Sheffield Steelers – the journey of a lifetime for David Simms...and an army of loyal fans

The Arena - where our dreams are made, says Steelers' David Simms
The Arena - where our dreams are made, says Steelers' David Simms

David Simms embarks on another Steelers’ season next weekend, hoping to see a return of the Elite League trophy.

The long-serving club executive has seen owners, coaches, players and fans come and go, since he attached himself to the club way back in 1991.

7th March 2002: Rick Brebant of Sheffield in action against Belfast. Picture: Michael Cooper

7th March 2002: Rick Brebant of Sheffield in action against Belfast. Picture: Michael Cooper

They went. He stayed.

Today we ask David 12 questions about past, present and future.

1: What was your first memory of Sheffield Arena?

I walked in there a few weeks before the first game. There were a couple of people with a hosepipe as they put the ice down for the first time. This was before Steelers were born.

Jeff Legue - Sheffield Steelers v Belfast Giants 03/10/15

Jeff Legue - Sheffield Steelers v Belfast Giants 03/10/15

I remember seeing all the seats, thinking how huge it was and how good it would be to have a team here. I fell in love with the building then. I love now even more.

The first announcer was poor - we needed a cheerleader. I kept annoying GM Ronnie Wood until he said “The job’s yours.” Now I get to sit in the best seat in the house watching the team I love – it’s the best job in the world.

2: How was it that Steelers seized such an instant hold on the local sports landscape?

The Canadian accents helped but the local lads were a huge part, Saunders, Cox, Serifinski, Hague, Havenhand etc. There was an instant connection. A winning team with stars and characters.

Paul Thompson. Picture: Dean Woolley

Paul Thompson. Picture: Dean Woolley

There was only three Canadians but they dovetailed.

Nemeth was a superstar, Mackie the quiet guy, but key was Ron Shudra. He took over the city becoming Sheffield’s Sports Personality of the Year, in a soccer town.

Steelers of today owes much to him.

Add raw, entertaining, razzamatz - families loved it. 

Ancient history: Members of the newly-formed Sheffield Steelers (from left) Mark Mackie, general manager Ronnie Wood, Ron Shudra and Dave Carrie.

Ancient history: Members of the newly-formed Sheffield Steelers (from left) Mark Mackie, general manager Ronnie Wood, Ron Shudra and Dave Carrie.

3: Steelers start their season at Nottingham. What are your memories of Lower Parliament Street, back in the day? 

Winning there, and the good news; we’ve done that a lot. 56 victories in Nottingham since we started, no wonder they don’t like us. The old rink reeked of hockey, beer and fags. It was great; pure emotion.

The rivalry with Panthers has been at the forefront of British hockey, our sport wouldn’t be the same without it.

Beating them is still the best feeling, losing to them the worst. The Christmas series make or break the festive season.

4: Professionalism across the sport is now light years ahead of those days. Has anything been lost in that transition from rinks like Durham and Whitley Bay to modern Arenas?

We all loved those days and of course because of the laughs and the times you remember them fondly.

Today though the buildings, players and the games are better. I laughed more back then but wouldn’t want to go back to it.

5: Is the antagonism between Steelers and Panthers as hot as it once was? 

No. Modern day society and the ‘PC’ world we live in has seen to that. I only wish! Modern players don’t seem to have that same hatred in their blood that the likes of Allison, Vial, Cranston or Wilson used to have. The same for them, they had players who lived to hate us, lived and breathed to despise us.

If a player acted like they used to, he’d be sent for counselling.

6: Will all the new players be switched on to what is required at Nottingham on Saturday? 

Yes. The week leading up to a Nottingham game remains huge. The players know that Panthers are still the enemy. 

7,000 fans won’t raise the heartbeat of a veterans Aaron Johnson, Jordan Owens or an Evan McGrath, though.

Tanner Eberle will relish it. He is a perfect Steeler for a Nottingham game. Jackson Whistle has played there before. All the others have played in front of huge crowds: bring it on.

7: When you look at Cardiff Devils,is there a part of you that wishes you could swap teams? 

No, I like our Steelers side, I trust them to do the job. Cardiff chased us for over a decade. Todd Kellman then got it right, now it’s our turn to chase them. We will hound them for as long as it takes to regain our crown. Devils are a great club, well run and coached with great players but we have re-built; we are coming, mark my words.

8: Steelers’ Brits are such a committed group. Sum them up. 

They control the room, they are the club’s DNA and have been since Phillips, Hewitt and Thomas joined. That’s was when it changed. We’re lucky to have the best. Dowd? You wouldn’t swap him for any other Brit in the league. Davey 

Phillips is an unsung hero and warrior. Captain Jono the most respected player in the league. The Brits have always been big personalities, Les Millie, David Longstaff, Ben O’Connor, spring to mind.

Also, the next generation, led by Kieran Brown, what a character he is.

9: Can you predict your top goalscorer? 

Dowd will lead us in goals if he stays healthy. You could see in the opening games his relationship with McGrath and Owens was excellent. McGrath already has three goals in exhibition games against SHL opposition. Buzzeo, will excite and contribute heavily.

Dowdy played a huge part with Valdix and Nelson last year, this season it’s a different style of line for him. Jordan and Evan will find him with their vision, then Dowdy just has to rip it. And there is no better wrist shot in the league.

10: If you could warp time and bring back one player into the ranks, who would it be?

Jason Lefreniere or Paul Beraldo up front. Jason is the best player to wear a Steelers shirt, however the memory of Beraldo coming down the wing and just blasting it gets the hair on the back of my neck standing up. But I’m going with Rick Brebant because I’ve never met anyone so focussed on winning.

On the blue line, it’s either the reliable Steve Munn or the fast skating Shayne McCosh? I’m going with Munn, I felt safe when he was out there. 

11: Describe the style of play fans can look forward to?

Speed and intensity. We skate better than any team I can remember. We were short-handed last weekend, but skated with a good SHL side for two games in 24 hours with 3 lines to their 4. That’s encouraging.

12: Historical selection poser: Davey Phillips or Mark Thomas? Mike Blaisell or Paul Thompson? Rick Brebant or Jason Lafreniere? Mathieu Roy or Jeff Legue?

Phillips v Thomas: Davey is a better player so he wins. 

Blazer v Thommo: My favourite moments in life have been with Mike Blaisdell. What we went through together in the Darren Brown/Norton Lea times was incredible. But I go with Thommo - what a coach has to do these days! The workload, responsibility - miles more than back in 2001. 

Brebant v Lafreniere:  Rick. Jason is our best ever player, the most skilled and clinical. But you just couldn’t not pick Brebant because he was the ultimate competitor.

Legue v Roy: Roy was a pure goal scorer, when your top goal scorer is also your best shot blocker and a penalty killer it’s hard to go against him. But I go with Legue because he did it for years. In good teams and bad. Won leagues and play offs.

Legue is the best overall pound for pound player we have had in the Elite League era.