DAVE SIMMS: Sheffield Steelers coach Ryan Finnerty facing-up to momentous year

Ryan Finnerty wants to be the face of the Steelers at all times.
Ryan Finnerty wants to be the face of the Steelers at all times.

Ryan Finnerty arrived back in Sheffield on Monday – he was due to return on Tuesday, August 7.

In my 28 years with ice hockey teams I have never known a coach want to get back early. Normally it’s later leaving the off-ice team to sort out all the issues relating to players arriving from around the globe.

I think Finnerty realises what an important year this is ... important for the team, for the organisation and selfishly, for him. Finnerty knows only too well that the Steelers ownership has given him the freedom to hire and fire and recruit as he wishes so he can deliver a team that will not only win but one that will entertain and give the fans what they want. His instructions are not only to win games but to fill the Motorpoint (Sheffield) Arena.

Finnerty has the most high profile job in British ice hockey and it’s one he desperately wants to keep, succeed in and deliver to the people of Sheffield.

He wants to be the face of the Steelers, not only on match nights but during the week; in the schools and in the community. I think Ryan realised when he first came here what a hockey city this was and how much more it could become if those out there on the streets were visible and proactive.

Last season as a player-coach there was too much on his plate to do everything but this season as head coach I expect him to be everywhere – in fact if you don’t meet Ryan in the next eight months I will be cow kicked!

Finnerty is conscious that in the past, especially in the Dave Matsos era, the club put results before everything else. Win at all cost, even if winning wasn’t sexy or entertaining. I have to say I come from that background as well. To me winning is first and foremost. I’d rather win a boring 1-0 game than lose a thrilling game 7-6. Of course 40 miles down the road the theory is the opposite as they go for entertainment first and foremost but this has cost them several championships in the past decade. He somehow has to find a middle ground, how to win and also how to entertain at the same time. Looking at his side you can see that this is being achieved.

To win a championship you have to be tight at the back and with DeCaro returning with the most solid of Steelers D cores I can ever remember, Finnerty seems to have this box ticked.

Up front he has added scoring and flare. Poor Jeff Legue can’t continue to do it on his own and by bringing in Messrs Shields and Pecker he has added the extra firepower while in Tylor Michel he has that spit and vinegar energy player who sets the tempo.

Jason Hewit is under no illusion that this has to be a great year for him. He has to get back to his aggressive, in your face, style of play. If he isn’t hacking, slashing and whacking then his place in the top nine forwards (three lines) will quickly come under pressure from Danny Wood and Lee Esders.

Finnerty has offers out right now for his two remaining forwards and he tells me its 50-50 if they will accept the deal or stay in North America.

“The Arena has to be rocking every night,” Finnerty told me. “It has to be intimidating, a horrible place to come for the opposition and the best place in town to come for the fans.” That tells me that he’s aware of his job description.

Finnerty keeps telling me Michel will believe that Ryan sees his future here. I think he knows that let down days off are a thing of the past and he can build foundations, deliver trophies and set standards in Sheffield that can live up to those he has heard about of teams in the past.

With the changes in the Elite League and the new Conference system the sport is entering a new, exciting period with more games against the biggest and best sides. To win the Steelers will have to be at their best and to be at their best more often.

Steelers open their exhibition games with a home and away series against Coventry Blaze on September 1-2. The Elite League commences on September 8 with a home game against the Cardiff Devils.