Sheffield Steelers: University partnership could put Steelers at top of the class
If Sheffield Steelers are to go to the top of the class and win silverware this coming season, they will have the University of Sheffield to thank in particular.
As sponsors go, few organisations deliver any club such a fruitful association.
For years, players have been poached from going to superior leagues by the attraction of a free MBA course.
The latest example is Canadian James Bettauer, who would not have signed for Steelers had it not been for the offer of a two-year studying package.
The defenceman has played the last seven seasons in Germany and was on the radar of several well-heeled European clubs and EIHL champions, Belfast Giants.
It was the off-ice Uni deal that was the deciding factor.
So what is it like to perform at an intense and high profile club, while studying at University?
We canvassed the views of three imports who graced the Arena ice while studying: Randy Dagenais, Matthew Stephenson and Colton Fretter.
Q: What was your experience like at Sheffield University?
Randy: Being paired with international students allowed us to better understand other cultures and how to do business. Challenging at times, but enriching. The faculty and staff were exceptional. Obtaining my MBA opened doors while transitioning into life after hockey. This is difficult for professional athletes...education is massive in our cases, considering our lack of experience in the real world.
Matt: It took a while to get back into the groove. The University was fantastic though, and they supported our needs. "When the hockey season was over, school was still in session, but they allowed us the flexibility to work through correspondence and Skype meetings where we could. This elasticity makes Sheffield University an attractive choice.
Colton: The experience was amazing, I wouldn’t have changed anything. It took time getting accustomed to the UK style of education and interacting with the international students but that made the challenge even more rewarding. I ended up making amazing friends throughout the world while gaining an education at a high quality University."
Q: How did you combine playing and studying?
R: Steelers made it possible for us to manage our studies and hockey commitments. Practice times were adjusted according to class schedules. Only Jody Lehman whined about the scheduling! Players have a lot of free time. Our studies filled those gaps. Aside from that, bringing our books on the bus and completing assignments when we could became part of our day-to-day. It's a matter of putting your head down and getting the work done, like any other job. It builds character.
M: We could practice during the week and play games at weekends. Coach Ryan Finnerty was great with the school guys and worked with our schedule to make sure we could be in class as needed. The most difficult time was around the labour-intensive dissertation, the majority of the work was around the tail-end of the year when the race is on for silverware.
C: There were nights I had to turn down evenings out or fun events with friends to study or work on group projects but for me the trade-off was worth it in the end.
Q: What benefits did you enjoy as a result of the course?
R: The benefits were instantaneous after my retirement. As players, we retire with very little work experience. So adding the MBA acronym to your name places your résumé on top of the pile rather than at the bottom. As an insurance professional (Field Adjuster), I work with people in crisis to help them get back on their feet. Several courses I took during my MBA studies help tremendously as I deal with contractors, budgets and contracts, all while managing people's emotions in often highly-volatile situations.
M: The main benefit was the variety of coursework and the application to my current work life. It provided me a plethora of experience in looking at every challenge with multiple perspectives, which I use in my profession now. I am a business development representative for Smith & Nephew, a UK-based medical device company.
C: The best benefits gained from the MBA programme was participating in real-life business meetings, interacting in board meetings and contributing input for local business. My current job as a medical device consultant blends my two degrees perfectly (Kinesiology and MBA). Without either I wouldn’t have been able to get the job I have. I advise surgeons in the operating room while managing business activities on the territory I work it.
Q: Any specific memories of your time at Sheffield?
R: Completing my studies with Steve Munn and Scott Basiuk was a rewarding experience. Those guys became some of my closest friends in hockey. It's funny considering we were bitter rivals in College days, but Steve was a calming presence when deadlines loomed. Baz was a great iPhone Yatzee partner during any boring lectures! I remember when a group of our Indian classmates attended a Steelers' game for the first time. The look on their faces was priceless. After witnessing a couple of fights, they thought we were warriors! We took a group photo with all of them on the ice...none of them had ever stepped on to an ice surface before.
M: My time in Sheffield helped to shape my and my family's future. The decision to move from north America to Sheffield was one of the most difficult decisions in my life, but looking back at it now, it was the greatest life-path decision I ever made. Thank you Tony Smith, Ryan Finnerty and David Simms! The relationship between the University and Steelers was the reason we went and it will continually attract great prospects.
C: I was just happy I got to spend four great years in Sheffield and share some fantastic experiences with a great group of guys. I made some amazing friends who I still talk to regularly.