Steelers: Owner breaks his silence on Brits

Steelers' owner Tony Smith says that rostering fewer Brits in Elite League teams is a necessary evil in terms of controlling costs while maintaining high standards for ice hockey fans.

Tuesday, 10th August 2021, 10:23 am

The EIHL has not made a formal announcement about roster sizes for 2021-22, but the make-up will be 14 imports and five Brits on any given match-night.

That's fewer homegrown players than in previous, pre-pandemic seasons. Smith said he wasn't sure why the move hadn't been formally declared by his organisation.

"I think the playing roster is out there, (in the public domain) I don't think we have made a public announcement.

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Cole Shudra: on a two-way deal. Pic Dean Woolley

"We have looked at various ways to cut costs this season while maintaining and improving standards. It is a common sense thing - we don't know if (the aftermath of ) Covid is going to bring less crowds, less sponsorship, although all the signals so far are that things are looking good.

"Sponsorship is as good as it was in previous seasons. And fans are starting to buy into the ticket sales.

"I think we are going to be ok but we are being a little bit cautious with how many players we have on the roster. More players means more expense, more housing and everything else.

"There will be a lot of two-way players. Cole Shudra is playing on a two-way with Leeds Knights, and we are looking at a couple of other players, too, so we have got more Brits in the tank if we need them to cover injuries."

Kieran Brown - left Sheffield.

But why fewer Brits overall on EIHL rosters, when younger ones are further down the pay scale?

"Yes, some of the Brits earn little, but only until they get to the point where they are starting to make a name for themselves.

"One or two are coming through like Josh Waller and Sam Jones.

"Young Brits are always on the radar and once we think they are going to make the grade we are very quick to snap them up."

Jonathan Phillips - a dedicated player kids should look up to.

So why not 12 imports and seven Brits on EIHL line-ups, for example?

"It is down to quality. I am the first to advocate that we want quality on the ice, we were at 10 and 10 (import-Brit ratio) when I first joined the League in 2011.

"You bring me the crowds and I will bring you the Brits! But right now they don't fill Arenas and I'd be the first to say I hope it changes, I hope the standard improves" said the EIHL chairman.

"It is Catch 22, they want more ice time in the Elite League but we can't afford to give lots of Brits ice time and then find the crowds diminish.

"That is what has happened, and it is a proven fact over the years.

"Get the young Brits in the NIHL first."

Smith said the upcoming Brit pack had to be committed.

"They have got to want it. We have had kids come through that have decided they don't want the Elite League. It is a commitment that is too great.

“ It is not just about having the ability to play they have to have it in their heart as well and the mindset of an elite player.”