So, the Steelers have moved quickly in replacing Guillaume Desbiens. In his place come another big power-winger with AHL experience, Matt Marquardt.
Marquardt played last season in Coventry and showed Paul Thompson enough in the games between the two sides that he was an able replacement for Desbiens.
One player who knows Marquardt well is the King of Sheffield, Mathieu Roy. The two played together in Florida when they won the Kelly Cup back in 2012. Roy’s voice was one that recommended Marquardt very highly.
Speaking to Thompson, one of his summer prerequisites was to ensure he had some size, and that was reinforced significantly when Desbiens decided to retire. Marquardt will, I am sure, be asked to play that go-to-the-net, strong, power-forward style.
This latest signing leaves Thompson with just two more forwards to sign, two centres. One a top end player, maybe someone to play with the King and Colton Fretter. The second, a player who like Markus Nilsson last year, knows his role to hold a fourth line together. He will get his opportunities to play up when either others’ form drops or injuries take place, but most importantly that defence minded centre to play with Kirk and Phillips in shutting down opposing teams’ top lines.
On the back end, again just two places remain with Thompson being agonising close to signing another rock solid, big d-man to add to the returning Fitzgerald, O’Coonor and Phillips and new signing Mark Matheson. That would leave then just one position with Bob Westerdale in the Star suggesting earlier this week a possible return for Jace Coyle.
Coyle and Thompson have a three year relationship from their time together in Denmark before joining up here in Sheffield. Coyle was the club’s top plus minus player in both seasons in Sheffield so Bob might just be onto something in Tuesday’s column. My view is that Thompson won’t make any decision on the final defensive signing until another big rock appears on the blue line first of all.
Many years ago I remember a game at iceSheffield, I forget who it was against but we were well beaten. Jody Lehman lost his temper and a few sticks were smashed around the dressing room area. Mike O’Connor, then coach Dave Matsos and I headed back to the Steelers office at the Arena. New players had to be found and quickly. A couple of large buckets of KFC were purchased by O’Connor that night as we all worked long into the early hours. It was that night I first called and spoke with a certain Ryan Finnerty.
Finnerty eventually came and joined us, what an impact he made. He helped us win a play off championship and the following year a league and play off double. I think our club always had a soft spot for him. He was moulded as a Steeler from day one. Whilst he ventured off to pastures new (Cardiff) he of course returned for two years as our coach at the start of the Smith era of ownership.
Even though his services were brought to an end following his contract expiring after two seasons in charge, Finnerty is a man you find it hard to not like and enjoy the company of. His work in Braehead as a coach has seen that franchise develop an identity. Huge increases in fan attendance and interest of the sport around the Glasgow area, that’s down to him.
So this week he takes on a new challenge as head coach of the Manchester Storm, the Steelers’ second biggest rival. Manchester are a club with potential but zero identity. Well, that was until last weekend when Finnerty was appointed. They have identity now. His.
Expect the former Steeler to use not the Sheffield or Braehead blueprint but the Cardiff one in moving the Storm forward. In making his first signing, the big and tough Jay Rosehill, Finnerty is telling the world that a trip to Manchester won’t be as comfortable as it has been in previous years. The cold, small Altrincham ice rink will become a cauldron, an unfriendly, hostile place for visiting teams. That’s the Finnerty way.
The rivalry between those from Cheshire and the Steelers will continue to grow. Sheffield v Manchester is always an appetising fixture in whatever sport you choose. Paul Thompson and Ryan Finnerty are both passionate animals. Steelers’ extra size this coming season won’t be intimidated by the Storm’s new look but this year the Storm will be just that, a Storm and not a drizzle as perhaps it could be suggested they have been in the last two years. Steelers v Storm just got a lot more interesting.
Interesting, too, that the Steelers first game inside the Sheffield Arena next season will be an exhibition game against Manchester Storm on Saturday, August 26. The game will double up as the Steelers use the evening to raise the 2017 EIHL Play Off Championship banner that night.
Steelers also confirmed that on August 26, they were turning back the club 26 years and making the game admission price just £5, the same as it was just three years into the club’s existence.
For many years people have claimed price was a reason for not attending Steelers games, well I guess we will see if that is true or not. Those who stayed away have no excuse on the 26th, a £5 ticket for a home opener, a banner raising night and against the Manchester Storm – I don’t think there is a night out in Sheffield that will ever give you value for money on that scale, do you?
It will be the first Arena experience for Matt Marquardt as well. Welcome the big fellow, welcome him to the championship family.