It’s been a summer of change for the Steelers fan base with all but one import from last season’s roster returning as we speak. Mark “Mad Dog” Matheson is the sole returnee at the present and it looks like he will be surrounded by fresh new blood as Paul Thompson looks to arrest last season’s trophy-less campaign and have the South Yorkshire club back amongst the honours. This is year four of Thompson’s so-called three year plan and in certain quarters, he has to get it right this season.
The first task for Thompson as soon as the curtain fell on the end of the 2017-18 season with a 3-1 loss to the still all-conquering Cardiff side, was to plan his exit meetings with players whom didn’t feature in the Singapore-born coach’s plans for the new campaign. A lot of nine players were shown the exit from the House Of Steel, and amongst them some very big names. Netminder Ervins Mustukovs was one, and he declared his unhappiness on social media in his parting shot. Another huge loss was fan favourite Zack Fitzgerald after three seasons in orange, and experienced forward Colton Fretter called time on his playing career. Three players who would walk into any other EIHL side.
However, one thing the Steelers can count on is that they have a very strong Brit core and these will again form the basis of the team even though none of them are getting any younger. Captain and GB international skipper Jonathan Phillips returns for yet another season, his 13th since joining from Cardiff in the summer of 2006, whilst Robert Dowd, back up netminder Brad Day and Davey Phillips are also there. Ben O’Connor was there but more about him in a bit, as was Cole Shudra but the latter is continuing his development in Milton Keynes which will benefit him no end. Then there is the emerging talent of Kieran Brown and we had a youngster called Liam Kirk who went to be drafted in something called the NHL this summer.
So what of the new recruits? To start with, Day has a new partner in between the pipes in GB internationalist Jackson Whistle who joins from Belfast and that was the huge story of the summer. Steelers PR machine was far from happy how the Belfast Telegraph leaked this before the official press release. He’s joined in Sheffield by his younger brother Brandon, a centre by trade. Three new faces join Davey and Matheson on the blue line: Ryan Martinelli (again an acquisition from Belfast), Josh McFadden from Guelph University and the latest of the apprentices – Jordan Griffin: a 16 year old who was picked from the Bradford Bulldogs just like Brown the year before.
The forward line still has a few spots to fill but Steelers are confident that they will be and in time to debut in the opening pre-season game against Leksands IF in mid-August. Highly promising talent Josh Pitt arrives in Sheffield from ECHL side Kalamazoo Wings on the back of a 30 goal season and if he can reproduce that then the Steelers will be delighted. Also arriving from the ECHL is Tanner Eberle, cousin of NHL star Jordan, an abrasive forward who plays with an edge. He signs from Jacksonville Ice Men. To complete the signings so far there’s experienced centre Evan McGrath who was in DEL2 last campaign with the Kassel Huskies.
But three players who were in the plans have sadly departed Sheffield. GB internationalist Ben O’Connor agreed a deal to join KHL side Barys Astana but change of ownership a few days later saw that collapse. He’s since hooked up with Leksands IF, yes the very same team Steelers play in pre-season so that’ll be interesting to say the least. 2017 Play-Off Final hero Levi Nelson has hung up the skates to pursue a life outside hockey, whilst in a big shock “The King of Sheffield” (Mathieu Roy) has had to retire due to a culmination of injuries picked up over the years. All three leave with my best wishes, they have certainly made their own stories in Sheffield.
More additions are set to be announced in the next few days and weeks, and it’s likely we are going to see a completely new look Steelers side that takes to the ice this season and a return to the North American style hockey which has made them so successful in the past. No word has been said on whom will replace Jerry Andersson as Thompson’s number 2 but I’d personally give that to Matheson if he can combine the playing side with the coaching. He would be a perfect fit, and his experience would rub off onto others. We wait and see what happens next, but as ever; it’s never a dull moment in Steelerland whether that be pre, post or during the season.