Never have two points in any competition been more richly deserved than those Sheffield Steelers earned last Sunday against Red Bull Salzburg.
The clubs first ever CHL points.
The points weren’t won over 60 minutes of excellent, committed and brilliant play - they were won over two years and by various coaches: Gerad Adams, Neil Abel, Paul Thompson, Darrell Hay and Jerry Andersson. They were won by approximately 44 players, all of whom played a part in winning the two league titles that have ensured Steelers had a two year run at the CHL.
They were won by an owner who took the bull by the horns and employed a coach who he felt could move the club on to win at this level. Who invested in preparation in a way no other club had done in the UK.
Operation CHL has to date lasted two seasons and has involved eight competitive games against Europe’s elite. It’s involved two very painful lessons in Frolunda last season and in Salzburg three weeks ago. On Sunday though Steelers showed that those lessons had been learned and against an incredible side with six times the budget of Paul Thompson’s team, they claimed perhaps the biggest scalp in the club’s 25 season existence.
The CHL is a massive upgrade in terms of both on ice play and the holistic approach and preparation put in by super clubs.
Steelers were thrown into the competition blindfolded yet learned how to stay afloat.
From day one Steelers have tried to compete with the big guns. Frolunda perhaps Europe’s number one club, Salzburg, one of Europe’s best-funded. From being the big guns of the Elite league Steelers were seen as minnows. Thompson and I sat behind the GM and management team of Frolunda two years ago at the CHL draw.
When our name was read out together you saw their heads drop, even a suggestion of “Who?”
At this year’s draw they shook our hands. We’d made an impression in year one. The club in Sheffield wanted to learn and compete. When we drew Swedish giants HV71 there was no shaking of heads or giggling. “We’ve heard great things from Frolunda” their GM explained to Thompson.
Before the draw back in May it looked likely that Steelers would be placed in the same group as Red Bull Salzburg. We got word from our contacts that the Red Bull group were seeking video of us, that’s how much we had come on in just one year.
As hard as we tried, as much as we could put into those games, and the first three this year the one thing we hadn’t got along side our name was a win. That changed on Sunday when Jesse Schultz scored a hat trick, Robert Dowd got the game winner and young Luke Ferrara scored short-handed to shake the Arena to its foundations. Steelers delivered on the biggest stage of all.
It was pay-back for winning two league titles.
The commitment of not taking a summer off and those players giving up holiday for gym time. Whilst there was no financial reward for Tony Smith, in fact the reverse, it was a pay back for his commitment for wanting the best for the Steelers and investing in trying to deliver that.
After the game Steelers personnel were all as one: we start a 30 week audition for next year’s competition.
This 52 game play off series over seven months in trying to secure an unprecedented third league title, the AAA pass if you like to the 2017 Champions Hockey League that we already crave.
Such is the desire of owners, coaches, players and fans to have another crack at these power-house clubs.
I had sent an invitation to a member of the media that could have given the event and the club great coverage.
Surely this was an event that deserved to be covered? The ticket and media pass remained in the envelope on Sunday evening as I left the Arena on my way home. Not used, not taken up.
How do I get the message over to some people in important positions just how big this competition is? Other than the usual suspect so little interest taken in it.
Would they have been there if Rotherham had played Juventus? In a heart-beat.
Crowds increase at a rate that other sports can only dream of and Steelers continue to be a regular provider of silverware to the city we still face an uphill battle being recognised.
I gave up years ago thinking it would be nice for the city to appreciate us, that was naïve of me.
Those two points will be forgotten by many, maybe by the time this paper hits the streets.
Those of us involved though in what ever level, whatever small part will never forget the commitment, the pressure, the strength and the leadership involved to all play a part in delivering something very special.
Tony, Paul, Jerry, Jonathan Phillips and all the players delivered for the Steelers and the City of Sheffield. What a shame not more people realised their achievements.