Standing in the Way – Sheffield Steeldogs

Sheffield Steeldogs

Home ice: iceSheffield

Last season: 7th, playoff quarter finalists

Team preview – EPL Ice Princess (http://epliceprincess.wordpress.com)

Does Greg Wood have some tricks up his sleeve to ensure the Sheffield Steeldogs have a successful season? (c) 5 Hole Photography

Does Greg Wood have some tricks up his sleeve to ensure the Sheffield Steeldogs have a successful season?
(c) 5 Hole Photography

What does this season hold for the Sheffield Steeldogs and their fans? From what we have seen so far the future looks bright on all fronts.

Last season saw Greg Wood take the helm for the Steeldogs and bring a new approach to hockey to iceSheffield. This season, having settled in to his role and building a team that can continue the positive and fast-paced approach with less physicality, we expect to see Wood go from strength to strength.

Ben Morgan continues to Captain the Steeldogs for a second year, having proved what a capable and positive leader and role model he can be. Morgan brings a host of experience, having played at many different levels, as well as an incredible work ethic and passion for the game. He has encouraged his players and helped to bring Wood’s vision of a higher level of ice hockey to life.

With the heart of the team still in place, the loyal faces who appear every season win or lose; Lewis Bell, Tim Smith, Ashley Calvert, Andrew Hirst and, of course, not forgetting Callum Pattison – the core of the Steeldogs is a strong one.

As with the end of every season we had to say goodbye to a few players, but this is necessary, not only for player development, but in order to find the best fit for the style of hockey and team dynamics. Craig Elliot hung up his skates, Stevie Duncombe made the move to Blackburn Hawks and Lee Hayward jumped ship to become a Hull Pirate. We also said goodbye to the man who was, in my opinion, a steadfast net-minder, who kept us in a few games. As with all in things in life, we adapted to the change and welcome James Hadfield to the Pound. I have a lot of time and respect for Hadfield, having watched him take over from Mark Lee after an injury a few minutes in to an EPL Play-Off quarter final, having not played many minutes over the season, and did a fantastic job.

Hadfield was part of the Sheffield junior system before making his EPL debut in Swindon in 2010, he spent 4 years as crucial part of the Guildford Flames before signing for Milton Keynes Lightning. Unfortunately, for both MK and Hadfield, an accident prevented him from icing last season. Having worked very hard with the strength and conditioning staff within the Steeldogs organisation – Hadfield is back in front of the net, fit, healthy and hungry for the game.

Wood has also given Brandon Stones the role of back-up net-minder after he made an impression when called upon to help out the Steeldogs last season. Having British net-minders will, not only inspire the younger fans, but means that the Steeldogs will be able to play an import during OT and gives a few more options during regulation ice time.

The Steeldogs have had an import shake-up for the new season and with the announcement that EPL teams would be able to have 5 imports in their roster, Wood wasted no time in securing some absolute powerhouses. The first import needs no introduction – from his red gloves to his 87 points last season and being named EPL’s Player of the Season – it’s Arnoldas Bosas. The Lithuanian forward took the Pound by storm last season and this season should be no exception.

From one Lithuanian to another, the Steeldogs welcomed Donatas Kumeliauskas to the team. Having been a part of the Peterborough Phantoms during their Play-Off Championship in 2015 and making 49 appearances for his country, his speed and offensive style will add a new dynamic to the Steeldogs. Joining him at the Pound are Slovakians Adrian Palak, who scored 70 goals and 35 assists in 28 games for the Deeside Dragons, and defenseman Tomas Brcko, a man who brings a wealth of experience have played in nearly 400 games in Slovakian leagues. Last, and by no means least, the Steeldogs welcome Pavel Mrna to the roster – standing at 6’2, with is speed and agility, this Czech forward is certainly going to be a force to be reckoned with.

This season the Bradfield Brewery Sheffield Steeldogs have made a strong commitment to youth development, something that is vitally important to the future of British ice hockey. Liam Kirk and Cole Shudra have fantastic opportunities on two-way contracts with the Sheffield Steelers. Tom ‘Wreck-It’ Relf, as I like to call him, has made a transfer from the Bracknell Bees to the Steeldogs as he embarks on his university career at Sheffield Hallam. He is strong, reliable D-man and standing at 6’2 he can certainly stand his ground.

From the completion of Greg Wood’s Prospect Camps over the summer, the Steeldogs were able to offer four two-way contracts to up-and-coming junior talent. Ryan Fraley, who hails from Peterborough, Jamie Scott, who will be joining Relf at Sheffield Hallam from Northern Ireland and Joe Colton, who has been a part of the Sheffield junior system.

I have saved the last two mentions on the youth development side to two players who really impressed me during the pre-season friendlies and they are Tom Barry and Charlie Thompson. Both have been around the Steeldogs for a couple of seasons now and from the way they played over the last couple of weekends – their passion, dedication and hard work is paying off.

I have high hopes for the Sheffield Steeldogs this season, especially after a win over Peterborough Phantoms at the end of August, having been unable to beat them last season. Overall, I think the Steeldogs fans, and the rest of the hockey world, are going to see a greater improvement on the standard of hockey Wood started last season, with youth development and some talented new faces on the roster, these men have fire in their hearts and ice in their veins – so keep your eyes peeled.

BOTW:

When Greg Wood took over as coach of the Sheffield Steeldogs along with the change of ownership, many took it as a watershed moment for the organisation. Under Andre Payette’s coaching “Dogs hockey” meant only one thing; if we can’t beat you then we’ll literally beat you. It was rough, tough and in your face hockey. With Wood, captain under Payette taking the coaching reigns in the wake of Dominic Osman building the roster then moving to Hull, many wondered just how much change would be coming.

It’s an old adage in hockey that hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard so Steeldogs rosters have always had this element of hard workers in it because they’ve not had the resources to have all the skilled players of a title challenger. With this being the first summer that Wood has led the recruitment from start to end there’s a few similarities and a few differences.

What’s the same? Well the “made in Sheffield” ethos continues to permeate the roster which I am happy about. Sheffield has long been producing good hockey players and with the Dogs needing to compete with the Steelers for attention and attendance, I think it’s a sensible marketing position. Whilst we can argue about the rate at which young players come through, successive Sheffield coaches have always been willing to bring through younger players. With the Dogs and Steelers seemingly actually working together with regards to the Steelers’ new apprentice players Cole Shudra and Liam Kirk, a more definite and obvious path from u10s all the way up to the upper echelons of British hockey visible.

What’s different? Well the roster turnover sees us with many familiar faces gone from the Steeldogs line up. Some big names for them of the last couple of years have departed. Dalibor Sedlar, Steve Duncombe, Tom Squires, Lubomir Korhon; all are gone though many of the core group of years past has stayed to allowed the roster to maintain a familiarity to it.

Sedlar’s departure allowed Greg Wood, much like Hull, to take a risk on a British netminder. James Hadfield’s big coming out party as a starting British netminder should have been last year at MK but a racing accident has seen the 23 year old miss an entire season. Sheffield born Hadfield offered the Steeldogs to bolster their import ranks elsewhere and as alluded to above, has been working very hard in the off-season to return to fitness. Before his injury Hadfield was a decent netminder who needed game time. He’s made a move to get himself game time. This appears to work for all concerned.

Up front, the imports appear to be positioned to take the bulk of the offence with the departure of Tom Squires leaving a sizeable hole in the Steeldogs scoring. Arnoldas Bosas and Donatas Kumeliauskas are known to the league and will be able to score points at a decent rate. Even accounting for a potential sophomore slump from Bosas, former Phantoms forward and playoff winner Kumeliauskas will be able to supply a few goals. Pavel Mrna, who played in Sparta Prague’s junior team with Tomas Karpov, has a decent record of scoring in the lower Czech leagues and in France who should help supplement the other two.

Adrian Palak is the one making a real step up. Having scored 96 points last season in NIHL2 North for Deeside, I won’t expect him to repeat his goalscoring exploits in the EPL however we shouldn’t write him out. His last stop before Deeside was Romania where he scored 75 points. Michal Satek played in the same league at the same time and he managed OK. Also, Bison fans will remember another import player who came to the EPL from the NIHL and fared rather well.

There’s a healthy contingent of Brits still in Sheffield to provide some scoring and some depth. Coach Wood himself is no slouch and Andy Hirst and Liam Charnock are both capable of putting points on the board. Hirst has scored no lower than 30 points in the last 4 seasons but seems to remain something of an underrated player in this league despite being close to a 20 goal scorer most seasons.

Shudra, Kirk, Ashley Calvert and the other youth players will provide some depth whilst Callum Pattison will provide the “entertainment”.

The defence is where I have questions about the Steeldogs. This is where the 5th import has benefitted the Steeldogs in some ways because it’s allowed them to give Palak a chance at EPL level whilst also being able to sign Tomas Brcko as something of a replacement for Steve Duncombe. Whether Brcko will be able to add Duncombe’s secondary scoring to his repertoire or not remains to be seen but 25 points in 30 games in the Norwegian second tier certainly bodes well.

Otherwise it’s a rugged looking defence but not one that I’d say is world beating. It’s got all the familiar faces like captain Ben Morgan, Lewis Bell and Tim Smith. There are certainly bodies there but is there the requisite quality? What this is, is a good opportunity for Tom Relf who moves north from Bracknell. Nobody in that Bracknell side last season had a great year being walloped week in, week out at the end of the season and this move combined with his university course gives the Frimley born youngster a chance to break from the mould a bit and try different things under a different coach.

I can’t particularly share the princess’ optimism surrounding the Steeldogs. As I said, there are the bodies there but I think that below their top end imports there’s something lacking. This looks like a Swindon roster of a couple of years ago where there’s too much of a drop off between the top guys and the depth.

Where I do agree with our guest is that this team will have fire, determination and guts. The team will be built to work very hard and work hard they will because that’s the sort of player Greg Wood is.

Sorry folks, I don’t see a Steeldogs title challenge but I am pretty sure they will continue to give us something to talk about.

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