Steelers lost their opening Challenge Cup game against Cardiff on Sunday – get used to it.
Now before you think, “What’s Simmsey saying?”: Read on. You see, I think everyone is going to get beaten a few times this coming season and that’s something fans of all the big clubs must get used to. In the long-run we will all see it as a good thing as the league gets stronger and all teams become more competitive. In the short term it may be a tough to take, especially Steeler fans who are used to winning. Cardiff are a hell of a good team, so are Saturday’s opponents Coventry. Belfast, Nottingham and Braehead too. Dundee have already beaten Belfast twice so they can’t be bad either. Fife turned Coventry over and Manchester are certainly no Hull, they showed that by kicking the Caps halfway back to Edinburgh on Sunday (8-1).
Take the last five Elite League championships. Sheffield’s EIHL winning points total of 74 was easily the lowest in the last five seasons. Sheffield also had 13 losses. In 2014 Belfast won with 83 points and just six losses, in 2013 Nottingham lost nine times with a points total of 85 and the year before that the Giants set all kind of records with 95 points and five defeats.
If you gave me the option of the Steelers ending the year with 13, 14 or even 15 defeats I’d take that and start engraving the Elite League trophy and call the travel agents for more Champions Hockey League action. Fans can get excited that they are going to see real competition and not games you already know the result of before the Arena car park attendant extracts £4 from you. Nottingham will beat every team in the league this year and I’m guessing seven if not eight of the other teams will take points off Panthers too. The same applies to Giants, Devils, Clan, Blaze and probably Steelers as well.
I like this Steelers side. I think one of its great assets will turn out to be just how difficult we are to beat. Good goaltending and a super back-end ably supported by forwards who know where all three zones on the ice are. These are qualities that we will be grateful of come March.
Depth is another one, which is why I hope we can keep hold of Phil Hill. Its touch and go. The player wants to stay and the club wants him. The issue is that there is only so much money. God I hope so because Hilly is a real committed Steeler.
On Saturday Paul Thompson returns to Coventry, to the Sky Dome Arena.
The venue he brought success beyond the wildest dreams of any sports fan.
Four EIHL titles, play off championships and a grand slam. In his time with the Blaze he became not only the Country’s number one coach, the head coach of the national team and also one of the most respected and admired people in the British game.
It will be interesting how he is received back in Coventry on Saturday.
If Alex Dampier or Mike Blaisdell walked back into Sheffield I could tell you exactly what the reception would be.
Incredible, emotional, but that’s here in Sheffield where we treat our former heroes in a very special way.
I hope that Coventry fans do the same. Stand applaud and thank Thommo for everything he gave that club, the commitments and sacrifices he made will never be fully understood and appreciated. They never are. Then of course when the puck drops he is fair game, back your own team and new coach and throw everything you have Paul’s way – but just before that remember what he did for you, where he took you and just how much you enjoyed that journey.
For the past two weekends the Steelers have entertained us royally in the Champions Hockey League – it’s been fast, exciting and played at such a tempo by a committed club.
Now the bread and butter of Elite league and the Challenge Cup. I’m so confident that if the Steelers can play for the next 30 weeks as they have for the past three then I’m sure we are in for a hell of year.
See you at the Arena at 5pm on Sunday, the Cardiff Devils will be there too and as you drive to the Arena the only thing you will know is that these two great clubs will put on a hell of a game.