The champions will be playing at the Sheffield Arena on Saturday night for the first time in over two years that won’t be the Sheffield Steelers.
Yes we might be the Play Off Champions and that’s a lovely competition to win. But the reality is that Cardiff Devils are the reigning champions. Number 1 seed. They took our place at the top and in the Champions Hockey League.
Sheffield fans will feel as sick reading that as I do typing it. Steelers’ history has been built on winning and more than anything else winning the League Championship. In all other countries around the world the play offs are the big prize. Winning the post season competition is a brilliant feeling – but let’s not kid ourselves for one minute that it’s the same as winning the League because it isn’t.
Winning the league is a 56-game play off battle. It’s seven months of pressure. 30 weeks of intensity. There isn’t a night off. Every night is do or die, every game is the biggest game you have played to date.
Maybe that isn’t how it should be. But here in Britain, in the Elite League that is 100% how it is.
The Steelers have won the league title more often than anyone else. No other club has bought into the punishment of the grind of winning that competition than the Steelers and the core group of players built around our captain Jonathan Phillips.
On Saturday that grind begins again. The 56-game league season, this year a slightly different format with three conferences. That means eight games against Cardiff, Nottingham and Belfast and then four against the other sides that make the new-look 12 team Elite League.
That’s a lot of tough conference games but more out of conference games than previously.
I used to worry at the start of a season that the new imports didn’t realise the importance of the league. I don’t worry now. The core group in Sheffield, Phillips, Dowd, O’Connor, Roy, Fretter, and alike, those who have been here for years and experienced many championships know the importance.
Those who have recently joined us and won before, Nelson, Armstrong, Fitzgerald, Valdix bought in immediately to the desire to win the league title – so the new guys joining us this year won’t need telling twice.
Some say the hockey campaign started four weekends ago in pre-season. Some say it started last week with the Challenge Cup commencing with two Steeler wins – I say it starts for us on Saturday, Steelers v Cardiff Devils.
As I said above, it’s the start of a long grind. No trophies will be won this weekend.
But Cardiff bring the best of last year’s team and have added quality to their line up. They are looking to repeat their success. They are looking to dominate in ways that we have done in the recent past.
Teams want our success. I hear words used at other clubs like “we must manage expectation” well at the Steelers we tell you our expectation. That is to win. Sometimes we reach our goal and sometimes we die trying. We have no divine right to success but we have every right to strive for it.
Our head coach Paul Thompson will read this and think “Way to put pressure on us” but he knows every word is true. Winning is not a dirty word. It may happen, it may not but if you don’t set out with that goal then what’s the point.
n What a hero Levi Nelson is. Last April he scores the play off championship winning overtime goal, last Sunday after being 3-0 down to the arch enemy he scores the winner with just a second remaining to send 7000 fans home happy.
Nelson is becoming a cult hero at the Arena.
We have the King in Mathieu Roy, we have Greatness in Colton Fretter. Messrs Dowd and O’Connor are easily the best two British players in the league. Fitzy is our Governor, but Levi, this crazy all action hero is becoming the star of the show and he loves it.