The Sheffield Steelers enter this double-header weekend against the Belfast Giants sitting proudly on top of the Elite League after collecting five points in their opening three games.
It’s far too early to read anything into that but you have to say we have started well. The opening few minutes against Cardiff last Saturday were jittery but after that our boys dominated the game and that was encouraging.
Another encouraging aspect of the Steelers’ start is the form of Big John Armstrong.
Armstrong, in his second season with the team, has opened on fire this year scoring four league goals in the opening two games.
Last years line of Roy, Fretter and Armstrong has been reunited in recent weeks and seems to have lost none of it’s hunger and desire. All three players can create and score.
Mathiue is the King of Sheffield and his goals are legendary. Fretter is as gifted a player as we have ever had in Sheffield. Now we are seeing the best of Big John, the same player who dominated late last season and especially in the play off campaign.
That line has a bit of everything doesn’t it. It plays with an edge, with speed, skill and canny experience.
Armstrong is at his best when he attacks the net, he is so strong and powerful and with the obvious diversion that playing with two guys like Mathieu and Colton, he can have space to operate in. I think it’s a great line that comes to play every night.
It’s a grumpy line as well. I like that too. Colton can be grumpy on New Years Eve at a Hugh Hefner house party. If things aren’t going well for ‘the King’ then you see it in his face and hear it in that French accent, in fact typing this I’m start to feel sorry for poor old Big John on that line. I love the fact that those three don’t necessarily love hockey, they love to win and will do anything for their team to achieve that goal.
When push comes to shove we all know there will be there for us when it matters. I think we have three 20 goal plus goal scorers on that line, that’s an incredible weapon to have when you also consider the talent on the other three units as well. It’s a huge reason why I have maximum optimism heading into this weekend and the season as a whole.
Head coach Paul Thompson could have a difficult weekend with a couple of difficult decisions.
If, as expected, both Zack Fitzgerald and Matt Marquardt are available for selection following recent injuries then the Steelers will have to drop one of their 15 imports for the games in Belfast on Saturday and at home against the Giants on Sunday (Sheffield Arena 5pm).
The spare import situation is an awkward one. On one hand, imports don’t travel half way around the world to be a spare and sit on the bench. Sometimes having 15 players for 14 spots is an unhealthy one. Training is uncomfortable, preparation is uncertain.
However this grind that is the Elite League season, a campaign that could see the Steelers play 80 plus games this year, means that injuries will be a part of our year, on a weekly basis. I think if the club can find a way to retain and house all 15 imports it should do so because depth, my friends, is the requirement of the team that will eventually win this league come March and April. There isn’t one player who will be a constant spare, I’m sure every player will play more than enough hockey.
I will watch with interest who is in and who is out when the teams line up this weekend.