Standing in the Way – Sheffield Steeldogs 2014/15

Sheffield Steeldogs

Home ice: Ice Sheffield

Last season: 7th, playoff quarter finalists

Tickets: Genuinely can’t see the link

A virtually identical Sheffield Steeldogs roster has been bolstered by Steelers legend Jeff Legue. Can Andre Payette's men improve on last season's 7th place finish? (c) 5 Hole Photography

A virtually identical Sheffield Steeldogs roster has been bolstered by Steelers legend Jeff Legue. Can Andre Payette’s men improve on last season’s 7th place finish?
(c) 5 Hole Photography

Sadly, the person I had lined up to do the Steeldogs side of the preview had to pull out last minute due to unforeseen circumstances and I couldn’t get a replacement in time. No matter, we’ll do this old school BOTW style.

The Sheffield Steeldogs are a team that provides a fair amount of talking points in the league and it depends who you talk to. They’re gritty, they’re goons, they’re hard nosed, they’re honest, they’re dirty; a wide mix of adjectives get thrown around when discussing them and consensus is rarely achieved. Let’s start with what we know.

Out of all the teams in the EPL, the Steeldogs are the ones who have made the fewest numerical changes; 2 in and 2 out however they are changes of significance.

Out is Edgars Bebris (more about him on Friday) and Greg Chambers and coming in is Cameron Brownley who joins full time on a two year deal and some guy called Jeff Legue.

Jokes aside, Legue is a massive signing for the league and the Steeldogs. In his previous 9 professional seasons, Legue has spent 7 with the neighbouring Steelers in the EIHL with 497 games in 403 games. At 33, Legue is not a spring chicken but he’s not exactly over the hill either and 3 years with a player of his calibre on the ice and assisting Andre as assistant coach is only going to benefit the Steeldogs as a team and in the scoring.

The question with Legue isn’t his quality, individually he’s a good player and we can’t deny that but across the season can he do enough to lift the Steeldogs. Is he going to be the guy that will put the team on his back and carry them? The issue for Steeldogs might be whilst they’ve signed this fantastic player, the support cast around him might not be best suited to him.

Allow me to illustrate with an example; a few years ago, the football team I support AFC Bournemouth signed former England international Darren Anderton. Now Anderton was past his prime but at that level, he was good but almost too good in some ways. Anderton was always one step ahead and always thinking that one second quicker than his team mates and they couldn’t keep up with what he was thinking at times. Now the Steeldogs are a talented side that plays a rigid system. The question is, will Legue’s style and quality fit into the Steeldogs mould of hockey?

Steeldogs captain and former Bison, Greg Wood will be looking to bring silverware back to Ice Sheffield in 2014/15 (c) 5 Hole Photography

Steeldogs captain and former Bison, Greg Wood will be looking to bring silverware back to Ice Sheffield in 2014/15
(c) 5 Hole Photography

The Steeldogs have tried and tested this method for a while of having a very skilled import and surrounding him with players that give him the space to do what he wants. Janis Ozolins, Greg Chambers, Lubomir Korhon. Sometimes they’ve even tried two together but actually this year I think they’ve got the two best ones they’ve had in Korhon and Legue. Korhon on his own wasn’t a guy who could do all the leg work but with someone like Legue as his set up man and maybe Tom Squires on the right wing could be a very useful line. I’ve not seen the lines used in the recent War of the Roses win over Manchester so I’m theorising here but that’s not a bad top line at this level.

All the rest of the squad are returnees. Dalibor Sedlar, who I maintain is a good though not great keeper is backed up again by Brad Day. Sedlar, who turns 27 in December is starting to come into the prime years for a goalie so it remains to be seen for me if he pushes on and reaches that upper echelon of EPL netminders that many think he can get to. I’d agree that the potential is there for Sedlar to be the best in the EPL but he’s not there at this moment in time.

Up front, the return of talismanic (or the most hated man in the world if you’re a Manchester fan) Greg Wood is a major boost for Sheffield. Capable of being a 60-70 point Brit, his scoring is always vital for the Steeldogs. The usual suspects are back as well in names like Lloyd Gibson, Ashley Calvert, Craig Elliott and Andrew Hirst. Names that are now established EPL players in, what I said in last year’s Steeldogs preview, was Sheffield’s plan to produce a real core to sustain them competitively long term in the EPL. The return of Callum Pattison will also please the fight fans if not the game’s purists..

For all the criticisms that Sheffield get one shining gem for them and something they never really get enough credit for is their all British defence. Again, names that a couple of years ago that people sneered at are credible names that would not look amiss on any EPL side. Steve Duncombe, who I readily admit I’d sign if I were Basingstoke coach along with Ben Morgan, Lee Haywood, Tim Smith and Lewis Bell are a more than capable top 5 in the EPL. It’s certainly good company for Tom Barry to develop in.

Then there’s Andre Payette. What can be said about Andre that hasn’t been said a million times over? I’ll say I’m glad that his knee is fit again after his injury. It was reportedly very nasty and I’m glad he’s able to continue playing. Andre is a character of the game, of that there’s no doubt but many will of course bemoan his antics when ultimately he’s a player of quality when he’s not trying to be the entertainer and instead tries to play hockey.

Emphatic pre-season win over Manchester withstanding, we all know what we’ll get at times from the Steeldogs over the course of a season or at least we think we do. I’ve readily (and I think rightly) criticised them when they’ve not played in what I think is the spirit of the game. This is of course only one man’s opinion but as this is my blog I assume that’s what you’re here to read So I’ll say this as clearly as I can;

Whilst I do not like how they approach the game, simply counting the Sheffield Steeldogs out as goons or knuckledraggers or whatever is one of the biggest mistakes we can make.

This team has the quality there to really do damage. I don’t think this is a title winning side but capable of making the cup final? Yes. Capable of getting to Coventry? Yes. I just wish they’d not make me hate the way they go about doing it so much.

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