Dave Simms column: Fit, 40 and confident (Conny Stromberg, not me!)

Sheffield Steelers - hoping for some joyful scenes at Belfast this weekend. Pic: Dean Woolley
Sheffield Steelers - hoping for some joyful scenes at Belfast this weekend. Pic: Dean Woolley

A new ingredient joined the Sheffield Steeler cake mix this week – mature and experienced is how we like to describe Conny Stromberg.

I’m excited to see the 40 year old Swede. You don’t play in the leagues he has played in as a 38, 39 and 40 year old without having a special talent. Stromberg is a character and a confident soul – in his negotiations with coach Paul Thompson he sent the Steelers boss an e-mail with four names on it, when Thompson enquired what the relevance of these four names was Stromberg replied: “Those are the four guys I want on the Power-Play with me.”

Stromberg had studied Steelers videos off their web site and this PP specialist had worked out who he thought would be best for him!

We love confidence like that – it will be interesting to see if Stromberg gets his way with the PP units this weekend, his first in Belfast.

You have to give the Steelers and their ownership one thing, they don’t mess about. If a player needs changing or a situation arises that needs addressing Tony Smith acts. Things not right with Tyler Plante – sorted. Duco not performing as required – sorted and a new player arrives. Fretter injured – no one to run the power-play – sorted in comes Stromberg. Smith backs his coaches as he has always done with signings. I can’t remember Messrs Finnerty, Christiansen or Adams ever being declined a signing or a roster change, either.

I don’t think the changes have stopped with Stromberg’s addition – there is still a while to go before deadline date and if more changes are needed then Thompson and Smith will move quickly if they think they can improve the club.

It will be great to see Steelers return to the Arena - they are on the road at Belfast for both gmaes this weekend.

Saturday night was originally the night for hockey at the Arena. It’s the most popular night for supporters. However over the years the amount of Saturday hockey has diminished as the Arena chose other events instead. This year to date Steelers schedule has been a right mash up – long away trips on Saturday’s returning home for Sunday home fixtures. That though changes in 2016 – all those Sundays in the first half of the season have been replaced with pretty much straight Saturdays from now until the end of the season.

We return next Saturday for a home fixture against Nottingham, the next Saturday home v Cardiff, the one after Coventry and the one after that Belfast and so it continues.

Saturday hockey benefits many things. Firstly families are happier to bring their kids to a 7pm game on a Saturday than a 5pm game on a Sunday. Secondly the travel. Let Cardiff travel to us, let them have the bus legs and find a fresh Steelers team waiting for them on a Saturday. If you play your away game on a Saturday you travel twice, one to the game and then back home to play the following night.

Look at the Steelers recently. Saturday in Braehead arriving back at 6am for a 5pm Sunday game. Saturday in Fife arriving back at 6.50am for a 5pm Sunday game.

Next Wednesday head coach Paul Thompson and his assistant Darrell Hay get grilled by fans, but in a very different way. A private dining experience at Napoleons Casino. A dozen fans have paid for a three course meal with the two Steelers coaches behind closed doors. At the dinner they can ask hockey related questions. Maybe ask why a certain player does a certain thing, why this player doesn’t play with that player on the power-play? The coaches are even taking their chalk boards.

It’s something new, something to get the fans closer to the coaches and I guess something just a little bit different. I’m hosting it so of course it will be entertaining, I’ll let you know next week how it went!

2016 promises to be the closest and most exciting conclusion to an EIHL season. Sure some years have gone down to the last game but has there ever been a season when at the turn of the year Sheffield, Nottingham, Belfast, Cardiff and Braehead could all hold claim to having a shot at winning the biggest prize?

Braehead have the easiest run in – all bar one game in their own conference, I think the Clan are the team to finish one point ahead of come the end of March. Steelers’ home form will be critical. Can they go unbeaten at home for the rest of the year? Those Saturdays will certainly help. Nottingham, like the Steelers, have had goaltending problems. They have this weekend signed a new replacement net minder, Shane Madalora replacing the injured Miika Wiikman for the short term.

When Cardiff eventually move into their new building will that have an effect, positive or negative on their incredible home form – unbeaten in regulation all year to date in the Big Blue Tent. Belfast have had a great run over the holiday period, their depth is key, so strong, so deep. Could the Giants win the league title once again – where is your money?

One thing in the Steelers favour is that they have done it before. The majority of this group are multiple trophy winners in orange. Paul Thompson has won four Elite League Championships, the only coach ever to win back to back championships. Jonathan Phillips has captained two Elite League winning sides more than any other captain in the league – does that mean anything? I think it does.

Happy New Year Steeler fans – I think 2016 is going to be quiet the ride.