There’s a very quiet storm brewing up in South Yorkshire.
The Sheffield Steelers are always a team that set high expectations for themselves. Last year’s playoff champions have spent the summer under Gerad Adams retooling and making changes throughout their playoff winning roster that saw many key players in that team, such as Drew Fata, Stefan Meyer & Steven Goertzen allowed to leave for pastures new in what was seen by most as a calculated gamble by the Steelers coach.
It was a high-wire act for Adams…if his new team had even slightly failed to perform, recent history in Sheffield suggests it wouldn’t have been long before the knives came out and questions began to be asked about his plans.
So far, though, it’s a gamble that’s paid off spectacularly, with the Steelers sitting top of the table and even a 7-2 thumping at the hands of deadly rivals Nottingham only a minor blip in a season marked so far by a terrifying efficiency in the Steelers’ performances.
Up front, Sheffield have unearthed a truly deadly trio this season in the shape of new arrivals Mathieu Roy, Colton Fretter & Michael Forney. The two Canadians and one American dominate the top five of EIHL scoring, with Roy leading the league and Fretter and Forney close behind-the line have scored an average of four points a game between the three of them so far this season-Forney and Roy are meshing perfectly with the experienced Fretter as their setup man, and the production they’re putting together as a result is something that any other team would envy.
To get an idea of just how prolific the three are, their goal total (47) is nearly two thirds of that scored by the entire Coventry Blaze squad this season (a squad with the likes of Jereme Tendler and Ryan O’Marra on it). That’s ridiculous.
Then, of course, there’s the Mosienko Redemption. After coming to Sheffield under something of a cloud after gambling troubles in Denmark, 2nd-line centre Tyler Mosienko has gone on an incredible scoring run recently which has seen him score 15 goals in 16 games.
With Gerad Adams appearing to have stacked the deck with almost supernatural production up front in his system, perhaps teams will be looking back to the blue-line for an Achilles heel-last year the Sheffield defence received criticism for leaving Frank Doyle unprotected often but this time round they’re a strong, solid unit that, in typical Gerad Adams fashion, quietly gets the job done. In adding Ben O’Connor they’ve added arguably the best homegrown British player by some distance to an already strong Brit-pack and defensive group.
They’ve also created a true cult hero in defenceman Cullen Eddy. The former Adirondack Phantom has already become a living legend to Steelers fans, and the 26-year-old American from Hidden Valley, Pennsylvania has quickly become one of the league’s top all-around D-men, with three goals, fourteen assists and 118 PiMs to his name already.
What’s most impressive about this Sheffield team, though, isn’t their star power, the gaudy numbers of their top players or their Brit pack. It’s the fact that (surprisingly when you bear in mind some of the personalities around the periphery of the team) they’re doing the job so quietly and efficiently.
This is a Sheffield team that have only lost six games in total all season (one being the 7-2 aberration against Nottingham a few weeks ago). They’re a team that is focused, calm, lethal in attack, solid in defence and with a top line that gives opposition defences the screaming heebie-jeebies even BEFORE they get confronted with Mathieu Roy’s epic facial hair.
But, most terrifyingly of all, there’s a lack of emotion to them. An implacability.
Now, before any Sheffield fans get annoyed, I don’t mean that the players as individuals don’t care…clearly they love playing for the orange jersey and each other.
What I mean is that, as a unit, the Steelers have the surgical ruthlessness of Uma Thurman wielding a katana to chop up un-named henchmen in Kill Bill without breaking a sweat. Their approach to games right now says “we don’t care who you are…we’re going to leave you bloodied and broken and there’s a good chance that if you’re not absolutely perfect in defence we’re going to leave your goalie waking up screaming in terror for a week afterward…and maybe even if you are. Sorry. It’s nothing personal. It’s just business”.
The men in orange have all the destructive efficiency and implacable mystique of a Sherman tank rolling through an helpless infantry battalion…yes, they’re going to beat you, and yes, you WILL suffer…but that’s just your bad luck for taking them on in the first place.
That is one hell of a mystique for a team to build up. It’s the kind of aura that wins championships. The kind of aura that means you’re already at least partly in opposition heads even before the game starts.
It’s both terrifying and awesome at the same time. And it’s something that Gerad Adams and his team will want to hold on to as long as possible as more and more challengers arise throughout this season.
So far, though, it’s holding pretty well. Which, in its own way, is very ominous for the rest of the league indeed.
At the beginning of the year I said that the main test for this Steelers roster would be whether or not they could rise to the pressure of the incredibly high standards already set in the South Yorkshire goldfish bowl, particularly with the new players given tricky acts to follow.
Now, in late November, the question is simple-“Pressure? What pressure?” The Orange Machine is thriving on the rich fuel of high expectation from fans and players so far.
Now it’s up to the other teams to shut the orange juggernaut down. So far, though, it’s humming like a finely-tuned war machine.
And South Yorkshire is loving it.