Sheffield ice hockey: no boom and bust in the NIHL

Steeldogs celebrate. Pic: Peter Best
Steeldogs celebrate. Pic: Peter Best
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Steeldogs are now three games in to their first season in NIHL and it’s a case of ‘so far, so good.’

Joining the National Ice Hockey League was something of a step in to the unknown for the Dogs.

Player coach Ben Morgan and the majority of his squad had spent the past few years playing in the now defunct EPL, with as many as five imports on a team and clubs spending money they couldn’t afford.

The NIHL has been a more stable proposition with a focus on local talent and sustainability.

Whilst the Steeldogs ownership had no alternative, they were happy to move away from the financial ‘arms race’ that the EPL had become – as highlighted by the Manchester Phoenix dropping out of the league in January and the Telford Tigers winning the league despite having gone in to administration mid-season.

The Steeldogs had promoted a “Made in Sheffield” brand during their early years and Ben Morgan’s recruitment has seen something of a return to that; bringing back net minder Dmitri Zimozdra (born in Russia but very much a local lad), fan favourite Lloyd Gibson and 28 year old James Spurr.

Sheffield born Spurr had chosen to pursue hockey opportunities in Peterborough until work commitments brought him back to South Yorkshire and he spent the past five years in the NIHL with the Sutton Sting, alongside Zimozdra, with Gibson joining them last season.

All three have made a strong start to the season and Dogs defencemen Tom Relf was fulsome in his praise of their part in the 4-1 home opening win over Blackburn Hawks; “Dima (Zimozdra) was great, so solid, doing whatever was needed to keep the puck out. Gibbo and Spurrsy are fantastic players to have play in front of you.

"Gibbo just doesn’t care who is in front of him or how big they are. He can check them or he can beat them to the puck. Spurrsy has so much speed and he’s very thoughtful on the puck. They play two different roles but work together so well on their line”.

Relf thinks the Dogs have adapted quickly to the style of the new league.

“We have been experiencing a more physical style in our opening games this season, big hits and bumps and lots of our boys really enjoy it – we are quite a big group. It’s all clicking nicely; our team feeds off each other’s energy and really help each other out in the game”.

The next challenge for the Steeldogs comes on Saturday when the Billingham Stars visit iceSheffield, face-off at 7:30.