On Saturday the Steelers begin that campaign to re-write the history books by becoming the first team to land three back-to-back league titles.
The opening game of the Elite League season is against Braehead Clan at Sheffield Arena. Clan are also hungry for a league title, some say they are the team in the best position, playing in the so-called “easier conference”
The League championship is the trophy Steelers have become synonymous with over the years. Nine league titles in 24 seasons, the only club to win five Elite league crowns – our business is grinding it out over 52 games, over 28 weeks. We’ve won cups trophies but it’s the league title that’s in our DNA.
Paul Thompson is the only coach to win five league championships, four with Coventry Blaze and one with Steelers last year, his experience will be invaluable as the team plots its way through the toughest of all Elite League seasons.
Captain Jonathan Phillips has seen it all before, good times, bad times, winning and losing. His stability as the club’s leader, his strengths in making sure the troops don’t get too high or too low cannot be underestimated.
Steelers have been there before. Yes they may have lost the likes of Legue, Sarich and Hewitt, three players with multiply titles between them but the core remains impressive. Fretter, Roy, Mosienko Dowd and O’Connor all with the names attached to the last two titles as well. Experienced men like Desbiens and Fitzgerald – their leadership is immense.
So game one of 52, with the deepest Steelers side in our history. Four lines of talent, commitment and experience. The 2016-17 season is easily the toughest season we will ever have faced. Not only in Sheffield do we see that depth and experience. In fact there is an argument the depth in Cardiff and Nottingham is deeper. The depth in Belfast similar, the depth in Coventry and Braehead maybe a tad less but they’re a match for anyone.
The fact that Steelers have been there before and completed the job in hand is a positive but this league title could again go down to the wire, a referee’s call, an injury to a key player. Staying healthy is massively important, its why Thompson wants impact forward Levi Nelson back quickly.
Ryan Finnerty, a former hero of this parish as both a player and coach, will be all too aware that his side needs to collect cross conference points if they are to edge Steelers out of contention. He will bring his Braehead side into Sheffield on the back of a win and an overtime loss last weekend whilst the Steelers collected their first two cup defeats against Nottingham and Cardiff.
It won’t be just Finner looking to put a dent in Steelers. There is a collective waiting to rain on our parade. Neilson in Nottingham, Lord in Cardiff and the Thornton/Walser combo in Belfast are hoping for a Clan victory in Sheffield. Every night this year we won’t be just taking on the 22 players. We will be taking on the rest of the EIHL .
Steelers struggled with goaltending last year, this season Ervins Mustukovs was brought into fill the gaps – and did so well until last weekend’s games, saying that he was left out to dry on many occasions.
The Moose will be the pivotal character for the Steelers over the next 52 crunch battles, if he can deliver then history will be ours.
It’s a lot of pressure on one man but the single minded Latvian is big, ugly and strong enough to cope.