David Simms Sheffield Steelers ice hockey column: An anniversary of something worth fighting for
Let’s make Saturday an Anniversary Day to Remember.
The 9th February – it’s an important date to all Steelers fans, and as luck would have it this Saturday’s game against the Nottingham Panthers on the 9th February marks the 18th anniversary of that famous night in Nottingham when the benches erupted and emotions of both sides reached an all time high.
It was a night when we were all proud to call ourselves Steelers, a night we thought would be important for other reasons when we arrived at the NIC.
A victory would have secured the league title, another championship won on their home ground. That title would be won but two days later in London.
This Friday night, this 9th February was the night the Steelers stood up to the Panthers in their own barn and in front of their own fans.
Led by Scott Allison, Dennis Vial and Scott Metcalfe the Steelers stood tall, every man on that team did its job, cleared the benches and looked their opponents in the eye and said “You’re not bullying us – who do you think you are?”
Barry Nieckar’s cheap attack on Scott Allison on Boxing Day had to repaid and it was, in full and with interest.
We went first and were punished by the league for it. The Panthers retaliated and claimed as they often do the moral high ground afterwards.
Did Allison leave the bench early on a line change to get involved with Nieckar? Of course he did, by about 5 seconds or 40 feet but it was the right thing to do.
With Nieckar pounding an almost unconscious Vial it was David Longstaff who first appealed to Mike Blaisdell for permission to leave the bench, his requests were declined, twice.
As he asked for third time approval was given.
Blaisdell’s words were “If one goes you all go” by the time Mike had uttered “If one goes” they had all gone.
I remember standing next to Blazer on that bench and just seeing the backs of our troops going into battle, skating away with their numbers showing. It was an incredible sight.
Of course the traumatised Peter Woods on the Panthers bench had never seen anything like it in his career. His assistant Alex Dampier had, Nottingham followed immediately. Every player was paired up, goalies included, in our case Mike O’Neil and the Panthers Eoin McInerney. When we look back at this great night we think of Allison and Vial, we think of Nieckar.
But remember on that Steelers side there were players not know for physicality and fighting.
Dale Craigwell, Kent Simpson, Warren Norris, Brent Bobyck and of course former Panthers legend Paul Adey.
They did their job that night as well, every last one of them.
Nieckar fought Vial and Allison at least twice each. I give him credit for that.
Allison famously was put in the penalty box and ended up climbing the glass and jumping back onto the ice – what a sight that was.
Dennis was naked to his upper body, dripping in sweat with his eyes rolling. He had given everything he had for our team and could go no more.
I handed him a water bottle and he took a swig. Fans were throwing coins at us and hurling abuse.
One fan grabbed the plexi glass and was going crazy, he pulled the glass back at the same time as another Nottingham fan launched a coin in our direction, it missed me, Andy Akers and Dennis but smashed into the glass at a stretched weak spot, it shattered everywhere.
The period was brought to an end while the officials could draw up a list of culprits.
Inside the dressing room it was wild with emotion and adrenalin.
We were called to the referee’s room.
By now there was humour and laughter between Blazer and Alex Dampier. Peter Woods didn’t join us. We laughed about it in years to come but on that night he was stunned.
Suspensions and fines followed, two nights later in London we beat the Knights to win the league championship.
Blazer, Allison, Vial and others sat in the stands. Another great night.
That 2001 Grand Slam team had some nice guys on it, however it also had some nasty characters and a few not nice people.
What it did have though was character, passion, desire and emotion to do the right thing.
Off the ice many of them were pains in the backside. On the ice they were unified and joined at the hip.
Their focus to win was incredible and it didn’t matter what they had to do or who they had to walk over to reach their goal.
Now bench clearances and mass brawls are a thing of the past (I’m afraid to say) this new world we live in doesn’t accept those actions. Too many people would be offended and upset. I would say this though there isn’t a rule about lacking character, desire and passion on this 9th February.
Any Steelers player showing those attributes on Saturday will be applauded, adored, cheered and appreciated.
This 9th February is equally as important as the one 18 years ago. It maybe not for a championship, it maybe not for a trophy, but, it is for 2 points against the Nottingham Panthers, 2 points towards a play off birth.
Now if that isn’t worth fighting for tell me what is.