Steelers have had a tantalising glimpse of both their immediate-future and the next generation of stars to grace the Sheffield Arena.
Last night, their title chances were boosted when chief rivals Cardiff Devils were beaten 5-2 at Belfast Giants, preserving their two points advantage at the top with two games remaining.
But away from the hurly burly of this week’s frantic competition, Steelers have signed GB youngsters Cole Sudra - son of Steeler legend Ron -and Liam Kirk on three year full-time apprentice contracts.
Shudra, aged 17 and Kirk, 16, have risen through the junior ranks and broken into the Steeldogs’ side. For the past three months both have been training with the Steelers under the supervision of coach Paul Thompson.
He said: “Everyone knows how frustrated we were last year when the Elite Under 20s programme didn’t materialise.
“We saw that as the best way of bringing the best young local talent through into the professional game. When that fell through we sought to find the best youngsters ourselves and invited them to come and skate with us.
“The apprentership scheme will involve them being full time players skating and working out every day and also combining this with their education.
“We have been very impressed with these two boys. We have worked them hard. They have shown that not only do they have ability but also the hunger to become professionals. They both possess size, skill and talent.”
Kirk has represented England at Under 16, 18 and 20’s and will go away to the World championships at the end of the season with the GB U18s side.
“Liam is as good a player as I have seen in his age group,” said Thompson.
“He understands the game very well for someone so young. He makes plays that others of his age don’t make. He is a hell of a talent.”
Shudra also has represented England at the U16, 18 and 20s level and will also represent GB u18s at the Worlds. “We have signed Cole Shudra because of Cole Shudra,” stressed Thompson.
“He has a lot of his Dad’s attributes but he is there because of his ability and hard work. Like his old man he is calm and level headed. We will most probably loan them back to the Steeldogs where they will gain valuable ice time.
“They are a project and we will give them every chance to succeed. These boys want it, you can see that working with them. If they aren’t ready in year one we have time on our side.”
Club owner Tony Smith shares the vision of the future drawn up by his coach. “This is one of the reasons we hired Paul in the first place, to bring this structure to the organisation. To think ahead, to bring on the best young players we can find. I want to see Sheffield born and bred players wearing the Steelers’ shirt and I am genuinely excited by this move.
“I want every kid in Sheffield to know that if your good enough we will find you” added Thompson. “The pathway is being put in place so the youngsters can see their way to skating out at the Arena for the Steelers.”