Opponent Preview: 2017/18 Sheffield Steelers
This weekend in pre-season action, the Genting Casino Coventry Blaze take on the Sheffield Steelers back-to-back. First, at the Sheffield Arena on Saturday (7pm) before facing off at the Skydome Arena in Coventry on Sunday (5.15pm).
Writer for Pro Hockey News, Scott Antcliffe (@cliffy94) gives us a run-down on the new-look Steelers side:
Despite a strong run last year, the Steelers were unable to land their third successive Elite League title, with the spoils going to the Cardiff Devils.
The Steelers did, however, capture the EIHL Playoff title in a thrilling game against the league champions which was settled in the second overtime period. Levi Nelson, who played through the pain barrier, scoring a sublime goal in a final that will be long remembered.
Watch the highlights
Steelers' Head Coach Paul Thompson had a tough task on his hands to replace eight departing players, with the biggest loss being former NHL power forward Guillaume Desbiens.
The Steelers netminding duo remains the same, with former Latvian international netminder Ervins Mustukovs and dependable back-up Brad Day returning to take their places between the pipes.
Thompson has bolstered his defensive unit by bringing in former Braehead blue-liner Scott Aarssen. The 29-year-old Canadian has spent the last four seasons with the Clan, racking up an impressive 161 points (16+145) in just 250 games. In Glasgow, he was one of the alternate captains, and will bring strong leadership to the Steelers line-up.
Joining Aarssen on the blue-line, is fellow Canadian newcomer Mark Matheson. The 33-year-old boasts an impressive CV with over 400 American Hockey League games to his name playing for Chicago, Cincinnati and Milwaukee. Matheson has recently been plying his trade in Europe spending the last two seasons in France with Rouen, where he helped lead them to the league and playoff title as well as the Continental Cup, capturing the treble in the 2015/16 season.
The final new face to the defensive corps is that of 34-year-old Finn, Joonas Rönnberg. The 6'3" imposing blue-liner has spent the majority of his career in his home country, but has also had spells in the Swedish Hockey League, Allsvenskan, DEL and more recently the Norwegian league with Storhamar.
Rönnberg certainly looks like the stay at home defenceman that the Steelers have lacked in the last few seasons, and has impressed early on in pre-season.
Completing the defensive line-up is no-nonsense defenceman Zack Fitzgerald, and former Blaze and current Great Britain internationals Ben O’Connor and Davey Phillips.
After having a shake-up in the forward ranks, Paul Thompson has brought in five new faces. With Luke Ferrara joining the Blaze, Thompson moved quickly to secure the services of highly touted Bradford-born youngster Kieran Brown to an apprenticeship contract.
The 16-year-old has spent the last two seasons in the United States playing triple A hockey with the Iowa Wild, and has also featured for the Great Britain under-16 team registering 18 points in 13 games. Brown joins fellow apprentices’ Liam Kirk and Cole Shudra who are in their second season with the Steelers.
A familiar face returning to the Skydome, albeint on the bench folowing injury in pre-season is 30-year-old Canadian winger Matt Marquardt. The gritty forward who joined the Steelers from Blaze following the departure of Desbiens has tasted success before with the Florida Everblades in 2012 where he helped lead them to a Kelly Cup. Marquardt would later go on to captain the Everblades before a brief spell in Germany with ESV Kaufbeuren.
Another new player hoping to make a big impression is 24-year-old winger Brady Ramsay. The young Canadian has spent the last three seasons in the East Coast Hockey League where he has garnered a reputation for being an agitator and will be sure to bring a great work ethic and bundles of energy onto the fourth line.
Arguably the biggest signing of the off-season for the South Yorkshire side is that of 33-year-old former NHL’er Tim Wallace. With over 100 NHL games and 400 AHL games under his belt, expectations are high for the Alaskan who led SHL team Orebro in scoring in 2014.
Wallace brings a no-nonsense, physical style of play whilst playing on the top line and quarterbacking the powerplay. He has great vision on the ice and has linked up well with Steelers's returning top-scorer Mathieu Roy in pre-season.
Completing the newcomers is 35-year-old centreman Jonas Westerling. The skilful Swede joins the Steelers from Södertälje SK, whom the Steelers recently played as part of their pre-season campaign. This will be Westerling’s first season outside of his native Sweden where he has recorded an impressive 374 points (99+275) in 655 games in the Allsvenskan.
Along with Roy, John Armstong and Colton Fretter form part of the core of returning players, both were unfortunate with injuries last year and will be looking to bounce back with healthy, fruitful seasons following an outstanding playoff run from the pair.
Jonathan Phillips returns for his twelfth season and has captained the team for ten of those years. The Great Britain international holds the club record for most appearances (685) and has recorded 376 points (134+242) during his time in Sheffield.
Completing the roster is the impressive trio of Rob Dowd, Andreas Valdix and Levi Nelson. Much of the Steelers recent success can be attributed to the hard working line who have great chemistry and complement each other perfectly with a balance of speed, skill, grit and tenacity.
The line have picked up from where they left off last season, and will be looking to impress against the Blaze in which will be a great weekend of hockey between the two rivals.
Tickets vs. Sheffield on Sunday at the Skydome (5.15pm)
No queing, guaranteed seat - show ticket on your mobile device – no need to print!
or call/visit the Skydome Arena box office in person - 02476 630693.
The box office is open from 9am every day and you can also pay on the door when you arrive, however it is recommended that you book online to save queing.
Sheffield Steelers fans, please book tickets in block 7.