One week to go of pre season before the real action begins next weekend in Manchester (Saturday) and at home to Nottingham (Sheffield Arena, Sunday)
So what has Paul Thompson learned from the three weeks and six exhibition games played to date and what will he be looking for from this weekends games against Coventry Blaze (Saturday, Sheffield Arena, Tickets £5)
Firstly he knows he has a good team, especially once Armstrong and Marquardt return to the line up.
Secondly he has to be very pleased with the back end. The three new defensemen Aarsson, Matheson and Ronnberg have been excellent additions and have certainly shored up any weaknesses last year’s side had.
Matheson looks an incredible solid, stable and able defenseman, Ronnberg looks hard to beat one on one, makes a great first pass and is the size of Rotherham.
Aarsson too looks extremely competent. Smooth and versatile. A great last pick-up of the summer.
That has to be the biggest plus in the coach’s box, you can’t win championships with poor defences. The Steelers look like they have a great defence and we haven’t even mentioned Ervins Mustukovs yet who has returned in fantastic form.
Last Sunday we saw the first sign of line-tinkering. This was partly enforced on Coach Thompson without both Armstong and Marquardt. We were told all summer that both Westerling and Wallace could play centre or wing. Well on Sunday we saw that change with Wallace moving into the middle and Westerling to the wing.
We have learned that Colton Fretter has returned in incredible shape and form, his goals in pre season have been welcomed but his overall contribution once again outstanding. The same could be said of Andreas Valdix. I think Valdix will make a move up the Steelers pecking order this year. Last season we didn’t know what to expect. He delivered despite injury. Since his return it looks like we have a genuine star and alongside Dowd and Nelson a line that can win games.
We’ve also learnt that our kids can play, especially Liam Kirk who seems to be getting period by period. That’s good because this weekend he goes up against Luke Ferrara the guy who he replaced on the roster. There is a buzz around Kirk, the feeling that we could be seeing something special happen in front of our eyes.
Thompson would have seen the Champions Hockey League games involving Nottingham and Cardiff. He would have sat up and taken notice of the Panthers. They look back to their best after a poor season last year. An incredible achievement winning a CHL game on the road as well last week.
That game in Sheffield next Sunday against the Panthers will be an early test of where both clubs are at. Both clubs want that league championship and Nottingham have come out of the blocks flying. Thompson will be hoping he has a full strength team to face Nottingham. All being well Armstrong will return this weekend and there is a good chance that Marquardt will be back for the Manchester Nottingham weekend, when the real action begins.
Thompson said that this four week pre season would be about progression, one week at a time. He seems happy and content with that progression. After this weekend he will have seen what he has, what he needs and then the real work begins. I think he likes his team, its maturity and character.
Coventry this weekend will be a test. There is a new team if there was ever one. Danny Stewart has completely cleared house, new players, new style, a new Coventry way. It will be interesting to see if they are going to be back to their best and challenge once again for the trophies.