Sheffield Steelers explain how they can afford two extra imports

Sheffield Steelers are likely to go through the majority of the season carrying 16 imports, two more than match-night EIHL rules allow.
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The club was already planning, when everybody was fit, to rest one of the two 'non-homegrown' goaltenders in the stands, while the other played.

But now owner Tony Smith has indicated that the form of 6ft 3ins centreman Tomáš Pitule may be too good to dispense with once Mason Mitchell comes into the squad from injury leave.

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Asked if the Steelers' budget could sustain two overseas players sitting out over an extended period, Smith told The Star: "Yes it would stack up. Thankfully we have got the University of Sheffield deal and that has helped us tremendously (players can be signed on a more modest wage if their package includes free tuition.)

"We give massive thanks to University, who have stepped up and put us back in a bracket where can compete with other top clubs who have a University tie up. We really appreciate it."

Smith said Belfast Giants, in particular, had profited from their University arrangement.

Now the same arrangement was working for them - goalie Oskar Östlund is on the MBA course.

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"I haven't had the conversation with (coach) Aaron Fox yet as to how we are going to handle the numbers in the squad," said the owner.

Tomáš Pitule has impressed in a Sheffield Steelers jerseyTomáš Pitule has impressed in a Sheffield Steelers jersey
Tomáš Pitule has impressed in a Sheffield Steelers jersey

"We still have some time as Mitchell has to be on the Injury Reserve list for 28 days.

"Will Pitule stay - he has done enough to stay, hasn't he?" mused Smith.

"Pitule came in as stand-in cover for six or eight weeks for Mitchell and he has done a lot, and worked hard. He has clearly shown he wants to stay in Sheffield, so I will be asking Aaron whether we can make it work with 16.

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"I would advocate that we keep as many players as we can. And at the end of the day, that (financial) decision is down to me!"

Sheffield Steelers owner Tony SmithSheffield Steelers owner Tony Smith
Sheffield Steelers owner Tony Smith

Smith said he had been frustrated with injuries to Östlund, Mitchell and Sam Jones, the latter, though, is likely to be back for this weekend's games against Nottingham Panthers and Coventry Blaze.

"Injuries? That is hockey. Mason was hurt playing with his local team to gain fitness.

"When he's available, he will be another body, another face in the line up to put pressure on the guys in the team."

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He said extended numbers would pose a selection dilemma for his coaching staff, but that was a good one to have.

So far this season, Smith has watched the likes of Glasgow Clan, Belfast, Cardiff Devils, Nottingham Panthers, Manchester Storm, and Coventry Blaze and says while they have promising line ups, "none of them are unbeatable."

"Coventry have stepped up a bit this year, they and Manchester are coming up on the rails at the moment, it is whether their squads are big enough and strong enough to hold it. Injuries will no doubt affect everybody."

Coach Fox is looking forward to welcoming Mitchell into the squad.

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On the import numbers situation, he said: "There was always gone to be a goalie in the stands, so if we were able to keep one more (skater,) there would be an import forward in the stands, so we will evaluate the situation, closer to when Mason is available to us.

"Sometimes it works itself out with injuries and that kind of stuff.

"From this point, he's not going to be playing for two or three weeks so it will be hard to guess what we will look like then."