Sheffield Steelers will have a heavily Swedish-influenced feel about them this coming season.
The champions have signed Markus Nilsson, 25, a centre, from Troja Ljungby, Christoffer Bjorklund, a 28 year old defenceman, from Mora IK, and Andreas Valdix, a 31-year-old centre who had been playing for HC Innsbruck of the Austrian EBEL,
And then there is the 27-year-old American born Anders Franzon, who arrived from the Indy Fuel in the ECHL - he has Swedish heritage.
They will play under coach Paul Thompson - and also assistant coach and veteran Swedish hockey supremo Jerry Andersson.
So to borrow a line from the Swedish super-group Abba: will the winner take it all?
Can Sheffield be three-time League champions on the bounce? Will the club be sponsored by Ikea? (Ok, just joking with that one.)
We asked Andersson five questions on what it will mean to have so many Scandinavians in key positions in a League traditionally dominated by north Americans.
Q: Describe the attributes generally associated with Swedish players.
A; The Swedish player profile has changed in the last 10 years, in terms of team to individual. It is the individualism of players, rather than success of teams, that has been the biggest change. Today’s players make good decisions, alone. Players are more free to react in the way they think best. Maybe the best thing is discipline; they learn early. Talented athletes have a mutual respect.
Q: Are they tough enough to play against north American-style players?
A: To play against North Americans is ‘nothing’ for today’s Swedes or Finnish guys. Most are very good mentally and ofcourse physical enough to handle that.
For example, Markus Nilsson (new Steeler forward) is not an especially big man, (5ft 9ins) but has had not problems over the years when he has met tough, rough north Americans from Germany’s DEL, which has the same type of north Americans as UK.
There has been no problem since Börje Salming opened the door (playing for Toronto Maple Leafs) a long time ago. We can also see that on the U20 and U18 national games, everybody handles that (aggression) simply and with smartness. I think North Americans have lot of respect for European players, now, and likewise too.
Q: What influence will the Swedish players will have on the Steelers team of 2016-7?
A: First of all, the Swede are very motivated to try a new level. They are different players but all are smart and have special skills so they are easy to coach and train. I will not be surprised if they make very big influence in the League and for Steelers. They will be prepared to pay a high price to help our club, for sure. Smartness, preparation and high motivation is a breeding ground for success. I don’t know so much about Franzon but from the videos he seems exciting to see, he has many qualities.
Q: Do you expect any cultural issues as they settle in?
A: They all are fluent English-speakers and enjoy the challenge. They are curious and will learn and make a good start.
Q: Personally, you have had a few weeks to reflect on being the new assistant coach - what are your own priorities in your first week in England?
A; Every morning I open my eyes and think about the coming challenge. I follow the papers, the league information and have spoke to Paul Thompson every day so I have to say, it should be very interesting. If I understand right, the league is getting better and better. Just look at all the clubs’ rosters: as I have said before the EIHL is most underrated league in Europe. Lets drop the puck, I am ready!”
n Meanwhile, there will be a Brit noticeably missing from the Steeler side in the new season.
For 10 years captain Jonathan Phillips sat alongside Jason Hewitt – yet, a week on Monday, when the Steelers training camp commences, there will be an empty seat in the corner of the arena’s locker room. “It will be strange not to look over and see him, it will be certainly strange not to hear him as well” said the skipper.
“Hewey was such a positive force for the team. Physically, vocally he was an outstanding team mate and a team first guy. Nothing came before the team. If you thought otherwise you’d certainly cross swords with him.
“We came up through the ranks together, youngsters when we arrived here. We played, won together and celebrated together.
“There was a special bond between us, and the likes of Mark Thomas, Phil Hill, Rob Dowd, Ben O’Connor, Luke Ferrara; all the British lads. We enjoyed memorable times in each other company. As a young captain I knew he had my back and that was important for me. He was always there, reliable and trustworthy. He’d lighten the mood when it was needed but he would also snap us all to attention if he felt things weren’t going right
“He’s impossible to replace like for like. A one-off and the club will be different without him. But his departure gives opportunity to the young pups. Luke will have more ice time and the two new guys Liam Kirk and Cole Shudra will fight for their chance like Hewey and I did for ours all those years ago.
“I’ll certainly miss my mate but the last thing he’d want is tears and sentiment.
No one in Sheffield will be supporting the Steelers more than him. No one will demand for us to succeed more than him.”
Phillips is celebrating his own testimonial this season, an 11th in the Steelers uniform.
“It’s a great honour to be awarded such an event especially at a club like this” he said.
“The time has flown by but I’m not ready to end my Steelers’ career.
“I’m in as good a shape as I have ever been and my body is ready to play for some years yet.”