STEVEN GOERTZEN admitted Sheffield Steelers’ players must accept their share of responsibility following the sacking of head coach Doug Christiansen.
Owner Tony Smith stunned fans of the South Yorkshire club on Thursday afternoon when he dismissed Christiansen less than halfway through his two-year contract.
The American was hailed by Smith as the man to deliver some overude success when hastily appointed last April just days after he had dispensed with previous coach Ryan Finnerty following two barren years.
But Smith has admitted he got it wrong with the appointment of Christiansen and is now working feverishly to bring in another permanent replacement.
Christiansen found himself ousted after a disappointing first season in charge at the Motorpoint Arena, with his former club Belfast Giants strolling to the Elite League title and with a 5-3 defeat at home to Nottingham Panthers in the first leg of the Challenge Cup semi-final leaving their hopes of success in that competition hanging by a thread.
With the play-offs Steelers’ most likely remaining hope of success, Wednesday night was, seemingly, the last straw for Smith.
In the meantime, popular captain Goertzen has stepped into the role of acting player-coach, with one-time Steelers defender and former Cardiff Devils coach Gerad Adams currently leading the list of candidates to replace Christiansen. According to Smith, several applications have already been received.
In the meantime, Canadian Goertzen, nearing the end of his second season in Sheffield, has welcomed the added responsibility of his interim role.
“It’s always tough when you lose a coach and, as players, everyone is in it together and you can’t help but feel part of the responsibility,” said Goertzen.
“It’s a tough situation and, obviously, we wish Doug the best.
“Tony has asked me to step up on an interim basis and I know they are looking for a replacement.
“But whatever the team needs me to do then I’ll do it – if that means stepping in and trying to run the bench while playing then I’ll do that.”
Goertzen’s first game in charge will be a trip to Cardiff Devils tomorrow night, before he tries to help Steelers overturn that two-goal deficit in the Challenge Cup in Nottingham on Tuesday night.
“This season, we’ve had some ups and some downs – probably a few more downs than we’d have liked obviously, so we’re looking to turn things around and start playing to our full potential,” added Goertzen.
“Hopefully, this weekend we can do that. Our main focus at the moment is Cardiff and once we get through that game we will worry about the next one. We’ve got some really big games coming up – especially this next week – so every guy needs to be focused and ready to go.”
As for the vastly experienced Goertzen, his new, dual role is not something that is likely to faze him.
“The player-coach role back in North America isn’t very common, it’s certainly more common over here - so it’s definitely a first for me,” said Goertzen, a veteran of 68 NHL games as well as racking up more than 460 appearances in the American Hockey League.
“But I think I have a good feel for the game, I’m already comfortable in dealing with the guys and having to make tough decisions if need be - I don’t have a problem with that.
“I ran practice today and will continue to do so, but at the same time there are lots of guys willing to step up and have a bigger leadership role - we’ve got a great group of guys in that locker room.”