Over the years we have signed many players at Sheffield Steelers.
Some big NHL names, guys with long careers in the AHL or, more recently, European leagues such as the SHL or DEL.
We have signed the biggest names in the home grown pool: David Longstaff, Ben O’Connor, Robert Dowd, Tony Hand, Colin Shields, Ashley Tait to name a few.
However, I have never received as many text messages within 30 minutes of the Steelers confirming the signing of 16-year-old Kieran Brown on Tuesday.
Kieran played his junior hockey in Bradford and for the last two years has been playing in the United States AAA programme.
This week he became the third Sheffield Steelers apprentice after Cole Shudra and Liam Kirk.
The phone didn’t stop bleeping. Contacts in the junior game, those associated with the GB U18’s programme, parents, those who have seen this kid play – text after text. Mark Johnson from Planet Ice - whose son plays in Milton Keynes - said: “You have a proper player there, great signing.”
I’ve always loved the Steelers team but now I can expand that sentence to I love the Steelers club because, over the past two seasons, we have moved from being a team to a club and that will only continue under Paul Thompson’s control.
It’s not just having a back fill of talent in years to come when the likes of Phillips, O’Connor and Dowd retire. It’s about giving the kids a pathway, so they can see that if they work hard enough, clubs like the Steelers will find and develop them.
As a club we don’t have our own academy, that will only ever happen when we have our own building so that we can control those teams and their progression. We can, though, assist those clubs who are doing a brilliant job trying to bring the kids through under the most difficult of circumstances, the lack of ice time for example.
Youngsters like Shudra, Kirk and now Brown lead the way and Steelers, as the biggest club with the most progressive coaches, have grasped the opportunity to bring these kids under their wings. There are few other places for the top kids to go other than the Elite League: the sports Governing body, IHUK, have helped butcher the old second tier and refused to push forward the ideas of an Elite U20s league two years ago.
That alone would have been the best rung on the ladder for kids trying to break through.
I’d love the Elite League to embrace an U20s league of their own. Can you imagine 12 under 20’s teams playing under their own club’s banner? It doesn’t need to start at 12 either. The original plan was for clubs to come together and make up teams. So Scotland could be one team, then Manchester, Sheffield, Nottingham another, then say Belfast, Coventry, Cardiff, Guildford and MK a third team. Start there and expand.
In other news, this week, we confirmed the arrival of Joonas Ronnberg, a 6ft 3in stay at home defencemen. Quote of the summer so far: “I am goalie’s best friend,” which confirms his main priority is to stop a puck getting to the netminder. Ronnberg is just the player Thompson has been looking for, he needed more size and a defensive minder player to clear the front of the net, protect Moose and lead the penalty kill.
Just one more d-man left to sign, will it be Jace Coyle or will we go for a new look back end and maybe more size and presence? Time will tell.