Standing in the Way – Sheffield Steeldogs 2015/16Posted: 23/08/2015
Home ice: Ice Sheffield
2014/15 league position: 8th
The Sheffield Steeldogs have gone through a rollercoaster ride this summer. Firstly the signing of Dominic Osman as head coach, only to have him transferred over to the newly formed Hull Pirates. Fans were also excited to see Vanya Antonov on the roster for next season, especially with his previous stats, but sadly, for both Antonov and the Steeldogs, he was unable to attend university in Sheffield and as a result will not be signing with the dogs. It was not all bad news though as the Steeldogs caused quite a stir after announcing, the very talent, Nicole Jackson as their back-up net-minder. She is the starting net-minder for the Great Britain Women’s team and played for the Steeldogs last season during the cross over cup. She is a very talented young women who will make an excellent addition to the team.
Greg Wood has taken the helm for the Sheffield Steeldogs this season; the fans should see a new approach to the game, including less the time in the penalty box, with a more cultured style. He is looking at improving the fitness of the team and maintaining that level throughout the season. Wood is a great advocate for discipline and preparation. He wants to nurture each player’s talent, encourage individual styles of play to be more prominent and bring back the enthusiasm and passion for the game that the fans thought was lacking towards the end of last season.
With the appointment of Ben Morgan as captain, the Steeldogs are taking footsteps in the right direction. Morgan is a natural born leader- that is very clear in the way he plays and he is an excellent role model for the rest of the team.
Having recently filled all the import slots, the Steeldogs are shaping up to be a powerful team. With Dalibor Sedlar back between the pipes, the Dogs have a strong net-minder, he kept them in a fair amount of games last season, with Wood hoping for a more offensive mind set and slightly more support in defence this year, he can only go from strength to strength.
The rest of the import roster is completed with the return of Lubomir Korhon who has a proven success record with the Steeldogs. He is joined by Arnoldas Bosas, who comes with an impressive CV, representing Lithuania at U18, U20 and Senior World Championship level. He is a real power forward and has some size behind him, standing at 6’4, should be an asset when making more offensive plays. Wood hopes to put him on a line with Korhon and Tom Squires, which will bring more of a physical presence to an already talented line. This brings us to our final import, the return of Stanislav Lascek, who played injury cover for the Steeldogs last season. After a particular rough game in which he was involved, he was released, but with new leadership that is all in the past and his stats speak for themselves. Lascek is already familiar with the EPL having picked up 41 goals for the Lightning in a previous season and in three games for the Steeldogs scoring a goal and five assists. He was a draft pick for the Tampa Bay Lightning and has experience playing in the AHL and ECHL.
The Steeldogs have welcomed back Tom Squires and Andrew Hirst. Both strong players who have shown dedication and commitment season after season. Wood also took the initiative to sign Craig Elliot who, although spent some time injured, has more heart and passion for the game than most players I know. He is not afraid to get into the corners, stick up for himself and his team and even at the worst times never gives up – that makes him one of the strongest assets.
A team isn’t all about offence though; in fact some people would say it is defence that wins games. Luckily on the Steeldogs side, they welcome back Tim Smith, who improved no end last season and this season is set to become an integral part of the Dogs line-up. He joins Haywood, Duncombe and Morgan, who have developed an excellent bond on and off the ice and will be key to Steeldogs success.
Last, but by no means less, on our radars are Callum Pattison and, newly signed, Jack Doane, both powerhouse players who will provide protection for the rest of the team and be a physical presence both on the ice and the bench.
Overall, I think the Steeldogs fans, and the rest of the hockey community, are in for a treat. They are going to see a much higher standard of hockey than they are used, with more player development and discipline than in previous years. Although other teams have formidable rosters, I think Steeldogs will be a team to watch, but then again I am slightly biased.
The BOTW Take
It’s certainly been an unusual summer in the steel city. When 2014/15 season ended with a damp squib and a hammering in the playoffs, it signalled the end of the Andre Payette era. Where Andre had the dedication and the heart, his tactics just weren’t working any more and the Steeldogs that finished third were a distant memory. The change was made to Dominic Osman which for many, myself included, seemed like a good move. It would be a move away from the somewhat bizarre style of hockey that seemed to ignore hockey altogether.
Then the Hull Stingrays folded.
When the dust had settled the EPIHL had 10 teams again, Dominic Osman, the man who built the majority of the roster for the season had departed back to Hull and Greg Wood who had been the team captain under Payette was suddenly head coach at the ripe old age of 28.
Despite that upheaval, the only player lost to Hull that had been announced as signing at Ice Sheffield was former Solway Sharks forward Craig Thurston who spent last season in the WSHL with the Cheyenne Stampede. This was coupled with the recent news that arguably the league’s hottest prospect, Vanya Antonov had not achieved the grades required to attend university in Sheffield and wouldn’t be joining.
A couple of recognisable names have also gone from last season; former EPL player of the year Janis Ozolins couldn’t stop the rot upon his return last season and has returned to Latvia, Lloyd Gibson has headed to join Edgars Bebris in Peterborough and “Sideshow” Brad Day has become the backup at the Steelers.
As is normal with the Steeldogs, a large core of the roster from the season before is back with the “Made in Sheffield” mantra still looming large with the added extra of a Sheffield born coach.
The majority of the defence is back with the only real addition being Jack Doane who slots in with the established names like Steve Duncombe, Lee Haywood and Ben Morgan. The Steeldogs defence has ranged from being really rather good to distinctly average depending on what Payette was wanting them to do but it’s always been a solid and well established unit that generally does more right than wrong even if they aren’t particularly spectacular. I won’t lie; after their fantastic fight a couple of years ago, I’m interested in the possibility of a rematch between Lewis Bell and Callum Best.
The bigger focus is on the netminding for a couple of reasons. The first is the addition of GB women’s netminder Nicole Jackson who is set to become the first female netminder to play in an EPIHL league game since Lita-Lee Jarold with the Wightlink Raiders 10 years earlier. Jackson has impressive numbers in women’s hockey and last season posted a respectable 3.93 GAA and a .893 save percentage with Widnes in NIHL2 North. Some may question women playing in a men’s league but I will make my view crystal clear; if she’s good enough, let her play and if you’re going to get all weird and say “women shouldn’t play with men” then I shall make use of the vernacular and tell you to get in the sea.
The other for me is the re-signing of Dalibor Sedlar to start. Sedlar is alright but in some ways that’s also the problem. There are arguably better import and better British netminders in the EPL and whilst the Steeldogs are comfortable with Sedlar, is he the man to take Sheffield forward and challenge for trophies?
Up front, Ozolins has been replaced by Lithuanian international Arnoldas Bosas who doesn’t have the most impressive of numbers but players from those Eastern European leagues have always scored well in the EPL if they settle with Payette’s spot being filled by the return to British hockey of Stanislav Lascek (helmet jokes sold separately). Whilst last season was not one that Lascek will want to remember with fondness (he played for 4 different clubs) this is a man who had a 76 point season with the Lightning 2 seasons ago. The talent is definitely there and at only 29, it’s not like he’s over the hill.
Lubomir Korhon is the other import and is up front to help push the scoring along with players like Wood and Tom Squires while depth comes from familiar faces like Craig Elliott and Andrew Hirst.
Two new additions that will have eyes on them are Liam Charnock who returns to Britain from the WSHL to a 2 way contract with the Dogs and the Steelers and 17 year old Cole Shudra, son of Sheffield legend Ron who will be on the EPL roster for the majority of the season. How and how much both will be used remains to be seen but I am interested to see how both do.
As I’m sat here looking at this Steeldogs roster, I have to confess that I’m not knocked back. On the surface, this team goes back to what I said about Sedlar; it looks OK but not spectacular. I certainly wouldn’t put the house on them being league champions by any means.
What then occurred to me reading it is that people including myself have forgotten the great intangible here; what we’re used to being Dogs hockey isn’t going to be Dogs hockey in 2015/16. Greg Wood isn’t an idiot and will know how to get the best out of this group of players who are now free of needing to be physical for the sake of being physical. Nothing may change at all and they might be exactly the same as last season but it’s a weapon in Wood’s arsenal that he needs to make use of. I can’t help feeling that it’s the best way for the Steeldogs to make a dent in the EPIHL this season is for them to catch people by surprise.