”Hey, turn the record over.
Hey, I’ll see you on the flip side.
There you go, turn the key and engine over…
Let her go, let somebody else lay at her feet.”
The Gaslight Anthem: “45“
This is a season that has more than the usual mix of anticipation and curiosity for the Sheffield Steelers. Last year was the very definition of a season of two halves, with Doug Christiansen never really allowed to settle in Sheffield-the mix of preseason hype and stratospheric expectations engendered by the Steelers hype machine meant that the ex-Belfast coach was onto a loser almost from the moment he arrived in South Yorkshire. Sheffield is not an environment that suits every coach-the off-ice media circus and constant demands for a certain type of hockey means that coaches have to be a certain type of person to put up with it. So do players.
Gerad Adams came in and managed to get the team playing the way they wanted, and it led to a playoff victory. However, this off-season has seen many changes at the Motorpoint, as budgets (captain Steven Goertzen left after being asked to take a wage cut of £300 to stay, for example, and star forward Stefan Meyer was also tempted away to Braehead, to name but two) has seen Adams build his own roster, missing many of the star names from that playoff winning team. He’s already shown in doing so that Sheffield has moved on from the past and has made it clear that, winning team or not last year, this team is his own and it’ll be built his way. But what does the first full roster-building of the Gerad Adams era have in store?
#1 Frank Doyle, #33 Andrew Jaszczyk, #40 Geoff Woolhouse
Once again, the Steelers will go with experienced Canadian Frank Doyle in net. Doyle was a goalie who ranged from excellent to awful last season, sometimes on the same night. Playing 64 games last year he was only the 7th best goalie in the EIHL, but in the playoffs he was more like the netminder the Steelers had hoped for at the start of the season. With the EIHL forwards stepping up another level this season, Doyle will be once again expected to be more towards the “excellent” end of the spectrum. Behind him, Brits Andrew Jaszczyk and Geoff Woolhouse will split time on backup duty as usual. However, they probably won’t see any significant time unless Doyle is injured, like most backups.
#2 Cullen Eddy, #3 Gord Baldwin, #4 Darrell Hay, #19 Rod Sarich, #22 Dustin Kohn, #44 Mark Thomas
The new Sheffield defensive unit is one markedly focused on puck possession-in experienced new signing Darrell Hay, returnee (after a year out) Rod Sarich and Dustin Kohn, the Steelers have three defencemen who are very comfortable with the puck indeed. The defensive muscle is provided once again by 6’5 Gord Baldwin, while Cullen Eddy and Mark Thomas are both steady stay-at-home defencemen who can provide the solid foundation and confidence for their more offensive partners to range forward. With Sarich and Hay both on the far side of 30, there’s the steady, veteran presence there, too-the key word that you can see throughout the group is “solid”. Which is all you need from a defence-the Sheffield group for 2014/15 isn’t particularly exciting, but it’ll do the job.
#7 Colton Fretter, #14 Mike Forney, #15 Mathieu Roy, #17 Jason Hewitt, #18 Jay Latulippe, #20 Jonathan Phillips, #21 Tyler Mosienko, #24 Phil Hill, #29 Luke Ferrara, #55 Pascal Morency, #75 Rob Dowd
While the Steelers defensive unit is solid if unspectacular, the forward units is where the real fireworks can be found. Colton Fretter, Mike Forney and Mathieu Roy are all proven scorers in better leagues than the EIHL, while Tyler Mosienko is a useful and creative set-up man coming to Sheffield under something of a cloud after his banning for spot match-rigging on his own team in Denmark and looking to rejeuvenate his career to join Rob Dowd and replace Jeff Legue’s efforts. Jay Latulippe and Pascal Morency are the grit and pugilistic power, respectively, while one of the best third lines in the league reunites with Jason Hewitt, Jonathan Phillips and probably Morency to join them, while Phil Hill is 10th forward and Luke Ferrara is on a two-way contract with Peterborough and will likely fill in for any injuries. There is firepower aplenty here, but there needs to be with teams around the league improving their offensive teeth. However, with a clear delineation between the skill players and the gritty/checking players Adams appears to have built this team very much with a plan in mind. The question now is if he can get it to work.
COACH: Gerad Adams (9th year, 1st full year in Sheffield)
Gerad Adams, like Marc Lefebvre in Coventry, is a coach who came in last year late and now has his first full year in charge in Sheffield. However, unlike Lefebvre, Adams is proven in the EIHL, after eight years in Cardiff and taking the Devils to the playoff final weekend every single year. Adams is popular in Sheffield already after being a player there and turning the Steelers’ season around last year, so he comes into the year in a strong position. However, if the Steelers struggle, it’ll be interesting to see how long before the pressure begins.
Mathieu Roy-Rob Dowd-Colton Fretter
Mike Forney-Tyler Mosienko-Jay Latulippe
Jonathan Phillips-Jason Hewitt-Pascal Morency
Cullen Eddy-Dustin Kohn
Darrell Hay-Gord Baldwin
Mark Thomas-Rod Sarich
Geoff Woolhouse/Andrew Jaszczyk
PLAYER TO WATCH: #15 Mathieu Roy (LW)
Colton Fretter is the signing that Steelers fans are probably getting most excited about, and he arguably has the most impressive CV of any of the new arrivals in Sheffield, but the 27-year-old small-town boy from the rural community of Amos, north-western Quebec is one they should all be getting equally excited about. Roy is a leader and a goalscorer, both of which he has proved as captain of the ECHL’s Florida Everblades the past three seasons. Scoring at nearly a point a game in the ECHL and over a point a game in juniors for the Acadie-Bathurst Titan, the 6′, 190lb French-Canadian brings to mind nobody so much as Joey Talbot, who was prolific for the Steelers during his time there. With Dowd or Mosienko acting as his setup men, the sniper will definitely be provided the ammunition to test any EIHL goalie.
Gerad Adams has rung the changes in this season’s Sheffield roster, cutting several big names from last year in favour of building his own squad The keyword throughout Adams’ recruitment appears to have been “balance” and “role-playing”. This team has followed no template so much as that of Belfast last year and Nottingham the year before, in finding a place for everything and putting everything in its place. The question with this team isn’t whether or not it’s a good one…it is. It’s how they deal with being a good one.
This is a team that could win things, very easily. However, we’ve seen many teams come into the EIHL looking like they could win things. This Sheffield squad is going to have pressure on it from the outset-the kind of pressure that few other squads in the EIHL are going to have, in fact. It’s going to be a squad scrutinised at every turn, through every shift, and any slip is going to see the wolves circling ready to tear apart any eakness. On top of that, it’s going to be one of the teams everyone wants to beat and have to deal with an owner and PR staff that LOVE to make the kind of promises and bombastic talk that they’ll then have to live up to.
With other teams getting better, Sheffield will not have things their own way this season, and they will be under a huge amount of pressure both internally and externally, with little room for error. It’s how they deal with both being the giants everyone wants to slay, and also how they cope with having all the room for error of a tightrope walker on the Grand Canyon, that will determine how far they go this season.