Sheffield Steelers’ big guns are firing in time for Nottingham Panthers games

Unsung hero Markus Nilsson
Unsung hero Markus Nilsson

It’s taken a while top get there, but Sheffield Steelers’ Power Play is firing on all cylinders.

The side is now the best in the Elite League at finishing off PP opportunities.

Last season’s special team efforts were one of the few areas which needing improving on, after their title-winning campaign.

Not they are generating a 23.7% success rate at home, 21.3% overall, better than any other team.

It is evidence that coach Paul Thompson’s Summer hiring of special team specialists like Mike Ratchuk, John Armstrong, Jesse Schultz and Andreas Valdix has paid off, as have the current training-ice drills.

Now Sheffield will hope the extra offensive edge will come in handy this weekend against Nottingham Panthers - who have the best penalty kill statistics in the top division.

Offensively, Steelers have been putting up some good numbers recently, they have scored 31 goals in their last seven games.

The top line of Schultz, Armstrong and Mathieu Roy lead the way with 34, 28 and 27 points respectively in 24 games.

They - and winger Colton Fretter and defencemen Ben O’Connor - are perhaps regarded as the team’s thoroughbreds, in attacking terms.

But Thompson is always quick to highlight the work of players in less high-profile roles.

Markus Nilsson has only scored twice so far from 24 games, mainly on the fourth line, but his 12 assists have proved his value.

“Markus gets his ice time on the penalty kill and on the Power Play, at the moment” said the coach.

“He could play on the first line because wherever he is, he does a good job.

“I like his energy and work-rate and he is improving all the time.

“He will be the first to accept he is not a natural scorer but when he’s played with creative players then he gets points.”

Meanwhile, the Elite League has introduced increased financial penalties for players, coaches and club officials who make improper comments regarding referees, linesmen or the Department of Player Safety.

A statement reads: “This season has seen a significant increase in club officials using social media and post match interviews to make unacceptable comments and insinuations about referees and linesmen.”

Elite League chairman and Steelers owner Tony Smith said: “Enough is enough this has to stop. Right now as a league we are tearing each other, our officials and our league to pieces, our DOPS system which we as a league set up is being ridiculed by the very group who set it up. How ludicrous is it that we are trying to destroy everything we have worked so hard to create?

“We as a board cannot stand by and allow this to happen. The Elite League has come a long way in the last five years and we are asking our officials to keep up with the ever increasing standards. Mistakes will happen, we have to accept that, but we also have understand as a sport, that without the referees and linesmen then we don’t have a game and so we have to treat them with more respect.

“There are some very good officials in our league who are working hard and we have to keep training our officials and keep working with them to make sure they have the best chance of success every night. We have to remember that we have part-time officials in this league and we have to look at what the next step is. If it is a case of looking at where we are and giving them more training then that is what we should do.”

Criticism of DOPS and referees was made by Smith’s own official Dave Simms, in the Sheffield Telegraph this week.

He wrote: “I’ve just heard the results of the DOPs ruling regarding the Joey Haddad hit on Levi Nelson. I am speechless. No suspension. Department of Player Safety? Not a chance, Department of Backing Officials Wrong Calls, maybe. The decision like the one ruled on last week about David Rutherford are simply wrong. Last Sunday in Cardiff we had one of the league’s least experienced referees calling a game between the first and second place club, a title-influencing game. What makes it worse that sat in the stands was Dean Smith, one of the country’s most experienced referees

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