If you’re not excited about the Steelers summer of 2018 – you should be.
The announcement that the club made on Monday in confirming a minimum of nine imports would not be returning means that you the fans should have a four month period of pondering, rumour-mongering and speculation as the Steelers side is re built in an attempt to gain the higher ground in the Elite League hierarchy.
Before the medicine came the pain as we said goodbye to favourites – a tough decision but one that needed to be made with strong leadership required.
Don’t think for a moment that anyone at the club had any satisfaction in telling the likes of Zack Fitzgerald, Andreas Valdix and Jonas Westerling that their Steelers days had ended. They didn’t.
Colton Fretter will go down as one of the club’s true greats. The head and the mind is willing but now maybe the body isn’t too keen and retirement beckons. It’s been a privilege to have him here with us, three championships infour seasons. I will miss him massively.
I have never met anyone quite like Zack Fitzgerald. The day Paul Thompson signed Fitzy I took a phone call from Ryan Finnerty: “Simmsey you will love him, one of the finest human beings you will have meet.” Finner was right.
If you think Zack is just a replica shirt seller, baby kisser and off the ice ambassador then you couldn’t be more wrong. He is a warrior of a man and a player. He is the ultimate team mate, competitor and friend.
That’s was the toughest of decisions for Paul Thompson, he loves Fitzy as we all do. The heart said keep him but the head said this whole teams needs reconstructive surgery if we are to compete and beat Cardiff Devils.
I remember in the pre social media days being the Team Manager who had Ed Courtenay under contract. Eddie had a get out clause of a certain date. He came to us looking for an extension as he was the clubs and leagues top goal scorer.
Mike Blaisdell and I took the decision we wanted out, we knew he had interest from elsewhere and if we refused to extended he would walk away to a new higher paid deal. We held our ground and he walked.
“Back then we got lambasted from pillar to post, we also let Teeder Wynne and Dale Junkin go, second and third highest scorers. We were told we didn’t know what we were doing, had no clue, letters (as they were back then) came flooding into the club with requests for season ticket refunds. The then owner Darren Brown was concerned but backed Blazer and I.
Rightly so as well, the following season we won the Grand Slam. New players arrived, new favourites such as Paul Beraldo and Warren Norris arrived, great players ensuring we returned to the top of the tree.
The tough decisions aren’t made easily, they are well thought out over a long period of time. Weak men wouldn’t do what Paul Thompson and Tony Smith did on Monday, or if they did they would do it over a couple of year period.
As disappointed as I am to see some of my favourites leave us I know it was 100% the right decision.
Fact is Cardiff are better than us, they have more offensive players that scored more goals in the big games than we did. Their top six was better than ours. That could be down to injury, loss of form or suspension but that was the difference. Last season we didn’t have a first line that anywhere near matched the Joey Martin line in Wales.
The much-criticised defence was in fact as good as any in the league, conceding the fewest goals. Yes partly down to Ervins Mustukovs but also down to those who stood in front of him. Tinkering at the back end and re-construction up front.
Our plan will be come apparent in the months ahead. Don’t expect for one moment a bunch of quick signings. This summer we will keep our power dry and take as much time as is needed, but Sheffield we will get it right.