“They don’t make them like them anymore” – that’s what the Steelers head coach Paul Thompson said to me on Sunday after two players, Levi Nelson and Zack Fitzgerald went that little bit further for their team.
Now I don’t know what the dictionary says under the word toughness but it sure has hell should have reference to these two men. Toughness isn’t all about the weight of punch.
It can be measured in many ways as both Levi and Fitzy showed on Sunday.
Levi Nelson took once of the worst hits I have ever seen whilst out in Denmark, a shocker and one that if it would have happened in our League would have seen a lengthy suspension for the culprit. How Levi got up I don’t know, let alone continue to play and score shortly after.
The next morning, of course, Levi couldn’t move. He was assisted on to and off the plane and was ordered to rest in between treatment. Nelson would be missing for a while.
On Sunday morning, hours after a 7-2 loss in Milton Keynes head coach Paul Thompson received a call from Levi.
“Coach, just to let you know I’m playing tonight.” He followed it up with: “See you at the rink in 15 minutes.”
Nelson arrived at the Arena three and a half hours before the game.
He was sat in his stall in his sweats when I arrived.
“What are you doing here” I said – Levi looked up and gave that boyish smile and replied: “We have to win” he replied.
Nelson went out and gave everything he had, that included two first period assists that all but secured the points for his team. Levi put his team first.
He is of course crazy but that’s why we love him.
Night after night I see Zack Fitzgerald with ice packs. All season he has single handedly policed the team. He did again on Sunday with Andreas Jamtin received a high stick in the face. The big number 28 was first to hand out deserved punishment.
The arena went silent though with just over a minute remaining. Fitzgerald laid out on the ice after being his straight in the mouth with a one-time slap shot. Solid galvanised rubber travelling at 90mph full on in the face. When Fitzy stays down that’s the equivalent to you and I meeting our Maker. As Zack left the ice the officials looked for teeth. Fitzy went to hospital and requires surgery. He will be missing for some time. I’m guessing he will be out for about half the amount of times the doctors, surgeons and medical staff are suggesting.
Our team is going through a rough time right now. Results and performances are inconsistent. Coaches and players are more than aware of that. Everyone of them put the hours in, whilst away in Denmark the work that both Paul Teather (Physio) and Danny Mawer (strength coach) put in was inspiring to get bodies on the ice.
Levi knew the team needed a boost and that’s why he put the team first last Sunday. The win was so important to us on Sunday that Fitzy was prepared to put his body on the line with the risk that the puck would do the damage it did though.
In the 26 years of Steelers hockey we have had many tough men. Tough men in many different ways. None though tougher than these two.
So Andre Deveaux leaves us after just a few weeks. Andrea was a very polite man, always willing for interviews and any requests we made of him. It just didn’t fit. We didn’t fit with him and he with us. When that happens its best to part ways. He will do a terrific job with another club I’m sure. We thank him, we move on.
Finally to the constant question “Why haven’t we signed a defenseman yet” I know. It’s frustrating. Here’s why.
We have made offers to good players. Those players though are in jobs, for them to move their clubs have to release them. They aren’t just going to do that. If they do then they want a replacement first. Guess what, they can’t find a d-men either.
Back in the day of five imports there was always players available.
Now with EU rules and with most leagues employing more imports the number of foreign players in Europe is ten times the amount it used to be. There isn’t an ever ready supply of players waiting to jump on a plane and come over.
We have been at the 11th hour with several, we are tonight, Tuesday as I type this.
Will he come?
Who knows but Paul is working around the clock trying to finalise a deal. Trust me you wouldn’t want to swap your phone bill for his.