sheffield coach Aaron Fox recognises there might be more bumps in the road over the festive period, but he is optimistic there will be no long-term damage to the season.

Asked if he and his players sometimes feared for the worst, he replied: "I think you are always a little worried about the situation.

"You start hearing words like lockdown and circuit-breaker, but we are just trying to go day-by-day with the things we can control.

A Masked Aaron Fox. Pic Dave Williams

"If something happens I hope it is just going to be a short-term thing where it might be a couple of weeks re-set and go from there.

"I feel pretty strongly that we will finish the year and that won't be an issue other than a tough two or three-week period."

Fox said hockey countries like Austria have been hit, with teams missing multiple games.

"I think it will be alright at the end of the day. As for the players, (their views) it is a fine line.

Masked fans watch Sam Jones close in on a Cardiff rival pic Rebecca Brain

"A lot of people want to live their life; this has been a long couple of years, it is hard to go back into something that you maybe don't feel like we should be going back into.

"It is always going to be personal preference.

"I think we will follow the rules as best we can, and hope we can play as many games as we can. We are pretty fortunate it has not hit us yet. That doesn't mean it won't at some point."

All EIHL players have to be double-vaccinated - it's a league stipulation.

Fox and his team have been buoyed by the sheer number of Sheffield fans who went to both Belfast and Cardiff last weekend.

"They are a pretty special group. It just shows you that they want to come and watch hockey...nobody wants to see something shut down, spectators want to live their life too."

Fox said that the uncertainties over Covid had made it difficult to recruit a player he needs to fill a roster hole.

"We try not to worry about the outside noise, but the outside noise is getting louder and louder with games getting cancelled and it's not the greatest environment to bring a new guy in, currently."

Former Steeler and Devil Ben O'Connor's availability is attracting interest from Romanian team SC Csíkszereda.