IT’S been a long time since I have heard a roar for any Steelers player as great as the one I heard on Sunday for new signing Tom Sestito.
The big man from the Philadelphia Flyers certainly made the biggest of impressions with a goal, an assist and a big fight with Greg Stewart of the Belfast Giants.
Sestito has presence and that doesn’t just come with size. I know many 6’4” or 6’5” blokes who don’t have presence but when he walks into a room, even if your back is turned, you know he’s there. He skates onto the ice and you know he’s there and, of course, if there’s any trouble then you can put your house on it that he will be right there as happened last Sunday.
Stewart took liberty with Jeff Legue when he twice took a shot at the Steelers forward that went unnoticed by the referee but not Sestito.
It’s the rule of the jungle ... you mess with our best player and somewhere down the road you’re going to pay the price. There wasn’t one single person sitting down as Sestito grabbed Stewart and set about him.
As Sestito skated to the penalty box the roar that greeted him shook the Motorpoint Arena, the connection between player and fans immediate.
The respect as we got to see one of the toughest men in World hockey fighting for our team and standing up for Legue, was immense.
A hero was born and if the NHL owners and players union strike up a deal this morning and we never get to see the big man skate for us again, we won’t forget his contribution.
The good news, for us at least, is the NHL owners and players are still some way apart so Big Tom looks like sticking around for a while yet.
Don’t get me wrong, Sestito isn’t all about the fighting. In the modern NHL you don’t get one dimensional tough guys, they have to be able to play and Sestito showed on both Saturday and Sunday, that he can, scoring in both games.
He hadn’t played a game in five months and last Saturday he saw an ice pad in Fife bigger than any he would have skated on in his life before - the North American ice surfaces are a lot smaller. All this after just two training sessions with his new team.
What can we expect in the coming weeks and months? The Steelers looked a different team with Sestito in the line up.
There was a swagger and an air of confidence about them, perhaps knowing in the back of their minds that their actions were being backed up by the patrolling policeman, ready and willing to step in at any time.
Fans shared that confidence too. Even with Belfast pushing hard at the end I didn’t think they would score to tie the game. DeCaro was again immense, the D strong and capable.
This weekend Ryan Finnerty has to get his team to do it all over again. Three games in three nights – tell that to your pampered footballers - against Cardiff at the Arena tomorrow, in Coventry on Saturday and against Hull at Ice Sheffield on Sunday.
Big bad Tom will have no shortage of dance partners. The player with the biggest mouth in hockey, Devin Didiomete has fought Sestito before, as has Olson of Coventry and I’m sure Hand of Hull Stingrays will relish a bout against the man who is as tough if not tougher than any player who has played in this league before.
The big difference though with Sestito is that he can play, score and contribute as well. That’s what $900,000 US gets you!