Simmsy column: New look Manchester Storm aim to reverse Sheffield Steelers form

Zack Fitzgerald dishes out a penalty-incurring punch
Zack Fitzgerald dishes out a penalty-incurring punch

No Swedish teams skating at the speed of light, no multi-million euro Austrian side with their ex NHL stars either – just a bunch of Mancs on Sunday for the Sheffield Steelers.

Yes the old Roses rivalry will be back at the Arena this weekend as the Steelers play their first domestic game of the new year; a challenge cup fixture in the round robin group that also includes Cardiff, Coventry and Nottingham.

This is a very different Manchester side to the one put together on the back of a fag packet at five weeks notice last season, this Storm side will pack a punch especially in their smaller home building. This side is bigger and a lot more experienced than that offensively minded but defensively vulnerable team we beat every time last season. The Storm mean business in season two and for them we are the neighbour they want to put down.

Storm needed identity last season and they hope they have solved that puzzle by signing Eric Neilson as player assistant coach. With 11 years pro experience in North America Neilson is best known for his toughness. Will he be a circus act like Sean McMorrow or will he bring an intensity to the Storm like a Zack Fitzgerald brings to Steelers? In Trevor Johnson the Storm have bought stability and experience on the back end, that Italian league though isn’t what it used to be, I think it will be a few years since he got hit. The best news of all though is that Storm are serious. That’s good news for the Steelers and British hockey. We want that rivalry with Manchester, we want that Yorkshire – Lancashire battle.

We want to build a rivalry that will fill their building and help fill ours. The league is better for the Sheffield/Nottingham rivalry, now we can make the Sheffield/Manchester games huge affairs. Will Mathieu Roy play on Sunday? That’s the big question for the Steelers. Roy has missed the last five periods of competitive action after blocking a shot in Sweden two weeks ago.

Since the injury to Roy, Jesse Schultz has been promoted onto the John Armstrong line alongside Colton Fretter. Armstrong has fitted in so well since arriving three weeks ago. Big, strong and so good in the face off circle. If Roy doesn’t play on Sunday at least the Steelers have cover in Rod Sarich.

Sarich has been a quiet outstanding servant to Steelers during an 11 year career that included him losing part of his kidney whilst playing for the club. You simply can’t let players of Sarich’s ability walk away at the end of their playing time. I’m pleased both Paul Thompson and Roddy kept speaking after Rod had ‘retired.’ Sarich has shown in these CHL games that he still has the ability and appetite.

The Cup is a competition that our friends in the village of Nottingham have specialised in whilst we’ve been winning Elite League titles. More of a one-off game specialist than a 52 game grind. Can this be the year Steelers win the one-off game competition? Can the test match specialist Steelers side convert to the white ball game. We have seen already against outstanding top European opposition that Steelers can cut it with the best.

Last year Steelers sailed through the round robin section of the Cup finishing top of their group. They went out in the semis. Yorkshire expects of this Steelers team, so no better place to start than taking points from the Lancastrians.