EPL: Positive approach suits Sheffield Steeldogs | Hull Pirates strive to maintain home record

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GREG WOOD believes he has been quick to learn from his mistakes as he strives to make Sheffield Steeldogs a potent force in the English Premier League.

Now in his second full season as player-coach at the South Yorkshire club, Wood admits his first year in charge was a baptism of fire after being thrown in at the deep end.

Dominic Osman was initially brought in to replace Andre Payette before being switched by then owner Shane Smith to take over at the newly-formed Hull Pirates, which Smith helped launch following the demise of the city’s previous franchise the Stingrays, who had gone bust.

Before Smith relinquished control in the Steeldogs, he quickly moved to appoint 29-year-old forward Wood - a stalwart of the club for five years - as the man to replace Osman.

And while it was no doubt the last thing he would have expected following a disappointing 2014-15 EPL season, Wood quickly adapted to his new role and has entered the current campaign confident he can oversee a notable improvement on the seventh-placed finish and early play-off exit last term.

“It’s a big learning curve,” said Wood, whose team travel to second-placed Milton Keynes on Saturday before hosting Swindon the following evening.

“You go from being a full-time player and captain of the club for four or five years and from being a team-mate to a coach - so it was quite a tough transition period for me.

“It wasn’t easy at times but the guys made it a lot easier than it could have been. Everyone bought in straightaway and got behind with what I wanted to do and I think that reflected on our performance levels last season.

“There were a lot of positives at the end of the year but, also, I learned a lot about myself and what I did wrong and ways we could improve it so it was a massive learning curve for me.”

One of the notable changes introduced by Wood was the style of play produced by the Steeldogs, the penalty-heavy physical brand of hockey favoured under Payette having somewhat ran its course after the high point of a 2011-12 campaign which brought a third-place regular season finish before reaching the play-off semi-finals.

Sheffield Steeldogs' playerr-coach, Greg Wood.

Sheffield Steeldogs' playerr-coach, Greg Wood.

“I think under (Andre) initially we had a bit of success because everything was new and everybody had a bit of a jump about them,” said Wood.

“But three or four seasons down the line, if you’re still playing the same way, while it can be entertaining at times to take a lot of penalties and fight, if you’re losing through something like ill-discipline then something has to change.

“The biggest thing for me was that I knew the quality that we had in some of those players and they were kind of shackled and really hadn’t been able to express themselves playing-wise.

“So that was the biggest change that I made - getting guys confidence back up, and giving them a free role to play and expressing themselves on the ice.

Three or four of our guys had key years last year and excelled themselves - that alone speaks volumes.

Greg Wood, Sheffield Steeldogs’ player-coach.

“Three or four of our guys had key years last year and excelled themselves - that alone speaks volumes.”

Hull Pirates will be keen to build on two successive home wins when they welcome league leaders Telford Tigers to East Yorkshire on Saturday.

Osman’s side ensured they remained on the heels of Telford and second-placed Milton Keynes Lightning when beating Manchester Phoenix 6-2 in Hull on Wednesday. It followed Sunday night’s 7-4 win on home ice over Swindon Wildcats.

The triumph over Manchester matched victories for the top two on the same evening - Telford beating visitors Guildford Flames 3-2, while Milton Keynes won 2-1 at Swindon.

It will be the first regular season meeting between Hull and Telford, with Osman’s team seven points behind the leaders after 15 games.

On Sunday, Hull face Manchester once more, this time paying a visit to Fylde Ice Arena in Blackpool, the current home of the second-bottom team, who have lost seven of their last nine matches.