The amazing back story of Sheffield Steelers' latest signing

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Josh Nicholls will be moving from an ice hockey league based in a country at war to the warmer embrace of a ‘honeymoon’ season at Sheffield Steelers.

The much-travelled forward is the EIHL club’s final signing of the close season, the 31-year-old moving from Chinese team Kunlun Red Star, which competes in the Russian-dominated KHL division.

To say he has an unusual back story is an understatement.

Not everybody can say they have navigated a season playing largely in a nation ostracised by much of the world because of their bloody intrusion into Ukraine.

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Aaron Fox happy with his latest signingAaron Fox happy with his latest signing
Aaron Fox happy with his latest signing

Nicholls, whose mother is from the Philippines and his dad is Canadian with British descent, moved from Red Star to Norwegian team Storhamar in 2022 around the time Russian tanks rolled over the border.

However, he had committed to a further full Red Star season – so played 30 more games in the KHL in 2022-23, while the battle waged on to the west.

Nicholls said the war was “a big reason for my wife and I to look for a change and try to experience something else.

“It was hard to be there and it felt time to make a change.

Josh NichollsJosh Nicholls
Josh Nicholls

“It was a crazy experience.

“The Russians are great people but obviously it was a tough spot to be in politically so my wife and I felt like making a change and we are excited to get to the UK.”

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The import said the Ukraine war did not impinge too much on life in the Red Star group, many of whom were north American and “stuck together and went about our business and hockey lives.”

However, given the circumstances, it “felt more comfortable going to the UK.”

Nicholls, who will study for his MBA at Hallam University, was married in June, to Lea.

“This is our first season as a married couple… Sheffield is our honeymoon season,” he said.

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“The next thing is to make it a good honeymoon season; I want to be in a successful team and win everything we can this season.

“I am looking forward to it heard and have heard nothing but great things. I am super excited to get there.”

The player failed to get on the score sheet for Red Star last season, the team finished next to bottom of their regular Conference division.

He explained: “It was disappointing as a team and for myself individually.

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“Some of it was due to playing time and my role on the team, we also had new coaches every season, it was a different situation from the year before.

“The role they asked me to do was not tailored to my game.

“The focus was on playing a good defensive game and being good in my own end.”

He said he wanted to continue to be defensively responsible but to also go back to “excelling at the highest level… I want to come back and play my game.

“My natural skill set is to create offensively and help skilled players to finish the puck.

“I am also looking forward to scoring lots of goals!”

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Steelers’ coach Aaron Fox said: “Josh is a 6ft 2in forward who skates very well for a bigger guy and plays a very complete game.”

He described Nicholls’ time at Red Star as “a solid bottom-six player for them.

“In the 21-22 season he had 16 points in 36 KHL games before going to Norway mid-season.

“He finished as the play-off goal leader there with eight goals in a play-off run to the finals.

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“Josh is coming in on the one-year MBA option with Hallam and that played a huge part in getting this deal done.

“We agreed this deal with Hallam late and has got us two guys we don’t get without that deal, so that has been huge.

“We hope to have additional spots next year to build off this.”